I'm often asked this question by curious viewers. Sounds straightforward, right? But its not as obvious as it might seem or appear, so sit back and enjoy the savvy artist process.
Every artist in the world has their own unique way they approach a blank canvas on the easel. Some come prepared with sketches and outlines. Others wait for a spark of inspiration until the last minute. However, when it's all said and done, each artist is for the most part performing similar actions—painting, drawing, etc.; but it’s the subtle variations in how particular artists perform each one that really defines them as an artist.
For me I have to have been thinking about my subject for a few days before I can attempt to put paint to canvas.
Luckily for me; I enjoy researching and reading up on my subjects to acquire a better understanding of who I'm about to paint. It is at this point in the process that I'm fairly confident in my ability to proceed to the next step; which includes printing out two to three black and white photographs of my subject as source material to study. Black and white, so I'm not influenced by predetermined colors as my work when finished is very vivid and expressive.
My current series, "Famous Faces" focuses on iconic portraits from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. I gave myself a goal to paint twenty-one icons within two years. Currently, I have fourteen finished pieces ready and eight months to paint another seven.
Typically when I'm emotionally ready to commence a new piece, I begin the preliminary process with a Google image search. It is during this study phase that I'm learning the contours of the face, studying features and scale to better understand the uniqueness of each person. Eyes for me are the "key." Eyes can make the difference between a strong, or a weak painted portrait.
After three or four days of thinking and studying, I reach a point intuitively where I feel ready to put paint to canvas. I've developed a physical process over years of teaching myself to draw and paint. Its important to note that all of my stuff is done free-hand without the aide of modern technology i.e. I don't rely on a projector or a grid system. This is something I personally feel very strongly about. Mainly because I have dedicated myself to learning how to draw and draw well over the past thirty-five years. Drawing and understanding the mechanics behind it doesn't just happen for most overnight as it is an acquired skill set. Sure there are naturally gifted artists, but it still takes years to master. When I teach drawing and painting; I encourage young artists to practice drawing free-hand and from life as much as possible. Yes, I know there are a lot of artists who disagree with me on my thoughts, and that's quite alright. It's just one of my creative peeves.
Why Am I Focusing On Famous Faces?
Paint what your interested in is my short answer.
For me, I have a strong interest in pop-culture, and icons from the three decades I mentioned above. Those three decades present a dream-like residence that allows me to escape my grueling everyday grind.
Most notice right away that I paint in a very vivid unnatural color scheme. As I mentioned above all my reference material is purposely printed in black and white, so I'm not being influenced in a particular direction.
Another on-going trait my work has - is the dynamic texture that I apply via multiple layers of palette knife marks. It's a grueling process, but something that I'm attracted to visually in the finished work.
When I decide on my subject matter, I also decide at that moment to not overthink the end results - I don't allow myself to get bogged down with unimportant aspects. I need to free myself from the clutches of reality, and be expressive in my effort. It's vital to explore the painting, and allow it to go where it wants to go. The worse thing I can do as an artist is force the subject to go where it doesn't want to go. I must listen intently to the piece letting it dictate the colors, texture, and composition.
I should note though that I often work on two to three piece simultaneously. I do this for a couple different reasons. One to let paint dry, and two because sometimes a piece demands space to breath. I don't want to force it to go where it doesn't want to go.