I was recently asked by a friend to document my process step by step. I've done that here, with one of my most recent crow pieces. The last photo was taken with my iPhone and may not be exactly in line with the resolution of the others, but the point still gets across.
Step One: Image selection. I work from photographs often. Sometimes these are sourced images, sometimes they are ones I take myself. In any regard, I look for pictures that have a decent amount of detail of line to build off. Since I use the images as reference for basic line work only (other material processes take over later on...) I prefer ones that have a solid visual description of the form.
Step Two: Pencil. I translate the image onto a canvas. I usually work with a projector to get the proportions accurate, and to speed up the process. At this stage I'm blocking in major, important line divisions. Details don't get very tight here. I work with the projector as it allows me to see on-the-fly how the composition would look larger, and cropped in different ways, and how it would be combined with different visual elements. Working this way often results in unexpected, happy discoveries on the spot that end up becoming the final composition.
Step Three: Ink. I ink the major structure of the subject. At this stage, I'm still quite contained to the original form. I play with various line weights to give visual interest/dynamic feel to the piece. This stage is very meditative. I work from the original source imagery, although my natural/instinctive mark making plays a major roll in establishing lines. I often work very fluidly, without lifting my pen off the canvas for quite some time. This results in nice, spontaneous, free-flowing lines that look super cool. I always mix a variety of line style to keep the piece looking fresh and unboring.
Step Four: Paint, Part One. After the ink work is done, and looks very tight and refined and cool, I determine a colour palette and start painting. The paint wash that is used as the base colour is defined out of the selected palette. For this piece I am working with a complimentary (blue-orange) palette and chose to use a nice blue as the base colour. I work with thinned down oils, for the interesting effects I can achieve with them (but can't get with acrylics). I wash very subtle colour variants into the canvas and let it run together. The paint is very thin so I can tilt the canvas and play around to get various effects using gravity and natural flow. Once I have covered a certain amount of the white (I like to let some poke through still) I use a rag to wipe away highlights and some areas in the background. It is important that I satisfy myself at every stage of the piece's creation, or else it will feel rushed or unsatisfying. I work with this tone/highlight stage until it reaches a point where it feels worked, but not overworked.
Step Four: Paint, Part Two and Drawing, Part Two. The final stages are to build the colour and brush work into the piece, and to integrate it into the drawing. I paint with a variety of brushes, to achieve a dynamic and varied composition. The brushwork is very loose, spontaneous, and must not be overworked. I allow natural effects of drips and blending to inform the piece, and I work with these as visually interesting components. Sometimes I splatter a bit of selective paint. This stage is completely unplanned and spontaneous. The only established component is the colour palette. There is something incredibly freeing about taking a carefully drawn work and splashing fat brush strokes all over in in a quick flurry.
The final stage is to integrate all of this together. This is the most meditative and immediate process, where I sit and stare and let the pen naturally flow into various brushstrokes. At this stage I call out certain aspects of the paint to make it appear more like a drawn/sculptural element. I often complete this stage in one sitting so that the integration happens methodically and consistently. I continue to draw into the painting until I hit that special moment when I know that it is at a perfect balance of being worked, and not overworked, spontaneous and controlled, and in a nice and aesthetic level of overall completion.
After all of this, I will allow the piece to dry then repaint the canvas edges a stark white, and apply a nice gloss varnish to resaturate all the colours that may have been dulled from the layering effects of ink and paint. I apply the old Jon Hancock, document with a high res photograph, and post online.