This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions artists get... along with... "how long did it take to paint?"
So over the next few weeks (or however long it takes me) I'll post a rough step by step on the progress of one of the paintings I'm working on at the moment.
First of all......
Inspiration: This came from a trip to Africa in '99 where in the Masai Mara we saw an adult female cheetah with her two juvenile cubs (about a year old). Whilst watching them, and luckily for me whilst video-ing, one of the juveniles picked up it's siblings tail tip in its mouth and they walked for a while in this fashion. Thankful I had the video camera going throughout this behaviour, I planned one day to paint it. I have some exhibitions, one in particular if I can get it done in time, coming up and now seemed a good a time as any to tackle this idea.
I decided to put the cheetahs in a landscape based of photo's I took in Amboseli and liked the idea of morning light with long shadows. Stage one is sometimes the most lengthy. This is where the concept of the idea is formed and deliberated upon for days sometimes weeks. In this particular case it has been well over a month or two of thought, planning, research, reference gathering, composition dabbling and final drawing up to size - done in between other jobs/chores. I use the computer a lot for the final stage... drawing up the rough of the landscape and detailed drawings of the animal subjects by hand first before scanning them in and fitting together on the computer. In this way I can play with subject size and positioning in the landscape, just to make sure all is how I planned it is what works best for me, before committing myself to the composition. Once I'm happy, I print it out to the size of the canvas/board so that I can trace this straight onto it.
To eradicate lifting or smudging of pencil/carbon I paint a thin wash of acrylic over the traced drawing. This also helps to 'ground and unify' the painting with a base colour. Some people use the same tone of colour on all their work but I like to use a colour that sets the tone for the final painting and of course that varies from piece to piece.
Now the paint can be sploshed! For this piece I am using oil paints... I like the richness and luminosity of colour you get with oils.... and I quite like the smell too!
So faced with a relatively blank canvas, just where do I start?
I like to work from the furthest point in the landscape to the front. I feel this helps to create recession as I paint trees over distant hills or sky etc; but artists work in different ways and no one way is THE only and correct way to do things. Many I know paint their main subject first and then apply the background around it afterwards, to great and very successful effect. So, back to the picture.... the sky was painted first and I wanted a soft sky with hints of clouds - nothing dramatic as I don't want to detract from the drama of the landscape and animals.
The hills were added next using plenty of white, blue and purple into the mix of greens to make them look distant. I have allowed an overlap in my treeline so that when I paint branches and leave gaps in foliage, the hills and sky sit behind nicely. So I have now got the sky and distant hills on. I used a soft wide brush to brush lightly over the paint to take out any hard lines or ridges. This 'knocks back' the detail creating a 'soft focus' effect and adds to the feel of recession.
I waited several days for this to dry before I painted the next bit - the middle ground.
Again working from furthest point coming forwards I painted in the tree line - again adding blue, white and purple to keep them 'distant' in feel. To lift the blandness of colour I dropped in patches of warm pinky browns as highlights to create the colour of light that I want for the time of day I'm portraying; and also to keep the shadow areas from getting too dark, I used a very dark blue mix with just the tiniest amount of black (hardly any at all) added to soften the blueness.
The area of ground in front of the trees is mainly pale purple mixed onto a base of a pinky sand colour. I have animals to paint onto this so any detailing (such as broken branches, tufts of grass, elephant droppings) will be done after the animals (tommies and zebra) are on and dry.
I am at present working on this very grouping of animals with thumbnail sketches before I draw up the final plan of their positioning. The composition of the individuals within the grouping and the distance between them and the female cheetah is important, even though they are not the main focus, they are integral to the 'story' within the painting and to get this bit wrong would undoubtedly unbalanced the whole painting.