Inside the Process: 4 Steps to Starting a Painting

Inside the Process: 4 Steps to Starting a Painting

I remember learning to paint by watching my grandmother paint tiny flowers on a birdhouse that she made from scratch. North Carolina summers are hot and humid, but Grandma Katie always wanted to spend the long afternoons on the front porch, sweat beading at her hairline as she delicately applied pink and purple paint to her latest project while her scraggly cat weaved between her ankles. 

I avoid painting outside during the dog days of summer now, but I retained a lot of what my grandma taught me when it comes to starting a painting.

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Inside the Process: 4 Steps to Starting a Painting

I used to think that making abstract art must be easy. It’s really not; you have to go into a really emotional place and explore all of those uncharted waters in your heart and head. It’s like being a cartographer who is exploring a new world in order to map it for all who will come after.

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1. Color palette

TaylorLeePaints_ArtMaterialsGouacheOrangeRed

To me, this is the most important part of starting my paintings. I'm extremely intentional in my color choices. My favorite colors to work with lately are sunset colors - red, orange, and yellow. You can read more about why I've chosen this palette here.

I typically use colors straight from the tube, as there are so many options nowadays. You can read about the paint brands I like in my FREE e-book here.

 

But my grandma taught me how to mix colors. She would typically only buy the basics at the store - red, green, blue, yellow, black, and white. She taught me one of the techniques that I use the most:

  "Come Closer," an abstract painting by Taylor Lee.

"Come Closer," an abstract painting by Taylor Lee.

 

mix white with anything to give it depth. 

2. Composition

Now, I did learn a lot about this from Tara Leaver. She teaches about the six types of composition in her Abstractify course, but here is a blog post she did about three of them.

I used to be obsessed with a rounded, circular pattern in my composition, but lately I've been really working to break out of that. One of my favorite mark-making exercises helps you come up with compositions intuitively. I love loaded up a brush with paint and just moving my hand freely over the paper or canvas. Then I can find the natural composition that emerges from however my body is feeling that day.

3. Sketching 

I am a painter, but I also start many paintings with oil pastel sketches. I love these because I can shut my eyes while I use them. I pick out a few colors, plug in my headphones, and shut my eyes, letting my hands make marks that respond to the music. 

 Sketching with oil pastels on an airplane from Puebla City, MX to Houston, TX! 

Sketching with oil pastels on an airplane from Puebla City, MX to Houston, TX! 

  Taylor Lee, "The Bath," 28"x43", SOLD

Taylor Lee, "The Bath," 28"x43", SOLD

4. Consider the intentions behind the piece.

As artists we have a great responsibility. Everything we publish becomes text, and therefore knowledge in the world. Read more about that here. That is paralyzing sometimes, but essential to think about. Like Amira Rahim says, you've got to focus on your WHY. For me, that's considering why my art matters. For me, I don't let myself focus on how pretty a piece is anymore; I really want to make sure that my art says more. This is because I have felt like my own worth was tied up in my physical beauty my whole life, and when I finally realized the problem with that, I vowed to never let my art communicate this message.

So what is your why? What are the intentions behind your artwork? I bet you they're different than mine!

So next time you're stumped on how to start a painting, think of these four easy steps. Consider the color, composition, sketch, and intentions.

If you'd like more advice on my materials, check out my FREE e-book here! If you'd like another artist's perspective, I recommend this blog post by Emma Howell

 

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