Before the Painting, Came the Sketch

Before beginning most paintings these days I like to do an exploratory sketch. Why?

It’s very relaxing, just me, a pencil, paper, what could be more simple than that. No easel, kind of a Zen thing, getting lost in the shapes and tones.

These sketches are for no other reason than for me to get to know my subject better. In the process many potential problems get solved, the link between the subject and the painting, resulting in a road map to the destination.


Above is the reference, the mood brought me in but the sketch told me what I needed to do.


– I can see the pattern on the rug does nothing to help the mood, also a soft graduation in the foreground would put more focus on her legs.

– Pushing her head slightly forward and down will exaggerate the pose.

– Using the idea of lights (seen to the right of her head), but larger, and more of them will guide the eye and add to the mood.

– Was wondering if I wanted to keep that drape on the far right, and yes, it’s a good anchor.

– Not sure what I want to do with the color yet, but the idea of black and white is appealing in many ways.


While actually painting I also stop and sketch areas that need more clarity, such as the simplified shapes in the hair, the light planes that fall on the face and how the head is sitting on the shoulders.


As I approached the end of the painting I relied on my initial sketch instead of the subject to remind me of what was important.

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