11 x 14
But recently I've begun to paint tiny thumbnails in black and white before launching into a full colour version, and it's been a revelation. Thumbnails in paint correlate perfectly to the colour paintings - they already are paintings - and so they become what they should always have been: maps to the finished works.
My first step was, in fact, to use charcoal to visualize the main movements of the painting. The girls became swooping lines of certain heights; I figured out the shore line (which meant I knew the division of space between water and land) and I indicated the people in the water on the left. This step took 1 minute.
|placing figures with charcoal|
Next, using black and white paint, I made a tiny, abstract painting that determined the values - light, mid, and dark - of those elements. In the process, I discovered that I didn't like the shoreline, so I altered its course.
What I'm looking for at this stage is variety in the shapes, both positive and negative, and effective use of values. So, if I'm trying to emphasize the light surface of the inflatables, I ensure that they are silhouetted against a mid or dark value which will make them visually dramatic. If I didn't do this editing step and launched straight into the
|black and white paint|
When the thumbnail makes an appealing abstract composition with variety in value and shape, I can start the painting. It's a simple matter then of making sure that the values of the colours that I mix for each area correspond to the values that I'd determined in my thumbnail; individual colours don't matter as much as their value.
Like an outline for an essay, these thumbnails direct the painting and become a more meaningful reference than the photo reference itself. I glance at the photo for colour clues, but it's the thumbnail that tells me if the composition will work in the first place; and no amount of interesting colour or brushwork can save a painting that has a poor composition.
If you don't already do them, I recommend you give these painted thumbnails a try. They solve a lot of problems before you ever touch colour, and liberate you to paint freely and with assurance once you do.