I had visitors to the studio, and then the comment is made, "You are SO LUCKY to be an artist! I wish I could draw. It must be so much fun! Do you just sit down and paint?" Uh, .....well, no, actually. I don't just sit down and paint. There is a process, and it's much more involved than you might think.
For one thing, I didn't just pop out of the womb, knowing how to draw. I have worked hard, for many years - decades, in fact - developing my drawing and painting skills. I use my own photographs as reference. Before I even start to paint a new animal, I need to have images to work from. I hike for hours, every day, camera strapped around my neck, hoping to see some wildlife. I paint wild animals, so there's no guarantee I will see one while out hiking. Most of the time, I don't see much of anything at all out in the desert - a glimpse of some ears, disappearing behind a creosote. Maybe a bird of prey, quickly taking flight upon seeing me. It is always exciting and special to be able to photograph a wild animal out in their native habitat.
Once I have some photos, I get them on the computer where I can select a few of the best ones. I print those out. I then sit down and draw. And I draw. And I draw some more. I like to have a few different photos of an animal, so I can study it from different angle and in different poses. Not all of the photos become paintings, but most of them become drawings. The drawings are sometimes fast and loose. They are sometimes slow and studied. But I use the drawings as practice. I draw to begin to see and understand how my subject, whatever it may be, looks. I also like to read about the animal I am getting ready to paint. I like to do research on the internet, to find out what they eat, how they reproduce, and other characteristics that may help me understand them.
Once I begin to get a feeling for the animal, I may brave the blank painting surface. The surface isn't always commercially prepared. Sometimes, I prepare my own surfaces. I stretch the canvas. I then prime it - usually with at least three coats of primer. With canvas, I like to use an acrylic gesso. The primer prevents the fabric from soaking up all of the pigment. It also helps the painting last longer. With birch panels, I often use a clear gesso, so that the natural texture of the birch can still be seen. I like the color of the birch, too. Each coat of primer needs to dry before the next layer can be applied. I usually sand the final layer. Now, I have a painting surface. I stand when I paint. I don't sit. I have my own reasons for this, but that's how I work. I still am not ready to begin painting. The composition of the painting must be considered. Then, the initial drawing is started. I don't use a projector. I don't use a grid, except maybe every now and then to help me place the animal correctly on the surface. My drawings are all done free-hand, and I don't always get it right. Often, the drawing takes a while, and gets erased several times. When I think I may have the drawing where I want, then, and only then, do I begin to paint.
Once I have painted an animal a certain number of times, my preparation process is much shorter, and then I will often jump right to the painting surface without quite as much prep work. It isn't always this lengthy. Smaller paintings are treated a little more like quick studies, but larger paintings do take more preliminary steps. I find I have higher success rates if I take the time to go through these steps.
Having explained all of this to you, I will say that most of the time, I love what I do. And yeah, painting animals is fun! Just maybe not quite what you thought.
A few pages from my sketchbook.