This painting started as almost a joke. I was looking at photos of a lady who is a "friend" on my MySpace page. She is a belly dancer from Florida. If I get her permission I’ll mention the link to her page. I was just looking at photos in general and wrote a small note to her saying I loved the costumes and poses and it would be fun to paint one of them in oils. Well, it was about this time a lady in North Carolina bought one of my paintings and mentioned she was opening a gallery and would like more of my nudes and semi-nudes. I got to thinking of belly dancing and how beautiful it is and how the body and the costume make up my two most favorite things to paint; one, beautiful women and two flowing fabric.
I contacted my dancer again and she thought it would be fun to have me paint her dancing. So, I grabbed one of the photos from her page and printed it several times and different ways and then had my model, Natasha, pose for me in that pose as I did more sketches. I ended up using mostly just the exact pose I had from the original photo.
All of this jabbering leads me to the actual process. I create the paintings by first doing photos and then sketches and combining them over and over with various layers of tissue paper maybe a dozen layers deep changing little parts on each layer to get to the final drawing. I have established the size more from the early stages of seeing the rough sketch in several sizes. The key for size for me is how big do I have to make it to make all the features express what I want them to say. Also, big can it get before some of the elements start to get boring. There is a fine balance there.
Once I have the drawing done the way I want it I stretch a canvas to the correct size. I won’t bore the world as to how I do this but it is a sort of standard way of creating a surface except I do a number of coats of what is called "gesso" put on the canvas with a trowel and sanded between each coat. I want to reduce the look of the texture of the weave of the canvas. It bothers me if it is too visible and can distract with the final look of skin tones when you paint in the style I use. This can all be done in one day with modern products. The next day I tone the ground, as you can see in the photo. I do this with a thin coat of oil paint mixed with turpentine. When I’m painting figures, especially if there is any amount of skin I tone the canvas with a green hue. This is much the same as the old masters. If you go to museums and look at some of the paintings that are in disrepair you can see some of the green under tones showing through. All this has to do with the way I paint. I TRY to emulate most of the ways of what we call the "old masters." I paint in traditional oil paints on canvas or board that is prepared to accept the oil in a way it will last for centuries. The two types of what we call "canvas" are cotton duck and linen. Most paintings are done on cotton and this is fine and will last for a very long time. Linen, usually called Belgian linen because it mostly comes from Belgium or Ireland is probably the most traditional. It is very strong and will accept a ground better than any other surface. It is much more expensive than the cotton.
I will now to try to move on to the more interesting parts of the work. Well, maybe not, first let me explain how the drawing gets on the canvas. Once I’m happy with a drawing, I make a final tracing and then copy that on the dried toned ground canvas. This is just a simple line drawing taped to the canvas and then using graphite paper I trace the lines so they show on the canvas. This drawing is correctly called a "cartoon." The word comes from the Italian word, "cartone", with was the paper on which the drawings were done. This is a technique done by many painters and goes back to the old masters who often gave the task of putting the drawings on the final surface, be it canvas, board, plaster walls or tapestry, to assistants. Since I’m not able to afford assistants, I have to do all this mundane work myself. [grin]
What you see in the photo is this drawing which, after being traced is gone over with a thin line of oil paint in a not to obvious color. That will dry either later that day or the next day and be ready for painting as more of a real painter and less of a craftsman.
Now that I have the few of you left who have actually read this far, almost in a coma, I will go on to try to explain what goes on in my head as I do these preliminary steps.
The key is being inspired or excited about the image. From the time I first saw the photos of my belly dancer I could see paintings in my head. She is a very beautiful woman with long dark hair and a body built to dance. This coupled with wonderful gowns in all sorts of colors and different fabrics, all flowing and flying around as she moved, even if it were still shots, just made it almost a necessity to paint. Yes, I have seen my share of live belly dancers and even sort of knew one rather well once a long time ago. She was also from Florida so that was a bit scary at first. [grin] I have heard the music and when I look at the photos I can hear the music. I’m going to get some of the music to play in the studio when I paint and to burn incense here also to add to the atmosphere. But, then, I do that most of the time anyway.
There is a great deal of mental work to a painting, at least for me. I have to find a connection to the subject. Even when I’m doing portraits of a businessman I have to find some hook to make me have a goal in the work other than just a likeness and getting a job done. Every paintings starts with a list of questions to be answered in the process of painting. Can I make her as beautiful as I see her, can I make her look as if she were moving, can I make the viewer feel what I want them to feel when they look at it, and what do I want them to feel? What do I feel? Can I make the viewer see what I see so they can have their experience but also share to some extent in mine. These are for most all paintings but some more than others.
I’m not going to go on and on about what I’m feeling or trying to express now. I will save that for more blogs and more images as the paintings progress. I’m working on another one now also. I usually like to keep at least 3 going all the time for drying times and just my always changing moods.
If you have really suffered through all of this, I promise the later photos and text should be less technical and I hope more interesting. I will say thank you for sticking it out. [grin]