I’m currently working on a painting of two rhinoceroses, and I thought I’d share some of my sketching process. I've noticed that the pieces that fail are usually the ones that I didn’t spend enough time planning. It’s an easy trap to fall into: you’re feeling inspired, and you’re ready to get painting right away. You start splashing paint on paper, and guess what: you have no plan. You’re stopped dead when you face a problem, because you’re not prepared for it.
The easy way around this is to do a lot of sketching before you start. Look at one of the pages of my sketchbook: I started out with a ballpoint pen value study to see if my lights and darks worked together to make an interesting image. Then I drew some small sketches of the difficult parts of the drawing, like the rhino’s head. Then I started experimenting with different colors to see what would best produce the rhinos’ hides and the background foliage. In the end, I decided to use a limited palette of raw sienna, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. These three pigments together will give me everything I need to make a full range of colors.
On the next page, I did a small study of the final painting. Maybe it’s not ready for the Louvre; but that’s not really the point. All I was trying to accomplish was to see what sort of problems I would encounter, and then solve them here, in my sketchbook, instead of later, in the final painting. For instance, I discovered that combining the three colors into a dark brown/black doesn’t work super well unless you let the burnt sienna (red-brown) dominate the mixture.
So in summary, I:
- Did a black-and-white value study to help with the compositiion
- Studied specific drawing problems
- Decided on what pigments I would need to use
- Did a small color study to work out the painting problems.
Try these steps out some time. If you do them all, your paintings will instantly improve.