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Little Lights - The Process Behind the Painting

Empty canvases. That's all I saw in the top of the closet in my art room. I had carefully stacked a half a dozen blank canvases, ranging in size from 8 x 10 to 12 x 16 along the shelf, hoping I would come up with a good use for them one day. I don't have anything against small canvases... I just generally prefer to work with larger surfaces and most of my projects require several feet wide/high of composition space. For the past year or two, I have been unsure of what I would do with my smaller collection of canvases. Until this past weekend.

One thing I know about myself as an artist - I work fast. If I am really into a piece, I can complete in a day or two. And this past weekend, I had a few ideas for some paintings I wanted to execute, and I wanted to do them quickly. I have noticed that I have a tendency to rush to complete an idea while it is clear and new in my mind. I think I am subconsciously scared that if I don't, I will loose the vivid image in my head, or loose interest in getting it out on paper all together. My creative process has always been a little scattered. I attribute it to my wild imagination, interest in so many different mediums, and my distaste for routine. I am also completely self taught. So when I had the idea for the piece this post is about, I had to start it right away!

Alright. Enough of that, and on to the good stuff! I remembered to snap pictures with my phone as I worked on this piece, so I could show the start to finish process of it. This piece took about 5-6 hours, start to finish, the first 4 done in one evening, and then the last hour or two completed the next afternoon. (Lighting in my art room is not incredible, so excuse the "low quality" images).

Step 1. Composition

I don't spend a ton of time laying out my ideas, but putting together a few thumbnail sketches can be very helpful in deciding which composition to go with. My canvas was an 11 x 14, so I wanted to deer to fill most of it.

Step 2. Rough sketch

I needed to have a few guidelines before I got the paint out, so I sketched out where I wanted the deer to be. Background and details are not important in this step. I was more concerned about getting my focal points of the piece within the "rule of thirds" sweet spots.

Step 3. background

The background is the "furthest thing back" in the painting, so that is what I usually start with. It is easier to paint what is "behind", than to wait until the deer is completed and have to carefully paint around it.

I continue to block in the background. I run the paint right up to/slightly overlap the outline of the deer. This will help avoid any "halo" effect that could occur after the deer is blocked in.

Step 4. deer

Here is the part where I start to block in the deer's body. While the background is not fully finished yet, I still wanted to get rid of that white canvas showing through. It usually helps me to get all my surfaced roughly covered so that I can see what I am working with and make adjustments as needed.

I continue to "sculpt" the body. When I am painting an animal, I try to keep in mind what it would look like 3-D. I am not just painting light and dark areas to "outline" the body, but instead show the areas that the light falls on. In this case, the light source is coming from far above, filtered by trees. It is coming from the down, but also giving a slight "backlit" feel. As I continue to define where the light is touching, I add some bright sun patches on the ground, and to some leaves in the background.

Step 5. Adding details

My favorite part of any character painting is the eyes. I used to do them first, but have started to do them closer to the end. The eyes are the life of the animal. They can evoke emotion from the viewer, and can set the tone for the rest of the piece.

In the image on right, you can see where I rounded her ears out a little more, and darkened the shadows on her body.

Below, you can see a slight change in the background. I added a few more trees, and glazed some blue over a large portion of the painting. This is done by adding a small amount of paint to a thinning medium and lightly washing some color over the dried painting, creating a tint.


To add a bit of that "fairytale" feel to this piece, I added some fireflies. I also put some little red mushrooms on the ground, and brightened her eyes. At first, I was not sure I wanted the firefly to have a face, but I think it really added to the painting in the end!

Step 7. Final

To finish the piece out, I go over the areas that I want to draw the most attention to with a small brush and add extra detail. The background gets some extra light rays, and the fireflies are brightened. This final picture was taken in natural daylight, so it shows the true colors better!

I hope you have enjoyed getting a little glimpse of how I create my art. If this was at all helpful or interesting to you, let me know! I would love to share more process work in the future!

"Little Lights" - 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas | ©JoannaGarciaArt

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