Doing it wrong to get it right.

After my two recent digital speedpaintings, I started to wonder where to take things next. As fun as doing very time limited studies was, once I’ve proven to myself I can do something successfully, I always begin to feel like trying something new or do it differently.

As coincidence would have it, my trusty Twitter feed was right there, ready to help me out once again. My friend and one of my favorite photographers Cri, tweeted a photo of a Scrub Jay happily displaying a freshly acquired peanut.

It was the perfect image to try something I’ve meant to for a good while now. Consciously use reference in a more loose manner and as a guide, instead of obsessing over getting everything “right”. Without relying on strict time constraints to deliver pressure. Since the source image already has a comical streak, it felt like a good idea to turn that up a little, which led to this:

As you can see I decided to blow up the nut, as well as enlarge the eye considerably to play up the expression, topping it off with a subtle glint flare and some not so subtle !!! The difference in reflection was a sort of happy accident, with the early, rough brush strokes simply looking more appealing than the real thing. The size changes to the peanut and eye ended up working well, not just for the final image and resulting effect, but they also (mostly) prevented me from continuously adjusting shapes for diminishing returns.

Usually when I draw or paint from reference, the main thing I try to get right is the proportions and relations of all the shapes and forms to one another. So I look for landmarks like the beak’s tip, the eye, dents and peaks of any sort and align them as they appear in the image I’m eyeballing. However, since I’ve chosen to exaggerate some features on purpose, a lot of that goes out the window and there is simply not enough space anymore to put all the bits into the right places and in their correct size. So in the end I successfully tricked myself into being content with that, instead of endlessly noodling around to achieve some sort of perfect replica (which I still can’t anyway).

Being able to copy an image is without a doubt a very useful skill to have and practicing to improve it will pay off in several ways. That said, I think no matter how perfectly someone is able to duplicate, there will always be something of themselves left in the result (for better or worse). I see it as the reference being distilled through a person, influenced by two factors named skill and intent. The ultimate goal being a lack of the former never getting into the way of the latter.

My personal goal is to continue doing studies to grow my abilities so I’ll be able to turn anything I fancy into something, I don’t want to say better, but something with just the right bits of me in them.

Recreate & Re-Create

As is too often the case for me, I tend to forget how much I enjoy doing something (or the satisfaction I get from the result) after not having gotten around to it for a while. This time it was painting studies. I had no idea how long it had been since I made my last, but when I saw a photo of cut up, deliciously lit grapefruit in a bowl over on my Twitter feed, I knew I had to paint it.

The gloriously translucent and juicy fruits of motivation.

Now I have to admit that I’d very much prefer to have a go at it with my acrylic paints and get a tangible thing out of it, but at the same time the hassle of preparation and mixing colours would be enough to put me off in those spontaneous moments. Especially when I’m aiming for something as short as 30 minutes to mainly train my eyes, improve my feel for colors and even more so, keep me from noodling on endlessly.

This is where digital painting is a real boon. I don’t use layers or even the undo function most of the time, but the fact that you can instantly jump into it without having to even consider a palette is just perfect for these situations.

The digital fruits of my labour.

Usually I’m not a big fan of value-adjusting statements like “this is my first try” or “it only took me x amount of time”, but as someone who generally takes ages to get anything finished, I really can’t deny that I felt rather content and satisfied I was able to create this in just about 30 minutes. So I mentioned that when showing the painting around…and after hearing “30 minutes? how?!”, I of course started to feel like I should have recorded my process to back up that claim.

Being me, there was no way around it and so I went to pick a new reference image, set up the recording software and off I went to paint another 30 minute study of this Chickadee from Jen Cross.

My second victim for a 30 minute paint-by assault

I’ve not really made videos of my painting process before and amusingly I started to feel a little pressure as soon as I hit that record button. Would I be able to get it done “enough” in 30 minutes again? Here’s the result, so you can judge that yourself and I put the video up on youtube, in case you’d like to follow along the creation in real time as well.

More like Quickadee.

New studies will happen and I’ll definitely try to make any future videos more interesting through narration and editing, maybe try streaming. For now, I’m mostly glad I got the grapefruit rolling.

Scroll to top