This is the very beginning stage of the painting. I like to make a sort of map, especially on complex paintings, because I tend to get lost as I get engrossed in the process of painting. As you can see here, I've used paint to delineate where highlights are, along with whites, darks, and everything in between. This is especially important when you're painting animals or people, because you need to get the anatomy in all the right places. If you don't start out with a "map" at the very beginning, it's easy to get things wrong later. You do most of the hard work before you even start a painting, composing and planning the painting. That process will be discussed in much more depth in my teaching blog.
Here, I've put quite a bit of detail in the eye. When I'm painting animals, it's helpful for me to add the eye because it brings the painting alive. For some reason, that keeps me more committed to and excited about the painting. It is perfectly acceptable to put in SOME details even in this early stage if they're in areas that won't need to be re-worked. Also, it is common teaching that you should put in darks last. But if there are very dark parts to your painting, you can put them in at the very beginning to help establish your 'map'.
Here I've refined some of the complex musculature of the horse's face. This is where some knowledge of anatomy can come very in handy.
Here, I've added a lot of details and the mid tones that give this painting more life. I also added the background. Initially, I made the background very dark, almost black. It was done wet in wet, where I wet the whole background and dropped in lots of different dark colors. Later, I decided that it was too flat black, and scrubbed some out and added some greens to give it more life. Also, green is a great contrast to the reddish color of the horse, and I thought that would help the horse glow more. This is a good example of the importance of thoroughly thinking through your painting BEFORE you paint. I could have saved myself some time if I would have thought more about the background before I started.
Here, I've added some white highlights to really enhance the appearance of the horse being bathed in beautiful light. This is always a fun stage of the painting, when everything starts to come together and you re-discover what made you paint this image in the first place (It can get scary there in the middle stages, when all the tones are similar and it looks like this your painting might be headed to the trash can, right?)
Done! Here's the finished painting. I put in last details, changed the background to add more color, and did a few washes of blue over the foreground (the haunches and withers of the horse) to help tie the horse to the background and pull the whole image together. This is a painting I did for a show in Camden, SC at the Arts Centre, all of November 2011.