Tumultuous: A study of blue and gold
Tumultuous: A fast cover study
A while back I ran into an old friend of mine at a baby shower and, after a brief conversation, he mentioned his wife Re Ann was looking to hire a local artist for a painting. It was a nice re-connection, and after a week or two they were onboard for me to paint a commission for them.
I think, for the most part, it can be difficult for any normal person (myself included) to know what they are looking for in a new painting when put on the spot. I wanted to document my process of covering a large piece and since I was given artistic freedom on a large canvas there was no better an opportunity. I gave them a few hand-painted color swatches to choose from and after a few weeks they directed their interest towards the blue, black and grey card. In Re Ann's handwriting the words:
"Add gold flecks..."
...were scribbled on the bottom corner. I love that term, gold flecks. I think all of my paintings in some kind of way have "gold flecks." Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Gold Flecks are a great way of putting that 1% on a painting to bring it to the 99% point; all artists have a stopping point on a piece where they are comfortable with walking away. I knew to complete this commission the last thing I'd do was add my gold flecks.
So - I wanted to make a page that documents how a big painting like this begins (and ends). I wanted to make something that would intrigue Blake and Re Ann, where every time they looked at it they'd see something different. With dark blue and gold, it was fate that it'd be: science-fictionary, stormy, and highly contrasted. I apologize about the lack of photo quality on this page (some are fairly dark), my camera at the time wasn't that great. It took me around 80 hours total to finish on a 4' x 5' x 1.5" canvas:
Gold flecks and wires stretched across a dark blue storm, pockets of swirling light dance along an angled cutting horizon. I wanted an asymmetric alien world, filled with bulging deep churning vortexes and star-like spheres with an abstract gold-railway cutting through the background.
Step 1: Null, Start
Here are two things I use to work efficiently: First, work in a space you can feel free to be messy in. Don't work in an area where the larger concern is staying tidy than actually focusing on your piece, it will always limit you. Second, have a space you can leave all of your art supplies out in. The ritual of starting or continuing a piece is very important within that first half hour. You need a non-conflicting space to focus and find that flow state.
Step 2: Starting Momentum
It isn't always the case with paintings when you know exactly what you want to do. Establish a habit of working with smaller paintings in a sketch pad to warm up. I have found that if I think through the colors and composition before ever touching the canvas, I work much more efficiently. Take your time, but emphasize efficiency over busying yourself to make it seem like you're working. Establishing composition takes time and study, a small sketch pad habit will help in your world building.
Step 3: Emphasize Cover over Detail
Do not focus on detail in your starting hours. If you're vested in a big piece, it's likely you will cover up large portions of your canvas anyways. I have had paintings that have 5-10 coverings before I rest. After working for 30-60 minutes, put your brush down and take a step back to notate the composition. I like to eliminate any white from the canvas as quickly as I can (without rushing). Painting can be a game of both prediction and endurance, sometimes it takes a while for your picture to make itself known to you.
Step 4: Contrast and Shape
This in, in my opinion, a terribly dark photo. At this point it is actually much more blue and less black. Blurry structures have formed and it's now time to start deciding between "hard" and "soft" edges (i.e. the ones that are defined vs. difficult to make out). A very valuable thing I learned in community college art class was: throw away any fear of making mistakes, always be willing to paint over and start again. Use this in everything you paint.
Step 5: Gold and Details
Again - another dark photo from a time before I had a great camera. With full coverage, you can begin to reinforce the balance of the piece and add contrast/highlights/shading. For soft edging a nice wide throw-away filbert can be used to blur spots that have too much detail. Work back and forth between overly-populated soft edges and too many detailed hard edges until you find a nice balance between the two (remember to always take a step back after working for a while). Blur by packing the wide filbert with a small amount of paint, wipe most of it off, and lightly moving over a targeted area repeatedly.
Don't be afraid to paint thick if the piece calls for it. I wanted plenty of strong golds added. For me - the gold flecks came after around 75 hours. These were the heralds for a nearly-finished piece, and I used them as such.
Step 6: Completion
I was very happy with how it turned out, as were my commissioners! I hope my advice and pictures were in any way helpful. Creating a large painting can be a little slow to start, but they are without a doubt the most rewarding when finished.
If you have any questions about my creative process on any other pieces - please don't hesitate to contact me at:
Thanks for reading!