Often, I am asked to explain my process of painting. At my last art show, a
collector mentioned that she had fallen in love with a pair of hummingbirds
frequenting her backyard and she commissioned me to paint those for her.
This project I thought would be ideal to explain my approach to painting.
A painting goes through several phases, I have summarized them below and have
provided some explanation and photographs at each stage. As you may appreciate, a
painting as small as this takes several weeks to complete
1) Reference photos: I was provided with a few sample photographs of the
hummingbirds. The collector needed a small painting which would hang in a spot she
had in mind.
2) Theme/ Narrative/ Name: The painting has to do with a pair of birds, probably a
male and female, I imagine love blossoming between the birds. I decided to paint a
scene depicting the love between the birds and the surrounding, in a heart shaped
composition. I called the painting "Fern's Hummers"
3) Format: Love meant a heart shaped motif, which, therefore required a square format
of canvas to paint on. Also since the size had to be small, I decided to use a 10 in
X10in. gallery canvas with painting carried on to the sides which would not require a
4) Research: My research on hummingbirds showed two varieties of hummingbirds
frequent Alberta. Of these, the ruby throated being more colourful was my choice for the
painting. The male being more colourful than the female became the star of the piece.o
5) Sketches: A few sketches and thumbnails are done to work out the composition,
values (darks & lights) and placement of the subjects. I decided to place the male on
bottom right “sweet spot” longingly staring at the female. The female on the top left is
deciding between a mate and the nectar from the flowers. The composition of the piece
is roughly heart shaped
6) Staining: The white canvas is stained with the appropriate light colours to “shine
through” and create a mood. In this case I decided on a early morning scene with a pale
yellow glow of the sun in the left upper corner, shining through some morning haze. The
glow then changes to peach and then light blue of the sky.
7) Drawing: A quick drawing on the canvas to place the subjects.
8) Underpainting: This is the ugly stage of the painting where there is no detail just the
9) Painting the sides: The sides are painted for a finished look. This then does not
require a frame.
10) Painting the details: The Painting comes to life once the details are added on in
several successive steps.
11) Critique: Since one has been involved with the painting for so long, it is easy to get
jaded. The painting is put away for a couple of days. A fresh look including inverting the
painting, looking at its image in the mirror may reveal some minor problems which may
need correction. Often I take the painting to the art club to be professionally critiqued.
Here it is being critiqued at the Edmonton Art Club.
12) Isolation coat: Once all is set to go. An isolation coat is applied to isolate the
painting from the varnish which will be applied after the isolation coat has dried, about
13) Varnish: Varnish with UV coating is applied in two coats, letting the first coat dry
before applying the second. This protects the painting for several decades from dust,
dirt and fading from the UV rays.
14) Presentation: The best part for the last. To watch the reaction of the collector when
they see the painting for the first time. In my enthusiasm, I often forget to record this step
on the camera.