Anne Lamott is a lovely writer, funny and astute. Her book about writing espouses the virtues of getting off your duff and just putting words onto a piece of paper. According to her, it does not really matter how dreadful it is, the important thing is to get that s****y first draft pushed out. Then you work on cleaning it up. I don’t know if she intended those self-same instructions to be applied to painting, but that is very close to how I begin a painting. I panic. There is no reason for it, it is just there. There is so much promise in a blank canvas - and so very many ways to screw it up.
I can find a perfectly nice photo and then I sort of begin to make the decisions about how big, how to fit it on the page, whether or not I can really draw that whatever-it-is. Rule #1 – a good photo almost never equals a good painting. Photos are photos and paintings are paintings.
I begin by staring at the photo – trying to analyze and or/visualize the values, composition, color, the usual stuff. In other words, I usually begin a painting with dithering and equivocating. Eventually, I bite and just dive in.
Other artists plan things. They work out a whole palette before they begin anything. They sketch, they do value studies; they have all kinds of tricks to avoid screw up. I’ve seen sketches that I thought were much nicer than the finished product. I’m safe there; I can’t plan a dang thing. The finished product is the only product.
I try to begin with a sketch or sorts, directly on the canvas. I am usually way off, because I am not a particularly good delineator. Then I put in blocks of a swath a color here and there. At that point, I begin to rub out here and there in equally large swaths. Then it is back and forth; already I am leaving the photo. Eventually the rag has most of the colors on it and I will just use the dirty rag to lay in large areas that way. It is surprisingly efficient, very like finger painting. And sometimes I never get it beyond this stage.