Updated: Mar 24, 2019
20% of my art happens before I even touch a canvas, yours should too!
So you are thinking about painting and you either have an idea of what you want to paint or are looking to get inspired by something. Great! Painting is a wonderful outlet, it improves your hand eye coordination and can reduce your stress. However, if you don't have a good plan before you put paint to canvas you may end up disappointed or frustrated with the outcome. I also want to stress expectation control, your goal should not be the perfect painting at the end (unless it's a commission but more on that later). Your goal, what motivates you, should be your love of the process you've built.
“Your goal, what motivates you, should be your love of the process you've built.”
If you don't have a creative process that you intentionally go through, then i'll bet you have wasted a lot of paint and time on paintings that you are not proud of.
The Basics of Process
A quick google search will bring up study.com definition and list for the creative process.
I'll give you a quick synopsis:
The creative process is steps taken starting from problem/desire/need until achieving solved/fulfilled/met. The five defined steps are preparation, Incubation, illumination, evaluation, and implementation.
Now if you notice implementation is last, which brings me back to my original point, you have some homework to do first! Now I'm not an expert, but I have wasted enough paint and expectations on impulse and whims. And I'm not saying that inspiration can't come on suddenly and you brilliantly paint from white canvas to perfection before you know it, I'm just saying you can count on one hand how many times thats happened. Thats not paying bills.
Step 1: Preparation
Keep your art space prepared when you are in between projects. This is so important for clear mindedness. If your space is unorganized and cluttered your brain will be preoccupied with the unsettle visual instead of tracking through the possibilities of the supplies you see. Which I have found really adds to my process, seeing the supplies I have. So have an art space with open shelving that you can see the paints and brushes and canvas sizes that are readily available.
The main part of preparation is the beginning idea you have; or the concept you want to work out on canvas that brings you to your art studio. I suggest write it down, even if its not articulated completely coherently.
Ex: Local landscapes -bright colors -big sky
Step 2: Incubation
You have a general idea of what you want to paint, so pull the paints out right?
Wrong! Actually you should just kinda think about it for a while. Thats right, allow yourself some daydreaming. Maybe while you are driving around snap a few photos (safely pull over first), keep in mind composition and lighting. Flip through photos of paintings that might motivate you, or doodle in a note pad while thinking about what images you'd feel most inspired to paint. I actually get motivated by trying out techniques and color combinations, so I have an App that can alter photos to have different texture and lighting. That helps me imagine something I look at all the time in a new light!
I wouldn't recommend social media during this phase because your idea might become muddied by someone else's idea. Which might get you repeating themes and cognition that aren't unique to you. If you aren't bringing your perspective whats the point right!?
Step 3: Illumination
This is your "Lightbulb" moment! Not that you didn't have an idea before but now you have thoughtfully considered and accumulated information to complete your idea. All the pieces in your mind for how to compose your work should fall into place. This is still a very flexible time for thought though so be sure to add qualifiers.
Ex: 6 Local landscapes -with bodies of water- bright sunrise colors- in a big stormy sky- composed so all the paintings have 2/3 sky 1/3 land and water-warm red under paint-impression style-with teal highlights in all
Step 4: Evaluation
This step is usually very quick. And while its quick it might prove most difficult. You've done all the preliminary steps and have a solid concept, but do you have time to complete it? if you have multiple specific commissions or circumstances that limit your time, maybe wait! Another thing to ask, is this something your patrons have an interest in? Don't get me wrong I have painted series that were strictly for my own needs, but that isn't always marketable. If there isn't really a market for your series right now shelf the idea (markets change) and start over at step 1. If you believe there is a real interest or could be, then you are ready to begin painting!
Commission Note: if you have received a commission the first two steps have been done for you really. This can make it difficult to be fully engaged in the work. In this case I recommend putting evaluation ahead of illumination in the creative process. There is less wiggle room for what the finished product can look like (unless you have full reign of the project from beginning to end like choosing or taking the original reference photo). SO if you are not confident you can meet the expectation or that you just dislike the work completely, don't take the commission! Or ask for a better reference. Be very honest about your skill level. This can be uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as receiving payment for bad work that will be hanging on a wall as your resume!
Step 5: Implementation
Now you are ready to get some supplies out and touch your canvas! But not so fast, go quickly back over your plan so you have that in mind. Id recommend priming all your canvas before you begin on the first one (depending on your preference pre sketch the scene on each canvas as well). Finally you are ready to grab all your easily accessible supplies, mix your paint and enjoy the culmination of all your thoughtfulness!
You won't regret it!