IT BEGINS WITH A STORY
Someone asked me if the painting from my last post was for a story. Well, yes it is, but probably not a story that any of you know of. You see, I actually make up a story before I even decide what to paint. Let me explain this further by sharing, with a little bit more depth, my current method of choosing what I paint and how I go about it.
The first thing I do is think of a story. It isn't as hard as you may think. I open my mind to the world of children. What do they like to do, what do I see them doing, and when do I see the most excitement or passion coming from their hearts? Sometimes I focus the story around the season we are presently in, but that's not always the case. Sometimes, I decide if I want a girl for my main character or if I want a boy, but that's not always the case either. I don't force the story. I go to bed while thinking of children and then let my mind do its thing. Basically, I fall asleep telling myself a story. Don't get me wrong. It's not a detailed story but the basics are there. I'll dream of different pages of the story. What the character will be doing, his/her expression, attitude, and the direction I want to go, will start becoming clear. I'll write down just bits and pieces of the story. At this point in time of my life, I'm not trying to write a full blown finished and publishable story. My only desire at this time, is to try to capture the essence of the story with a single illustration.
After I have the story figured out, I decide what the page layout will be. Will it be tall (portrait), wide (landscape), or square? I try to commit to a tradition book dimension. I then start on the thumbnail sketches. These sketches are only just a little larger than 1 inch by 2 inches and are very loose. They are very similar to scribbles. No reference material is used at this time. During this process, I refer to my notes of the story. I'm not trying to illustrate the whole book. My goal is to capture a moment in time- that one precise second or moment that defines and clarifies the character and the story. You could think of it as if I'm illustrating the book cover. Now, I don't do a ton of thumbnails. I've heard of some artists that will sketch out 80 ideas just for one painting. That's not me. If I get out 20 ideas then I'm more than happy with myself. While I'm sketching, I'm thinking about the age of the child, his or her hair color, and the mood I want to achieve. I may have different versions to one idea. I may try a different perspective or maybe cropping it or pushing it back in space. It is important, during this time, to keep in mind the time frame I'm working with. The more characters I have in my illustration the more time it will take to finish.
Once I figure out what I want to paint, then it's time to find my reference material. I start my search for my model/s, props, and location. Once I've accomplished finding everything and everyone on my list then it's time for a photo shoot. I take photos of the models separately and then together. The props too. I keep my thumbnail sketch in my hands or on the ground next to me so that I can refer to it often. I want to have the same posture, positioning, pose, perspective, and emotion in my photos as to what I have in my thumbnail sketch. I take a TON of pictures and I mean a TON! And sometime, after I look on my computer at what I've shot, I realize I need more! There's so much that needs to be just right- lighting, expressions, perspective, etc.
After I've gathered my reference material, I then return to the drawing board. I rely constantly on my reference material now. I tighten up my thumbnail sketch by referring to my photos. The finished drawing will be quite tight and quite detailed. It will be fairly close to being exactly what I paint. It seems there is always something I change while I'm actually painting it. I'll do a value study based on this drawing as well. It will give me a map of where the lights and darks will be in my painting. Once I'm satisfied with my drawing, I enlarge it to fit my board, transfer it onto my board, seal the drawing, and then I'm ready to go.
Whew! Finally, the painting (and the fun) begins!