Most of my paintings to date are basically paint-by-numbers, trying to fill in the various areas with color & texture that makes them match the target image. It’s inexact, and especially for texture, there is a lot of experimentation and failure (see: water for The Return), but it’s typically fun, and progress is fast – the entire painting can be done in 3-5 two hour sessions, each of which adds satisfying levels of new awesomeness.
Here’s a behind the scenes look at what goes into making a painting. There are basically four big steps:
1) Image selection.
This step actually takes a potentially unlimited time, and it’s all digital for me. I come up with an idea (“robots!”) and then I start using google image search, looking for interesting candidate images. Or a combination of images, or whatever (this is the “creative freedom” part – so far I’ve mostly confined myself to picking ready-made images). I collect a whole bunch of options (“save image as…”), and then I basically stare at them and try to figure out how hard they might be to paint. How many different colors are there? Are there any blended areas where colors fade into each other (this is hard to do with paint)? How much detail is there? Any weirdnesses? (like bokeh, also difficult with paint). Is the color palate appealing / does it have enough contrast to look good? Is the source image high enough resolution) to make it work at canvas scale (even HD really isn’t sufficient, I need a BIG image)? Finally, I’ll pick one that I think is doable at just beyond my current level of skill (i.e. will require a bit of a stretch on my part, trying something new). My skill level has been increasing rapidly, so recent images are much more complex than initial images. Pictured is the unaltered image of Wall-E that I choose this time.
2) Digital image preparation.
Once I pick an image, then there is usually a problem with aspect ratio or framing. The image aspect ratio has to match the canvas exactly! And, it needs to at least give a nod to the “rule of thirds” for proper framing – this is super important for the overall look of the painting! So I’ll have to either crop or extend in a direction which doesn’t require too much detail (e.g. for The Return, I cropped the sides AND added some sky to the top). I’ll print one copy of the final image in full color (8″x11″ is ~1/4 scale if you fill the page). And then I’ll “edge-detect” the image (reducing it down into a series of lines), make it 4x as big, and print that out for:
I’ll cut & tape together the four edge-detect pages, and press them into the back of the canvas. Then using a DIY light-table, I’ll trace the outline into the canvas. Typically this is pretty inexact – the papers move around, the edge-detect lines are not perfect / even present sometimes, my pencil strokes don’t match those, etc. So there will also be a whole second phase where I remove the edge-detect papers, and compare the traced image on the canvas to the smaller printed image, and correct the trace, region by region, adjusting lines, and adding details as required. This step is essential, as I learned on Strider Alpha, where I didn’t do it, and things like knees, shields, and the boat just were not correct (or even present) from the tracing, but I didn’t notice until I had way to much paint on the canvas to fix it…
Really the painting process is the easiest part, though it’s also longer than image prep or tracing. The most challenging part of the painting is the color mixing, it’s quite difficult to end up with the color you want starting only from the primaries (blue, yellow, red, white, black). Some colors in fact seem to be impossible – I could not make a teal, despite trying for an hour. And of course metallic is impossible – I later obtained a silver base color to make metallic possible.
The other hard part is to get the detail in, my smallest brush was previously still pretty large, and getting a fine line is difficult – though I have seen other people accomplish way better lines using the same equipment, so obviously it’s PEBBAF (problem exists between brush and floor)… one of the upsides to painting is, you really can go back and fix a lot of mistakes. Just paint over it in white, and then paint it again. If you have to match colors on the borders, that increases the challenge, but it can still be done. Anyway, most of my paintings to date are basically paint-by-numbers, trying to fill in the various areas with color & texture that makes them match the target image. It’s inexact, and especially for texture, there is a lot of experimentation and failure (see: water for The Return), but it’s typically fun, and progress is fast – the entire painting can be done in 3-5 two hour sessions, each of which adds satisfying levels of new awesomeness. I’ve never been a perfectionist, so for me, typically the painting is DONE when all the white of the canvas is gone. Obviously other people could continue to obsess about the details for several more sessions beyond that, but I’ve learned already that I’m as liable to make it worse as I am to make it better, so that will have to wait for when I have higher skill!
And that’s how a painting gets made. And then, of course, the all-important:
5) Blog about it 🙂