• nelsonawhite

How I Work


I am often asked by fellow artists how I work. Truthfully, I often start that conversation by asking other artists how they work. I am a nerd for process as well as studio visits. I love seeing how others make their ideas come to life as well as the environment they work in. I learned no one works the same way and there is no wrong way.


As I said in my introduction, I am a figurative painter mostly. I like people because the body is expressive and lines and fabric are not straight. It’s the making of marks I enjoy, so curvy wavy

marks are the most fun for me.


I choose my models for a number of reasons, most because they are interesting to me. Admittedly, I will often use friends, family and other artists because they get it and not require a long explanation of what I’m trying to do, but have occasionally stopped someone for their look. Still, interesting is the main criteria.


I use photos for reference. I always try to take my own photos as it’s my own digital sketchbook. I go into my meeting with my models knowing what sort pose/situation I want them in. Still, it’s very collaborative... it can change based on what they feel comfortable with, or how they feel they want to be portrayed. The photo sessions are fairly fast... knowing what I want before hand saves time. Plus the photos allow me to work on my schedule not only when a model is available.


I do a couple of sketches based on the photos just to get proportions and actual composition straight. Then I’ll draw the on the canvas in pencil. It is a light sketch, just ensuring I have the drawing right. This can be the hardest part of the process as a bad drawing will effect the entire painting. If the body or face is off kilter it will be harder to save it as I paint... getting the sketch where I want it saves me later.


After the pencil sketch I spray the entire drawing with a workable fixative spray. This is so the lines don’t smudge as I apply a very thin coat of raw sienna. I paint in oils so I use an odourless paint thinner to mix my colours. I find the raw sienna underpainting helps make the flesh tone richer as well as pop the whites when I go back into the work.

I start on the face first, trying to get a likeness or expression because if that doesn’t work the painting itself usually won't. Then I proceed working though the figure(s) and usually do the background last.


A common question is how long does a painting take, with my answer always being “as long as it takes". There is no set timeline, some are faster then others but I am into a work for a few weeks up to a couple of months. That’s why it’s important to paint people I find interesting. Painting a portrait is an imitate experience. You are spending a lot of time looking closely at a person, so if they are uninteresting to you, the piece is going to get uninteresting to everyone very fast. When you don’t care, it shows.


I am a very disciplined painter. I paint every day. I am lucky enough to have a home studio so I can work on my schedule. I equate painting with going to the gym. Some times you really don’t want to but you feel better after you do. I like always having something on my table as I try to make a mark every day and some days a mark can become 2 hours or sometimes, its just a mark.


So... that’s how I work. I won’t get into specifics on the hows as I don’t want to give some formal technician a heart attack. I apply paint until I get it where I want it. That’s it! To me painting is a joy, it’s a pleasurable experience that I’m not going to allow arbitrary rules to interfere with. You paint the way you paint... accept that and relish it.