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Painting Process: “Firedancer”

October 26, 2010

I finally finished  my “Firedancer” painting yesterday!  😀

Except “yesterday” was Thursday and since it’s been raining & blowing since then it was only this morning that I could take some final pics outside in better light.

This was my process:

Day 1
2 hours

Blocking In
I began working to cover the canvas (over a previous painting, a base of mostly dark greens), blocking in white, which would be the brightness behind the flames, and the figure, correcting it’s weight, shifting shoulders & feet.  Then I blocked in the pants (naphthol red, raw umber), red T-shirt (naphthol red, cadmium red light), tree (naphthol red, raw umber, purple, ultra-marine), grass – light (naphthol red, raw umber, yellow ochre), grass – mid-tones (naphthol red, raw umber, raw sienna, yellow ochre, ultra-marine), grass – dark (naphthol red, raw umber, ultra-marine).

I like to feel and work as if the `pieces’ are each part of each other, intergrating them, by means of brush stroke and colour.  Always, there will be a little of something else’s colour somewhere in a thing, colour being mixed and adjusted in small amounts, borrowed back and forth.

I began painting the background (naphthol red, ultra-marine, paynes grey, purple in varying amounts) with a brush, then began applying paint with a palette knife, brushing over this with a medium sized brush to smooth and spread it, and over that with a dry big household paintbrush for texture lines.

Apart from some specific instances, surface texture mostly means, for me, the marks created by the type of touch and direction of brush stroke and contact with the paint and the surface and the way in which the light bounces off the resulting texture. The direction of the brushstrokes is seldom irrelevant and unconsidered – that is not to say every single brushstroke (almost) but definitely the top brushstroke while the paint is still wet and can be manipulated.  This might be intermediate to later brushstrokes in another direction on top of that.  Sometimes I brush very lightly over semi-wet, half-dry paint to create a fine matte texture.  In this way I can weave not only colour but texture too.  This is very satisfying.  It feels complex yet right, obvious to me, intuitive.

In the case of “The Firedancer”, I kept the process quite simple as the design and composition is simple – nearly symmetrical with the energy in the movement of the curved, pendulum lines – and the emphasis is really on the flames themselves.  Using the big brush to brush over the background darks I could create `lines of energy’, a sense of movement and interest in the otherwise relatively uniform space.

Day 2
2 hours

I started with the edges of the flames (cadmium red light); the T-shirt – highlights, shadows & creases (cadmium red light, naphthol red, purple, paynes grey); pants – highlights (naphthol red knocked back with raw umber); a sense of movement of the hands across the lower body in a suggestion of colour & brushstroke direction; the face – highlights (chin, bottom lip, cheeks, nose, right eye) & shadows, painting from the T-shirt into the hair (naphthol red, ultra-marine, paynes grey); then in the tree, lights & darks from above mixes; then the darks around the body and the darks eating into the edges of the flames.  At the end:  yellow.  I began running out of cadmium yellow.

Day 3 & 4
1 hour each

Lacking yellow, I worked on the grass, using varying proportions of palette colours to create the mottled highlights and shadows of the lawn in firelight and shade and blending the grass into the background carrying colour through to the bottoms of the flames.  With white eating out into the red edges of the flames I began defining the edges from the inside and from the outside with red and darker red.  The flame tips got some work too, wisping out, and I started on some glow around the flames.  Some work on the darks in the shoes and pants and tree.  These were slow days.

Day 5
2 hours

New tube of Cadmium Yellow Light – yay!  I started painting in the interior shapes of the flames, yellow at the ends and in the middle along with some red bits, filling in the bulk of the flames with a very pale yellow (white, lemon yellow).  Additional work on the flame edges.  Adjustments and touches were made to other areas along the way with appropriate colour on the brush.  Also more movement lines for hands.

Grass:  a patient-not-so-patient speckling process of many subtly differing colours over each other, after which I took a bigger dry brush to it all, jabbing it across the strokes this way and that to mix them up a bit, despeckling the grass – the whole process providing a more complex range of colours over which to paint & bespeckle again the following day.  I added some touches of dark green to the edges of the flames in a few places for subtle contrast.

Day 6
3 hours

Almost everything got some work.  More marks on the grass over the speckled base with a small brush – back and forth:  marks, blend, marks.
It’s at this stage that it feels kind of dangerous, exciting and exhausting.  It is so close to the end with seemingly so little left to do but so many little things.  You need to be brave and focused and persevere and not be thinking “I’m going to fuck it up.”  🙂

I painted in the pale red highlights (cadmium red light & white mostly, dirtied a little) of the shoes, pants pocket zipper, belt loops and metal end to the belt and the belt itself in nearly black (paynes grey, lightened with a little naphthol red & purple & dirtied slightly) along with dark edges & darks defining the shoes.

I adjusted the shape of the tree at the top, painted in some additional highlights and shadows, defined the shadows in the T-shirt, painted in a little dark red on the sides of the T-shirt and adjusted the line of it’s bottom edge.  I worked on the silhouette of the pants, redefining the inside edges of the legs.  Then I painted in the poi lengths, adding motion blur and adjusting the curved shape of the hand movement on the right.  I then knocked back the pale red highlights a bit on their back edges and conceded to work on the face, darkening it under the hair, adjusting and blending the darks and lights, back and forth a bit.

Then I added more glow and touched up the flames on the ends with some dark red (naphthol red & purple), brightening with touches of pure red (cadmium red light) & yellow (cadmium yellow) and worked on the inside yellow and red bits, blending with pale yellow (white, lemon yellow) and orange (cadmium red light, cadmium yellow light).  At the end I fuzzed up the glow around the flames with a dry brush to get rid of the gloss.

“Firedancer”, Oil paint on canvas, 1016 X 760mm (40 X 30″)


Time to sign my name, paint the edges of the box canvas black, clean my brushes and zombie-fy.  🙂

3 Comments leave one →
  1. cheridene permalink
    October 26, 2010 4:46 pm

    Beautiful !!!

  2. Angie permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:09 am

    You are a MAGICIAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Christine permalink
    October 27, 2010 7:46 am

    Stunning Vanessa!

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