“I did the first two figures that I painted this year just the same way as I tried last year — drawing first and then filling in the outline. That’s what I would call the dry manner. In the other manner one in fact does the drawing last and begins work by first seeking the tones without worrying much about it, about the drawing, just trying to put the tones roughly in their place in one go and to gradually define the form and the subdivision of the colours. Then one gets more of that effect of the figure coming out as if it’s surrounded by air, and it takes on a softer quality. While the colours become more delicate, because one goes over them often and sweeps one colour through another.”
Vincent van Gogh Letter to Theo, 3 August 1883
“This was the first time VanGogh let go of the drawing as his foundation and guide.”
Van Gogh at Work, by Marije Vellekoop page 64
Are you so attached to a way of working that it’s become a security blanket you can’t let go of? “But it works” I hear you say, and I’m sure it does, but you’ll never discover what else might work too, what might be added and incorporated to your current approach that might enhance it, if you never try other things. Think of it as putting your security blanket in the wash, it’s not gone forever, only temporarily.
Ask yourself: If you can carefully draw a composition in pencil before putting paint onto it, why not skip that step and ‘draw’ it with the paint and a brush? (Note: I’m not talking about paintings in which the pencil is an integral, visible part if the final result.)
Then, how about reducing how much you draw and move towards a minimal painted sketch of the composition, a framework for blocking in colour? Start with broad areas of colour and refine it more and more, working towards detail in layers rather than working in tiny jigsaw pieces alongside one another. A blocked-in area of colour is but a stepping stone in the journey, not the destination; that unfolds and gets clearer the further along the journey you travel.
Here are four photos taken while I was working on a painting of Kilt Rock. The composition was briefly sketched using Prussian blue, then some green added to hilltops and grey to cliff and rocky shore (top left photo). I worked onto this, refining it layer by layer to the final painting. The approach allows me to work expressively rather than tightly filling in tiny bits right from start. The layers give a richness and depth to the colour, and there’s an energy to the result.