Painting in 7 Easy Steps

Bear with me: this is a constant gripe of mine. Still, whenever I see something like this going on and get annoyed, I remind myself how much more I’m learning by not giving in to the photocopy machine ethos, and I feel a bit better (not that it will last when my result slip comes back with a ‘C’)


I have no issue with photo reference. I think photography is an amazingly liberating and helpful tool for all kinds of artists. What I do dislike is copying the photo blindly without taking into consideration the intent of the piece.

A Recipe for Instant Art

You will need:

  • A camera, preferably digital
  • An overhead projector (optional)
  • Models (optional)
  • Lights (optional, strongly encouraged)
  • Pencil (2B) or thin vine charcoal
  • Paint (oil is best to ensure the final work has an artsy flair)
  • Support (canvas preferred)

Preparation Time: 1 day ~ 3 weeks

Procedure:

  1. Come up with a concept, and shoehorn it into a contemporary context – preferably one which you have easy access to (e.g. your messy kitchen).
  2. Draw three thumbnails and pick the one you like most.
  3. Scout for a location and conduct a photo shoot. If you considered lighting in step 2, arrange lights as necessary prior to shoot and do not experiment with lighting once shoot has commenced. If done correctly, you should leave with precisely one sharp, well-focused image.
  4. Make A4 print of image. If using a digital camera, be sure to print with an office color laser printer and ensure that a strange color shift is present before proceeding to next step.
  5. Proceed to paint image onto support. A paint-by-numbers approach is especially useful. Cropping is allowed but only use if absolutely necessary (e.g. you have ordered the wrong size of canvas). Take care to copy your photograph slavishly and always draw contours, not three-dimensional forms! Remember to follow the colors of the photograph as closely as you can. Doing otherwise diminishes the verisimilitude of your final piece.
  6. Allow painting to dry. In the meantime, you should write an artist’s statement about the painting. Include two or more of the following words/phrases for maximum impact: “mimetic”, “built environment”, “contemporary”, “disengagement”, “appropriation”, “question”, “social mores”.
  7. Exhibit and win awards at contemporary art shows.

The following steps can be performed between steps 4 and 5. They are optional, but they will shorten the preparation time drastically, especially if you are not a skilled draughtsman.

  1. Make print of image onto projector slide.
  2. Project image onto canvas.
  3. Using pencil or charcoal, carefully trace outline of photograph – including highlight and shadow areas – until you have something that resembles a contour map.
  4. Seal line drawing to avoid accidental smudging while painting.

Common Problems

Q. I started painting, but realized that I don’t have a good ‘feel’ for my subject. Should I do some studies to familiarize myself with it?

A. Resist the temptation. Extraneous studies will only slow you down. If producing the painting for school examinations, you may be required to produce studies; in this case, avail yourself of a lightbox. Remember the Golden Rule: copy contour, don’t think about form.

Q. I’ve started analyzing the scene I’m painting! I’ve come up with ideas for lighting and edge treatment to convey the forms and concepts more clearly (I think). Should I still follow the photograph?

A. Yes. You do not want to waste all the effort you have put in so far.

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