First Blog: Anatomy of a Painting

January 2, 2007

     On December 26, 2006, I began this painting, working on raw canvas in acrylics with some arbitrary washes of colors, brushstrokes and lines to build on later (see fig. 1).   After the under painting was dry, I began working with a photograph of a harmonica player (see fig. 2).  I was using the subject “musicians” since this is a commissioned piece.  After working for an hour or so, I took a break. 

            2-horn.jpg                                      3-horn.jpg

                 Fig. 1                   Fig. 2                     Fig. 3


     Returning to the studio, the first thing I noticed about the painting was the red shape that was the harmonica player’s head (see fig. 3).  My intuition told me that this was not going to work; perhaps because it is the only red shape on the canvas which draws the eye to the center and holds it there.  Or it could have been the direction the figure was facing.  It was probably both, but at any rate, I had the overwhelming feeling that it was not going to work.  So at this early stage of the game, I thought it may be better to just move on.


                                     4-horn.jpg          5-horn.jpg

              Fig. 4                     Fig. 5                      Fig. 6

     I picked up a photograph of a hornplayer (see figure 4) and liked the fact that he was facing the viewer.  As I began to place pieces of paint on the canvas, working with a few simple colors to make the light and dark values, I had a loose feeling of the figure (see figure 5).  As unrecognizable as the figure was at that point, there was still enough information that I could see that this just might work.  The colors were fresh and spontaneous and the placement of the musician on the canvas was strong.  The viewer is led up into the picture by the placement of the shapes and colors.  I realized I could build a painting on this design.

     During the next phase of the painting (see figure 6), I began to tighten up some of the shapes that would represent the face, hands, horn, and hat.  I alternated working in the foreground and background simultaneously; otherwise, the painting would develop a feeling of separation between the background and foregound figure which could kill the piece.  It was very important that the eye easily move between the figure and the background; I found I could only make that happen by working both at the same time.  While I had not yet figured out what I was going to do in the background, I knew that that by working some value and colors in, I could figure it out as I went.  Also, because the main figure took up so much of the canvas, I didn’t feel like the background would be much of a problem.  I began to use colors, browns and greens that were less vibrant but would enhance and balance the strong blues and reds in the figure.

     In the next phase of the painting, I began to work more in the background areas; I played around with the idea of suggesting some small figures across the top (see figure 7).  This idea seemed too busy so I began to simplify the shapes.  I got a little carried away with the red and, after allowing the painting a few days to rest, decided it needed something drastic.  I got intuitive with it.  Throwing caution to the wind, I started rubbing some color into it.


  6-horn.jpg    7-horn.jpg    8-horn.jpg    9a-horn.jpg

        Fig. 7               Fig.  8                 Fig. 9               Fig. 10

     Editor’s Note:  There is more to the building of this canvas as evidenced by figures eight, nine, and ten.  The finished product, figure ten, was purchased by J. Alexander’s for its restaurant in Detroit, Michigan.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.