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Thread: Beginning a painting

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    Beginning a painting

    When beginning a painting what are the merits behind blocking-in and line drawing?

    I recently began a painting and I didn't know what I should start with. Are they both separate approaches? Or are they traditionally meant to be used in some order?
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    Good question - but too general. Depends on so many factors as there are many ways to start a painting. I'd try the exact same painting twice - one from line-work and one by blocking in. You'll start to figure out which approach you like. Nice work in your sketchbook by the way.
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    I agree with Jeff.
    However, a few things to consider:
    The best method (in anything actually) is the one that puts down your thoughts as directly and immediately as you can possibly conceive. This will depend on what you are thinking about, how you think about it and all this stemming from the kind of temperament you have.
    So, whatever is the most immediate way of regestering what is on your mind.....anything else is veiling your intentions with untruths.
    Last edited by Chris Bennett; January 13th, 2011 at 06:42 AM.
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    I did start the painting with both approaches and it was curiosity that led me to the question. I wasn't sure if line-work in the early stages of painting was an accepted technique, or if it's a beginner error that is subsequently replaced by blocking. I'm not looking for a right answer, just a discussion in order to shed some light.

    Thanks for taking a look at my SB by the way, you've got some nice life drawings yourself - all that anatomy study pays off.
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    So, which method did you find put down your intentions most directly FUSH?
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    Well Chris, I would have to say blocking in this case. But if what you say about temperament is true, then I must have been in the appropriate frame of mind, as the study before I started with line-drawing and that worked out.
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    Are you using oils? Going for full color or monochromatic? When I do my plein air I usually start with just a quick, linear sketch in thin oil to establish all major shape boundaries - then go right in to the blocking stage. If it is very complex, like an architectural scene, I might spend more time developing a more accurate sketch. For portrait/figure I tend to stay monochromatic and like to wipe the paint out. If I'm doing an illustration I develop a fairly tight drawing and various color/value studies - eventually I do a final drawing for the illustration, have that copied and adhere it to masonite with matte medium. Then I go in with paint and just follow my drawing and studies (pretty much the way Gurney works or Giancola).

    Richard Schmid talks about four different ways to start a painting in his book "Alla Prima" - which is excellent.
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    I'm using full colour digital means.

    So in your case you use the line sketch as scaffold, before going into the blocking. However, in your portrait/figures you start with blocking and skip the sketch altogether. Is this because the elements of a portrait are intuitive enough that you feel comfortable forgoing that step, whereas architecture is not yet as intuitive so a sketch step helps?

    At the moment I understand that a line sketch helps to define boundaries, after which blocking is used to define planes of value (and subsequently also boundaries, where different places meet). Where I am confused is: if blocking can also define boundaries, what is the point of a line sketch?
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    First before we begin I would like to recognize the traditional owners of this thread, the KIWIS. (What's 3 + 3? Lol)

    Now, you can block in and define boundaries as well as using line sketching to get your point across, it depends on what works for you, and what's easier for you to visualize the final product and/or the style of the painting. For example, if you find yourself blocking in forms of light and tone, you may find it easier to establish a more realistically oriented painting, which will have good spacial perception (in theory.) Using line sketches will make it easier to navigate the flow of your image in terms of linear design, because your eyes will follow the flow of the lines you place. Since you're using digital, it's extremely versatile so you can really block in your core shadows underneath lines that you already established, or vice versa.

    These are my observations but again, whatever works for you.


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    I gather from this discussion so far, the aid of a sketch is to provide a scaffold; lines of a feature, placed down after assessing the relationship to the features surrounding it: angles and distance toward other prominent physical areas and major changes of value. These enable use to critically asses the scene, note down feature relationships and construct an accurate representation before we commit paint.

    To me, skipping the sketch step means we aren't placing emphasis on correctness of structure - for the sake of either style or speed - but perhaps instead placing it on the colour.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FUSHANDCHUPS View Post

    So in your case you use the line sketch as scaffold, before going into the blocking. However, in your portrait/figures you start with blocking and skip the sketch altogether. Is this because the elements of a portrait are intuitive enough that you feel comfortable forgoing that step, whereas architecture is not yet as intuitive so a sketch step helps?

    At the moment I understand that a line sketch helps to define boundaries, after which blocking is used to define planes of value (and subsequently also boundaries, where different places meet). Where I am confused is: if blocking can also define boundaries, what is the point of a line sketch?
    Well....not exactly....for landscapes the shapes/boundaries are generally broad/large and soft or at least organic so a veryquick sketch, in thin paint, is all that I need to start. Architecture has much more perspective of course, linear elements, repeating forms, etc. so a tighter sketch helps keep all that defined. Portrait/figure is on a different scale than the others and I just find it easier to begin to establish my lights right away by wiping out the tone.

    In all cases I start broad and general trying to see and establish the correct light and value pattern....working toward more specific detail as the painting develops. I have no real idea how I would approach it digitally...my digital work is entirely non-painterly.

    Edit: I'll try to find a couple demo shots that shows what I'm talking about...it may be tomorrow though...
    Last edited by JeffX99; January 13th, 2011 at 10:46 PM. Reason: added note...
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    There isn't a single "right" way, you do whatever gets the job done. How you approach it may also depend on whether you're painting directly from life, or doing an elaborate invented image, or what. If you're painting directly from life, odds are you don't need a thorough drawing to start with, because you've got your subject right in front of you.

    If you're doing an invented scene, though, there may be many stages of drawing, studies, refs, etc. culminating in a finished drawing on which you base your painting. In that case, many people use the finished drawing as a starting base for their painting (transferring it to canvas or scanning it or whatever.) Personally I project the drawing onto the canvas and trace the main lines of it so I know where stuff goes (or scan it if I'm working digitally,) then block in roughly over that (my underpaintings are messy, so I don't fuss too much about sticking to the line drawing, it gets completely covered over in the first stage anyway.) Meanwhile I have the final drawing tacked up beside me as a "model".

    Some pros like a very finished underdrawing, though - for instance, Donato Giancarlo does a very tight drawing, then xeroxes it and pastes the xerox to his canvas and uses it as a base for his painting.
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  17. #13
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    I was never looking for a "right" way, I was looking for discussion into who uses what, at what stage and ultimately, why.

    I use sketches because I like the scaffolding they provide; however, it seems common to start a digital painting with blocking in. I was interested to hear other work-flows, particularly those from a traditional background.
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