I can't express how much fun I have when I'm painting. And people ask me often if I paint like this...piece by piece, all the time. The answer is no. But this is my favorite way to paint. I approach each painting after I've spent ages, sometimes, playing out the process in my head. I have to 'see' how it will turn out, and that helps me know what approach I should start with.
In this case, I'm using the Selective Start Method that is beautifully explained in "Alla Prima II" by artist and author Richard Schmid. Schmid's work and teachings have inspired me greatly. Nearly all of the masters I have learned from are Schmid's students. I cannot recommend a book for learning how to paint, more highly.
With that said, I'll walk you through the step-by-step of my most recent commissioned painting, "Souffrance Intentionnelle" (aka Intentional Suffering") 30x30, Oil on canvas.
FIRST STEP: PREPPING THE SURFACE In this case, I knew far in advance that I would be make a 'looser' painting than my typical work because I wanted to challenge myself and this collector trusts me fully, so was happy to let me experiment. I also wanted to achieve a level of surface texture that I had not yet played with, so I prepared the canvas, which actually had a very early work painted on it, in advance by applying a thin wash of walnut oil on top of the old painting. I used a small piece of fine sand paper to knock down some of the edges, and then applied a thick brown layer with a palette knife. The brown was a mixture of Transparent Oxide Red and Ultra Marine Deep. I let some of the paint from the old painting shine through but was really applying generously so the new texture would be complimentary to this painting. I let that layer dry thoroughly for two weeks in the Missouri summer heat.
SECOND STEP: MIX A PALETTE In my experience the painting actually happens on the palette. The paint application, Selective Start, Line & Value Block-In, Grisaille or Wipeout, big brushes, small brushes, hog hair or sable, it doesn't matter as much as understanding value and temperature and color relativity, and that is a color mixing issue, not a paint application issue. I segregate my colors into 3 value piles typically because that is usually how many value separations I observe. If I see more, I'll make more. If I see less, I'll make less. I add satellites of hue shifts into each of those piles, like little colorful moons revolving around the sun. I know I've stayed true to the value pile when I take a photo of the pile of paint and the satellites and turn it black and white. You cannot really tell what color is what, because they are all the same level of grey.
THIRD STEP: BEGIN TO PAINT Once the surface was dry, I applied another layer of walnut oil to the area where I was ready to begin. I don't always start with the eyes, but often I do. It doesn't really matter where you start, it only matters that you have a clear view of your painting in your mind and you know that the first marks you make are going to be the gauge in which you measure every proceeding mark. I apply with my finger, brush, whatever I need to get the texture I'm looking for. I use plenty of paint unless I'm dry brushing over a dry layer. My brush approaches the canvas from many different angles and with many differing levels of pressure. I'm not stabbing the canvas or dragging the brush like it is a pencil. I'm following the contour of the subject I'm painting. It is, I admit, a lot to consider all at once with each new stroke. That's why I paint so slowly!! I don't go back over for 2nd or 3rd passes. This is an alla prima, (wet into wet) technique. I work in small patches, each touching the next, and am constantly comparing what I am doing to what I have done. When I leave an area, it is because it is done.
There are many, many ways to make your best work. For each situation, mood, time constraint, etc., I have a different approach...each completely different, but just as valid as the next and serving the same purpose...to ensure I am happy when I'm at work. I believe artists make their best work when they are painting in the method that comes naturally to them. Happy painting!