View Full Version : How do you conceive of your paintings?

08 August 2010, 02:38 PM
Hello all. I've been skimming through this forum and looking for somewhere this question is answered, but either through my incompetence or... well, let's be honest: it's probably through my incompetence, I haven't been able to find it.

How do you begin?

It's a problem I've always had. I'll have a beautiful vision in my mind of what I want to do. It might come at any point during the day, no matter what I'm doing, and I'll try to sketch it so I can keep it in mind when I get back to my wacom. But then I usually hit a brick wall about then because I will want to do the kind of painting where it looks 'right', so I'll either look for references or try to invent the elements.

Some things, though are just really difficult to invent - how light falls across a complex surface, where colours bounce around, anatomy and weight, cloth, fluid dynamics etc. and my attempts to invent them will almost invariably end up looking mediocre at best.

Looking for reference is not as easy as you'd hope, either. There's no search engine I know of where you can specify enough factors to get a good reference for e.g. a person with the right colouration, lighting, pose and emotion to get close to your original vision. So, usually what happens is after 3 hours and 60 pages of google image search I lose the will to create and go to bed feeling sour, or I find a reference which is almost but not quite close enough and in using it, find that I've killed all of the character and worth of my original sketch and no longer feel compelled to complete it.

The only occasions on which I get something that feels and looks right is when I'm directly using a reference I've chosen to do a painting from (in which case it's usually a kind of soft plagiarism - using someone else's composition); or when I do something simple: a close portrait with an indistinct background, or highly focused study of something with few elements.

I understand that the most obvious way around this is just to really study hard how to do lighting and setting things in a scene to the point where you don't need a reference - this is a long and hard process, which I am plugging away at, but I'd be really keen to hear how you go about it.

Do you paint what you see in your head? Or do you mostly adapt what you see with your eyes?

How do you make all the elements mesh in a scene that does not exist?

How do you find your references?

THanks, looking forward to your insights.

08 August 2010, 09:37 PM
Interesting Question, because I always have been fighting with myself, not to use reference because of the artistic freedom and originality "every artist should have". But thats a huge problem, because may be Im not able to visualize things as they are in reality, just from my imagination.

So I came up with my personal work-philosophy containing two modes of creating images.

1. creating Images only for training purposes - everything is allowed copying from photos, copying from other artists, or the best: copying from nature. But without raising the claim to make real art.
2. creating art. Only out of your own imagination. The time to apply all your skills that you have trained.

But I can tell you: I dont think any proffessionals are working only out of their imagination, they all tell you: "use a lot of reference!!" And thats true. But theres a difference between using reference to "puzzle" your image with many pieces of reference - or really understand the inner physics, perspective, lighting, color,... of your image and have the ability to match the perspective, shape, Light of the reference to your own idea.

I think it needs years of hard work & drawing to reach this level. But thats only my personal two pence. Looking forward for other comments.

08 August 2010, 06:59 PM
If you really want to be able to do works that are advanced and of high quality, then you must bite the bullet and really learn your foundations. There is no substitute for that. Even artists who work exclusively from life or photos have to learn those foundations too, because they allow the artist to really understand and analyze what he's actually looking at, why things look the way they do.

When working out of your head, depending on the style, it's very possible to work completely from your imagination and require no references whatsoever. This is very true for cartoony works and stylized works in general, but the more realistic you try to get, the more likely you'll have to consult references, as the human brain just isn't capable of knowing or memorizing all the details of the entire known world. Some times you just can't find helpful references and it's not something you can easily photograph yourself, and during times like that, you just have to fake it. Use your best guesstimation of how you think things should look based on your foundational knowledge and life experiences in general.

Sometimes useful references might pop in unlikely places though--for example, screencapture from a movie or animation. When google images fail you, you could consider that route.

Mr. D
08 August 2010, 12:21 AM

Also start yourself a morgue. This is reference clippings from books, magazines, and nowadays images form the web or take your own digital pics. Into it goes anything you my think will be helpful in future artwork. You'll start with none but in a few years you'll have more than you know what to do with.
No matter how good your imagination if you want to paint a winter storm at sea, and you've never seen the ocean hard to do. But don't think 'oh I might need a picture of this or that object'. Is there anything in this image that could prove useful (a reflection on a curved surface, how different metal shine, etc...)

Mr. D

08 August 2010, 09:09 AM
Thanks for your responses so far: there's a lot of truth in them. Be suured that I have bitten and am chewing on that bullet, Lunatique: I find it's a lot like learning the guitar: you can cover other peoples' songs until your neighbours call the police but you don't start getting good until you learn the scales and keys and play around in your own way.

Brughei, that's exactly what i mean... All of what I have done so far I'd consider 'for training purposes': that is, everything I've done that I'm not slightly ashamed to look at a couple of months later, but hey, learning all the time.

It's a question which does especially intrigue me though, since i's plainly a pretty broad problem: some really well-known digital artists produce many paintings which have one or two elements which are near perfect but others which really drag the image down. These seem like clear signs of which bits they had reference for, and it's something I'd like to avoid without limiting myself: that is, the way i get around it now is by only having a couple of elements in my painting, but that is really restricting in the long run.

The kind of thing I am aiming for (in the very long term, of course) is the work of people like Craig Mullins, where you really don't have a clue where he used reference, if at all, because the lighting and colour is just right everywhere, even though the painting is of something which plainly does not exist in the real world.

I'm not too much into video-game or fantasy art, or cartoons, which maybe puts me in the wrong place, but it also seems to oblige me to get things more 'right' because they look more real. A tricky one.

And yes, I have a big fat folder of images which I swipe whenever I see something that might come in handy, but getting lighting angles to match up can be a major headache when using a reference collage approach.

I do know that some people frown on using direct refernces, but than it's always worth reminding them of someone like Caravaggio, who did many of his paintings via a camera obscure: the period equivalent of simply tracing over a photo.

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