The Process of a Painting: Inside the Artist’s Studio – Do They Know?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

The Process of a Painting: Inside the Artist’s Studio


Painting Title: “Do They Know?”
From the Series: Silent Women: 1920s Film Stars

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I started the painting process by looking for inspirational reference photos. This is a photograph of 1920s film star Alla Nazimova. She was a strong woman rumored to have several affairs with women. I wanted to play with the idea of her being worried people would figure out her secret, thus the title of the painting “Do They Know?”


I covered the 20 x 16 inch canvas with gray gesso to primer the surface. I love the gray color and played with it for the flesh color of most of the paintings in this series. I wanted to keep an aspect of the black and white films the actresses were famous for acting in. I did a basic outline based on the photograph using charcoal. I chose charcoal because it gives a gritty and sandy effect when it mixes with the paints for added texture.


I started by painting in the hair, I usually do the background first and work in, for no particular reason other than just a way of getting started, but I was excited about playing with the hair in this painting. I wanted the hair to really stand out and have a lot of contrast so I spent time adding in highlights and used gold paint to really make it shimmer. I waited for the black layer to dry (with acrylics this happens very quickly) then added the highlights with a thick coat of paint on my brush. I wanted the brushstrokes to be visible to make it look more like hair.


I then did the background. I wanted to use a deep red to communicate strong emotions and anxiety. I also loved the way the gold and the red played off each other, it screams for attention. I mixed some blues into the shadows of the background to make it stand out from the black hair.


My favorite part is the eyes! I have heard that some artists wait until the end to do the eyes, I have to fight not doing them right away. When I do the eyes first however, they get lost and lose their original vitality, so it is something to keep in mind. I studied photographs of women with dramatic make-up and pinned them to my Pinterest board for color inspiration. I liked the way the purple clashes with the red, I feel like the colors of her eye shadow fight with the red background adding to the feelings of unease in the painting.


This is the final version where I simply added in the shading for her face. This part terrifies me because it is very easy to mess up the whole face. Yes, acrylics are much more forgiving than watercolors, but I love the way oils dry slowly and you can shade with them easily. I wanted to be very minimal because I loved the gray hue of the gesso, so I delicately used light and dark grays to add in some contrast. I wanted the make-up, eye color, and hair to stand out more than the shading of her face.

This painting is for sale for $250.00, click for more information on the painting, see close-up images, and to buy it!


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Susan Shiney Fine Art -