I recently tried my hand at something like Impressionism (whether triumphant or not…) because of an assignment. I was supposed to draw inspiration from a song, so I chose Dustbowl Dance by Mumford & Sons. I feel that there is a really strong narrative that accompanies the lyrics and emotion of the vocalist. In the future I think I’ll try my hand at illustrating this song again, but more in my own style, because Impressionism is not quite how I first imagined it…

I found the process that I went through to create this piece really simple and effective. I had to complete practically the entirety of this oil painting in one day (as I wanted to give it a couple of days to dry). I thought I’d share the steps I went through.

1. I first scribbled out the image I had in mind just to visualize what I was looking for. I then went online to find stock photos. It’s more difficult to find images of men screaming at just the right angle than one might think. My surface is a 24x36inch out-dated poster that my dad brought home from work. They were throwing them away and he thought I might be able to use it. Only one layer of gesso is needed (try sanding the glossy varnish off of the front before applying), and it doesn’t even need to be sanded afterwards.

2. Then I went back to the drawing board (loldon’tlaugh)

I used tan and black charcoal to create a rough layout and value sketch. Finished:

3. At this point I will spray a final (not workable) fixative on the drawing (fixative specifically for charcoal). I believe it needed about 4 layers in order for it to be completely smudge-proof. You need to be able to drag your finger across it without picking up any residue. Remember, if any charcoal lifts into your paint it will muddy your colors and pretty well ruin the vividness of the painting.

4. Then I took brown acrylic and texturized the edges. This means fewer layers of slow-drying oils in order to achieve the dark-brown that I will want later on, as well as allowing me to simply glaze the outside after everything important is complete.

Yes, it looks God-awful. And it will remain God-awful until the very end. The most important thing you can do for yourself as an artist is ignore – or even embrace – that moment (however long it can be) where your work is garbage-worthy. Every piece of art goes through that stage. The moment I began to grow as an artist was the time that I forced myself to finish a drawing in spite of the fact that I wanted to set it aflame. Persevere, slow down, keep your end-goal in sight, and trust your own skills to be able to fix what seems lost .

5. I begin painting. 

At this point I’m still using the photos as my guide. Another important moment in a work of art is the time that you throw away your references and look at the painting instead. You can not keep photos as your guide for the entire piece or you will feel bound to follow them and lose sight of what is best for your art work. Get the guidelines in there and throw your photos away (except for the rare glance).

Yup, still definitely at that God-awful stage. Pressing on…(it is due, after all). I change the second guy’s facial expression because the original one really looked like he was sneezing.

6. This is about how I left it the first day. I forgot to take a picture before hitting the sack, but you get the idea. I had pretty well covered the entire thing and will only need touch-ups the next day.

7. The next day, I changed the far-right guy’s head based on my dad’s advice (which I totally agree with). This is because the other one appeared too “dead,” and didn’t follow the narrative as well. I scrubbed him out with a paper towel and painted in something that seemed more… surrendered. Resigned. The colors in this photo are inaccurate because I had to used my yellowish overhead light.

8. How it appears now (after coming back to it a few times):

You’ll have to forgive the lack of photos nearer the end of completion; when I get in the swing of things I look up from my painting and realize that 5 hours have passed and I’m almost done. But you can see the changes I’ve made between the steps. I hope that that’s helpful enough. I had to set a heater in front of it off-and-on for the next couple of days, and it was nearly dry when I took it in to class.

It was a fun experiment. Impressionism was quite an adjustment to my mindset; you follow your feelings rather than measuring the completeness of a work by how realistic it looks. I began to hold the end of the paintbrush and really let loose, not caring so much about where the brush landed or that it hit exactly where I aimed. I’ve never painted something so color-driven, either. I am inspired by values and contrast. This piece definitely has those elements well-defined, but I only used red and brown and blue for the darkest areas, and let warm tones stand versus cold tones. It was quite an adjustment, and one I was – surprisingly – not adverse to.

Let me know what you think. It’s my first of its kind and I’m curious to see if you think that it’s successful.

(This is just a glimpse of my workspace and supplies, in case you’re curious:

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