How To Start a Painting


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For me starting a painting isn’t an action, it’s a series of steps. Choose an object. Arrange the object somewhere, including lights that cast shadows. Take photographs. Download the photos and begin the long process of fiddling with them on my computer. (“Fiddling with them” is my technical term.) Choose an image. Enhance colours, shadows, light. Crop. Print a sample. Redo. Do again. Sometimes find out that none of the images have meaning. Start again. Choose one print of those that make the first cut and begin to crop in earnest. Cropping means using strips of paper that I move around physically on the photo as I look for the subject at the heart of this object. When there is nothing left after cropping except that which can’t be taken away without losing meaning, fix the crop so it is in the proportion of the board I want to paint on. Occasionally find out that the board I wanted to paint on is nowhere near the right size for the intuitive heart of this image. In which case, begin again with this image or choose another image and begin again there. Draw the entire image on the board, using contour lines in terra cotta pencil.

Mix colours and paint.

When does the object become a subject? When does the subject have meaning?

When I begin to truly see it. Not just see what’s there, but see how its nature and substance reach out into the world and then draw the real world back inside the imagined one.

Sometimes I barely dare. Sometimes I rush forward, barely able to wait for whatever comes next.

Just start.

Where do you begin?

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4 Responses to How To Start a Painting

  1. Marlena Wyman January 18, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your “start” method, Laureen. I love your phrase “draw the real world back inside the imagined one”.

    I often start with research – perhaps because of my Archivist background. I research and gather writings and photographs that inspire me (most recently the archival diaries, letters and photographs of early prairie women) by visiting archives in person as well as searching online. When a quote and/or photograph leaps out at me and conjures a mental image, I will quickly sketch it and make notes before I lose that image. The end product does not always converge with the original vision, but it is always an interesting process.

    The methods that artists use to start their artistic process also makes the question, “How long did it take you to paint that?”, almost impossible to answer.


  2. Laureen January 18, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    I think of myself as someone who is way more about product than process, and yet the process of getting to my image is so much a part of how I make things. Maybe a revision of definition is due.

    Thank you too, Marlena. Your images look like they come from a kind of conjuring. They have that suggestion of mystery and haunting.

  3. Jeanne Apelseth January 19, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    My concepts always begin in the middle of the night when sleep escapes me and my mind is racing. I keep a journal beside my bed to scribble down ideas and visions I have for single pieces, series, exhibits or books. (Ha, let’s just complicate things by throwing a book into the mix!)

    I think I have enough ideas to last me until I am 110….now, just to find the time.

  4. Laureen January 19, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    It’s so interesting the different ways we find the ideas inside our heads, before the ideas can turn into images. Thanks Jeanne for this one!