From Sketch to Paint : A Creative Process

I’ve always been fascinated with the process that goes into creating art. From an initial stimulating thought or idea, to working out the kinks through renditions of adding and subtracting, the intention is to create an engaging image or composition that best conveys that initial spark of inspiration. I often find that sketchbooks and scrap paper act as the soil for these nascent ideas. Imagine indulging on some of the leisurely sketches of artists past, flipping through some of Da Vinci’s studies on water and flight, or browsing the cornucopia of macabre creatures that Bosch decided to exclude from his Garden of Earthly Delights. What was Artemisia’s process when constructing preliminary sketches for Judeth Slaying Holofernes, or the preferred mediums when spending an evening drawing under the company of Kahlo and Rivera and couple bottles of wine.

I decided to analyze 7 paintings I made over the past couple years and compare the antecedent sketch that led to the paintings creation. Throughout the following images I will do my best to describe the process linking initial sketch to the final rendition and existence of a painting.

1) One of the benefits of being a grad student at the University of Tasmania was being granted my own study space. In the past my studio has consisted of my bedroom floor where a once white carpet has suffered upside down palettes and spilt turps. While processing the overwhelming intake of my new home for the next couple years I decided the best way to settle in was to begin painting. On the flight over in a half daze I started thinking about dots. I reflected how dots could correspond with the form in a paintings composition, where there’s a dot there’s an area of focus, and that these dots could be precariously placed to create diverse compositional effects. The various positions of dots and number of dots on a picture plane is infinite with each dot interacting with the others around it in an even more infinite way. If (dot placement) = ∞ and (# of dots) = ∞ and (dot placement) + (# of dots) = possible compositions than # of compositions = ∞

*Did I mention I was in a bit of a daze due to jet lag.

I decided to experiment with three dots for the symbolic strength of triangle and its three points. After scratching up a couple thumbnail sketches I picked a combination of dots irritable to the eye as a challenge to create a compelling composition from. I enjoy creating exercises that challenge and encourage an unconventional process that forces the mind to problem solve under unique circumstances. I believe this helps lead to the expansion of creativity.

I redrew the 3 dots composition on a larger scale in a rougher more gestural manner. These forms would be the foundation for the further realization of a painting depicting the view from the bottom of a tide pool looking up out of the pool to some tide-poolers above looking down.

I find that working with gestural shapes and marks can feel extremely liberating. The looseness and spontaneity unbound by premeditated thought can help to experience new lines and form, outliers of a contrived style that an artist has developed over repetition and habit. In a sense, I became secondary to the fruition of this painting letting the 3 dots guide my brush into gestural marks, and then turning those marks into biomorphic form.

2) This sketch - painting is a good example of a composition driven by the interaction of two sets of complementary colors, green/red & blue/orange. The form acts more as a secondary prop for the interaction of color, after all color relies on form to be brought into existence otherwise it is merely an idea, and an infinite one at that. Sometimes I’ll make side notes describing features I hope to include in the painting when I break out the oils. I find that I often abandon the initial drawing after I’ve created a thin oil sketch on the canvas. From here on out changes are made on the canvas in the paint.

3) This drawing was inspired by the Pink moon on April 7th 2020, the largest super moon of the year. I love to surf and a major component to chasing waves is dependent on the tide controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon. I wanted to created an image highlighting the super moon’s gravitational affect on ocean, in turn affecting humans with our seafaring ships. This began as a loose doodle in a sketchbook using whatever mark making tool is closet, in this case a black and red Bic ballpoint pen. Loose, fast, with some cross hatching, over layered with small thumbnail sketches sussing out various compositional possibilities. If I’m having trouble piecing together a compelling composition I find myself overlaying smaller thumbnails that purely focus on the contrast or and communication between light and dark values. From sketch to the paintings completion I didn’t venture far from the blueprint, only small adjustments were made to help create a better balance between the negative and positive space of the figure, boats, and seascape.

4) Here’s a good example of a quick autonomous post-it note doodle turned painting. When inspiration hits it’s best to quickly jot down the gist, and where creative block looms scribbles will bloom. With this mentality inspiration is a constant and can sometimes reveal itself without us even being aware of it. I remember making this small sketch while on the phone with PADI diving hoping to recover a scuba certification that I hadn’t used for 5 or so years. I wasn’t even looking at the paper focused on the phone call, scribbling out a mixture of anxiety and hope. The certification was retrieved and after hanging up the phone I added thicker outlines to the drawing and placed a leaf in the figures hand to symbolize growth as my scuba skills were back in business and my training would continue.

5) Ok, picture Matisse’s painting, Dance… A circular composition leading the eye around the painting in a cyclical motion, one figure to the next, painted in a Fauvist manner using red, green, and blue pigment straight from the tube. I love the sense of harmony, unity, and freedom that Matisse creates through his balance of color and form. By coincidence I had a recurring drawing that kept surfacing in my sketchbooks that reminded me of Matisse's Dance composition. Sometimes I find myself fixated on a certain design, flow, or rhythm that seems to exist during a particular period or chapter in my life. I usually interpret sketches that become repetitive as a sign for a loaded mind. This calls for a purge of the psyche. The process of making a painting helps sort out the subconscious and make room for new ideas. It’s similar to cleaning out the garage, only at the end of the day you have a tangible piece of art depicting and idea or emotion.

I’d like to point out some changes made between the initial sketch and final painting. Due to a hiatus between sketch and paint application my idea depicting the figures had developed from a more anatomically correct human form to a more geometric configuration, insinuating how our reliance on tools and technology is beginning to mirror our motives and drive, transforming us into the tools and technology we seek to progress.

But what is progress?…

6) I have a lot of fun making sketches like this. When I was a child my parents would read me a children’s book called “Pish, posh, said Hieronymosh Bosch”. The story is told through the lens of Bosch’s housekeeper and about her struggle tending to Bosch’s mischievous little creatures that come to life as he paints. The illustrators Lee and Diane Dillan captivated me with their creative rendition of a story about Bosch and his imaginative world, of course I later discovered the actual work of Bosch and began attempting to build a fictional world of my own that alludes to contemporary environmental issues often supported by a recognizable biome. This fascination still flows through my veins. All the creatures portrayed in this painting have existed, do exist, or are on the brink of extinction. A loose pencil sketch is enough to plot out the major compositional components for a painting, the rest is going with the flow, rearranging, and filling in the blanks.

7) This is the largest paintings of them all inspired by the Adani Convoy making its way from Hobart up to Queensland’s Galilee Basin to protest a proposed mega coal mine. These sketches are a bit different than the previous examples as they were executed in ink wash. I decided ink wash would keep my sketch loose and help to convey a smokier atmosphere charred with exhaust that would increase contrast with the turquoise blue symbolizing the convoy and clean air. Once again I’m focusing on the ‘whole’ of the composition, major lines, shapes, balance between positive and negative space, seeking to compose an engaging composition. I made subtle changes from from the first draft sketch to the second beneath it, and that many of the qualities in the second sketch correspond with the infrastructure in the painting reinforcing the intricacies and embellishments. Foundation - structure - reinforcement - characteristics - embellishments (All of these stages overlap and there are infinite interpretations of each stage)

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The old pond- a frog jumps in, sound of water - Basho