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William Stout Painting Lesson #3

Menagerie – Sepia Acrylic Lay-in
Menagerie – Sepia Acrylic Lay-in

I’m happy with my rough, so now it’s time to move from paper to canvas.

Since this painting is going to have its own wall in the exhibition, I want it to be large. The first canvas I purchase, however, won’t fit in my van. I walk it back to the art supplies shop and exchange it for a slightly smaller (4′ x 5′) canvas that will fit in my car.

At home I makeup my palette. I’m going to paint a sepia version of my rough in acrylic. I use black, burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre and white. The yellow ochre is used to warm up my browns in the painting.

I block in the entire picture using a very big brush. This takes about an hour. Again, once it is has been quickly blocked in I can tell right away whether or not I’ve potentially got a decent picture.

I hate using rulers and I can’t stand “squaring up” or projecting in order to enlarge a composition. I have found I like to eyeball the enlargement, hoping for “happy accidents” that will improve the painting. It also makes the enlargement process less laborious and mechanical. Besides, If I don’t like my freehand enlargement, I can always go back to my rough and carefully correct what I don’t like.

What I’m creating here is a large value painting, that is, a black and white (brown & white, actually) version of my painting. I need to know that this composition and design work on their own without the distraction of color.

Just as much as I’m “spotting my blacks” (arranging the blacks in such a way that they subliminally take the viewer on a journey throughout the picture), I am also spotting my whites.

Normally, I’d first paint the entire canvas a middle value mixture of raw umber and white. Then, I’d arrange my darks and pick out (or “spot”) my whites. But in this painting I already know that much of my background is going to be pure white. I’ve left those parts as white canvas here, rather than painting the white canvas raw umber, then painting it back to white again. Why work twice as hard as you need to?

Like I said, I’ve totally eyeballed this whole thing. I did measure to locate the center of the canvas because I want that chimp’s canvas to be right smack dab in the center of the bottom of the painting. I love how the severe rectangle of the chimp’s canvas acts as a visual anchor and antidote to the organic rhythms and designed chaos of the rest of the picture.

But I didn’t use a ruler, however, to paint the chimp’s canvas edges. I want this painting to have a very loose, organic feel to it.

You’ll notice I eliminated the zebra (replacing him by moving up the koala) and moved the dodo from the left hand side of the picture over to the right.

3 thoughts on “William Stout Painting Lesson #3

  1. Really like your sepia studies Bill.
    In your mural book the images I found almost more enjoyable than your finals were the sepia studies.
    There’s an inherent drama in them, and the brushwork still has a wonderful looseness.
    Thanks for sharing your process.


  2. I’ve found there’s a power to the simplicity of a limited palette. I would even go so far as to say that color is not a necessary component to a great painting. Shapes, values (your systems of darks and lights) and edges (carefully choosing which will be hard and which will be soft) — those three key painting components should be your focus. It is within those areas that most of the problems with a painting will be found.

    If your picture’s values are well planned and designed, you can use any damn colors in your picture that you want.

    Please note that the guy making the above statements (me) is someone who absolutely loves great color.

    In regards to color, here’s a tip: The fastest way to become good with color (and good as a painter) is to do lots of plein aire paintings. Nature will constantly surprise you with her amazing color schemes. For those who don’t know, plein aire paintings are pictures (usually landscapes) that are painted outdoors in one sitting. They’re usually small (typically about 9″ x 12″ or smaller), and take only one to two hours to complete because the rotating earth’s relationship with the sun doesn’t give you much time to paint them before the light has completely changed.

    The fastest way to become a good draftsman is to do as much life drawing as possible.

    My favorite quote from the great painter Ingres is, “Give me ten years and I’ll teach you how to draw; one more day and I’ll teach you how to paint.” He exaggerates, of course, but he’s not really all that far off…

  3. Inspiring stuff, thanks for sharing Bill.

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