The Work Space

A painter’s work environment is as well organized as a surgeon’s: things need to be in the right place at the right time. This environment includes such things as the palette, the easel, the painting stage and the lights. What function do these objects serve? How is this space managed?

One can no more rush the making of a painting than one can rush the making of a movie. A key part of the preparation involved in the making of a painting is the setting up of the workspace. This is doubly important should you be painting from life. At the very least, the following considerations should be made:

  • The paint, palette and pots should be within reach and at the correct level for easy access.
  • You should be able to look at your painting and also look at the subject or reference without substantially moving your head. This requires that they be both in line of sight of each other.
  • Your rag should be in your hand, not in a steel box under your bed at home.

Positioning and painting from life

When painting from observation and in the company of many others (e.g. this painting class) it is the habit of students to start work without moving the easel from the same position it has been in for weeks. Taking responsibility for your painting requires that you have taken as many steps as possible to claim the pose for your own. Things to look out for include:

  • Is there excessive/sufficient overlap visible from where you are standing?
  • Is there excessive/sufficient foreshortening visible from where you are standing? i.e. are you too close? 
  • Are you painting at the right level? Some poses look better when you are sitting down. But do not sit down just because your pretty little legs are tired. 
  • Are you at all interested in the pose? If not, is there anything you can do to make it more interesting (without impeding upon the needs of others too much)?
  • Might the pose be improved by asking that the model move a little (with the agreement of your studio-mates)?

Below is shown the standard position that a painter will adopt in front of a subject. Notice how easy it will be for the painter to look at the subject and the painting without moving their head very much.

The position of a painter to their subject.

The position of a painter to their subject.

Should you not be sharing the model with anyone else, then you have no excuse not to try your very hardest to realize your best hopes for the painting. In such a case, the following considerations should be made:

  • The lighting of the subject should be considered.
  • The positioning of your subject should be considered.
  • The background and environment should be considered.

What specific form this consideration takes I leave in your creative hands. 

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