Know Where You're Going

Lunch on 6th Ave. 22" x 15" Both the value and color sketches were used as continual reference. The picture was painted in transparent watercolor and transparent acrylic.
Lunch on 6th Ave. 22" x 15" Both the
value and color sketches were used as
continual reference. The picture was
painted in transparent watercolor and
transparent acrylic.

You do not have to begin a painting with doubts and hesitation. You do not have to start a picture only to realize the composition is all wrong or the color isn't right. You do not have find yourself in any of the other dead ends of picture making. There are three steps that will allow you to have your painting on the right track from the very start.

Many of you may be familiar with these steps. Over time, you may have set them aside as you have become more familiar with how to paint or you may skip them in the rush to start painting. However, if you make these steps a regular part of your work routine, you will know where you are going from the first brush stroke to the last.

Step 1: The Thumbnail

With this pencil and "Sharpie" rough the picture composition was established.
With this pencil and "Sharpie"
rough the picture composition
was established.

The thumbnail rough is a quick way to establish the basic design of your picture. This is the time to answer all the questions regarding the composition. Should the picture crop in more on the subject? Is the foreground area too busy? Should some elements be moved or eliminated?

Your thumbnails can be rough and small, about 2.5" x 3". Even so, they should be more than just doodles. Work with whatever is convenient on any paper that's available. Simplicity is one of the key elements of good design. Working small can force you toward a simpler design solution. Don't be surprised if it takes several roughs to arrive at one that works for you.

Step 2: The Value Sketch

The tonal pattern was created in this rough done with markers and "Verithin" pencil.

The tonal pattern was created in this
rough done with markers and
"Verithin" pencil.

With the value sketch, you develop the thumbnail into a black and white tone rough. Most professional artists agree that sound values are more important in a picture than even the colors used. Consider all of the tonal options. What is the mood you want to convey? What area should have the most contrast? What areas should be subdued?

It is good to work slightly larger that the thumbnail, roughly 4" x 6". Work with pencil, markers or watercolor but limit yourself to black, white and three grays–light, medium and dark. Do several roughs if necessary because this rough will set the value structure–the tonal design–of your painting.

Step 3: The Color Sketch

Now you are ready to interpret your black and white tone sketch into full color. In the color sketch, you will be replacing the darks and lights of the tone sketch with colors of matching value. You want to maintain the tonal design while exploring the next dimension, color. Do not let the many possibilities of color overwhelm you. Study your tone sketch and consider the questions one at a time. How can I maintain the mood and value pattern established in the tone sketch? Could complementary colors be used to advantage? How would an overall, dominate color work?

This transparent acrylic and and colored pencil rough was the color guide for the painting. I decided to base the color design on the complementary colors yellow and violet.
This transparent acrylic and and colored
pencil rough was the color guide for the
painting. I decided to base the color
design on the complementary colors
yellow and violet.

It is good to work slightly larger than the previous step, in the 5" x 7" range. Work with what ever will give you the color effect you are looking for-markers, colored pencil, watercolor or a combination. I usually do at least two color roughs. When you have a color rough that works, you have a key reference that you will be using throughout the painting process.

These three critical steps can be very demanding of your creativity. However, with them, you establish your picture design, value structure and color scheme. There is one other step, the preliminary drawing and that is another subject for another day. However, you can now begin your picture with confidence.

You know where you're going.

Paul Sullivan

 

 

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Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

After a long career in advertising art, Paul Sullivan is now a full-time watercolor artist. A graduate of the University of Toledo and the Toledo Museum School of Design, Paul has a BA in Fine Art. He is a Silver Signature Member of the Arizona Watercolor Association and a Signature Member of both the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Watercolor Society of Alabama. Paul's work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and in China. Visit his website → http://www.paulsullivanstudio.com/. View all posts by Paul Sullivan → http://www.artistdaily.com/author/paul-sullivan

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