I had a bit of time this week and so I pulled out the oil paints for the first time in a couple of years. Oil paint was my main medium for two decades but for the last few years I’ve used acrylic paint. That was because I wanted to make more paintings in a shorter period of time. I wanted to explore a lot of different images. Instead of painting one large oil painting I painted ten small acrylic paintings.

The change served me well and I’ve made a whole lot of 8×10 inch acrylic paintings of a whole variety of images and used a bunch of new techniques and approaches. But now I’ve grown tired of the small size. At least for the moment.

I pulled out an old stretcher I had lying around and dusted it off. At 48×39 inches it’s a a good size. Just what I was looking for. The stretcher was from a painting that I did years ago that I must not have liked since I got rid of it. I stretched some new canvas over the stretchers and then primed it for painting.

Working on a large painting is different from working on a small one. Small paintings can be done quickly and I can try different images without worrying about any single one too much. That’s why I wanted to make small ones. I’d do six drawings, pick the four I liked best, and then work on four small paintings at once. It left a lot of room for change and variety.

When working on a large oil painting there is less exploring when it comes to the imagery. Or maybe it’s that the exploring is only in the sketch and drawing stage. It takes at least a week to do a large painting. More likely a week and a half or two weeks. That’s a lot of time to devote to one image so I have to like that image or everything breaks down. I don’t want to get halfway through and then have to start over.

So I worked on a drawing for a while. I looked through my book of drawings and marked a few off that I thought I could make into something. It took a while since I wasn’t used to thinking in terms of large paintings but eventually I got it. So I drew it in pencil and then drew it in ink. In ink I get a better idea of line weight but I don’t copy my ink drawing’s line weight to the painting. The painting isn’t about a pretty thick to thin line, as is an ink drawing, but I still need an idea of line weight.

After that I scan I the ink drawing and figure out my color sketch on the computer. This is one of the places a computer has replaced pen and paper for me. It is so much easier to try different color schemes on the computer. I can change everything around quickly without ever having to scrap things.

After all that work is done I transfer the small drawing I made onto the large canvas. I grid it up. A classic artist’s method. Draw a grid of squares on the canvas and a grid of squares on the small drawing. Now draw on the canvas what’s in each little square and you’ll end up with a bigger version of the drawing. It takes some time but it’s easy. Some people like to project the drawing onto the canvas but I like the grid method.

The painting then took me four days. From about eight until four each day. I thought I would be able to finish early on that fourth day but then I noticed a few things didn’t look right. I had to spend a couple of hours moving tiny bits of paint by millimeters. It was a mistake not to have everything nailed down before I started the actual painting but it had been a while since I did a big painting. With the small paintings I can wing it a little more but not with the big ones.

Now I’m in the waiting phase. Waiting for paint to dry. The painting is still not finished but the bulk of the work is done. Now the improvisational bits are left to do. I drop in more lines and brush strokes full of color on top of the image. It’s what makes it come alive for me but the surface of the paint is still to wet to put more paint on top of it. So now I wait. It should be about two weeks. I’ll let you know.