In my guest post a couple of weeks back I was asked to detail some of the techniques that I used to develop some of my paintings and I thought this might be a good topic for discussion.

I typically use the human face as a subject to support statements on issues that I feel strongly (social mode) or I use it to project characteristics like ‘beauty’ (descriptive mode).

Bollywood BroodingsLong neck and adornments

Left : Bollywood Broodings; Oil on Canvas : 3 feet wide X 4 feet high
Right : Long neck and adornments; Oil on Canvas : 3 feet wide X 4 feet high

I use the following steps to create my paintings.

1. The first step begins with scanning multiple sources for photographs of human faces. This could either come from my ‘face photography’ collection or from looking at old magazines, portrait photography books and in some cases centerfolds of questionable magazines in search of the right portrait.

2. Once I decide that I have the right photograph, I scan it using a high resolution scanner such that I have a ‘soft’ copy of the picture on my computer.

3. After I get the soft copy, I open up the picture in a tool (I like Photoshop – any other tool that manipulates digital images should be ok, but I like this one) and I adjust and play with the bit mapping to alter the values on the following variables (brightness, contrast, sharpness, noise and saturation). I tinker around this way until I ‘create’ an image that tends to increase the contrast (and thereby the dynamic range) of the colors in the image. The aim here is to increase the overall discerned contrast of the picture uniformly such that highlights are captured without the image looking ‘overexposed’. Plugins to Photoshop like the Power Retouche tool helps very much in clearly defining the final picture. This process could take quite some time until I am ‘satisfied’ with the final outcome.

4. Once I think that I have the transformed picture in a ‘final’ format, I start off on the canvas with a dark pencil and lay out the sketch for the areas that contain the highest contrast.

5. I progressively ‘pencil in’ the overall sketch coming down the contrast gradients until I am able to map out most of the contrast levels onto the canvas. This is pretty time consuming but is worth the effort. Once this is complete, I then start to apply the oil paint (darker regions first such that I am able to adjust the lighter colors later for overall luminosity). I use the computer transformed picture as a sort of ‘color contrast guide’ while I go about my painting process. I typically do not use any linseed to ‘thin’ the oil paint. I prefer to load the paint directly from the tube onto a thick brush and then onto the canvas. Most of the times, mixing of colors takes place directly on the canvas.

6. If in the middle of this process I am not happy with the background or foreground or any color combination thereof, I sometimes take a photograph of the half-completed painting and then color-adjust the captured picture on Photoshop to see how other color combinations would change the final picture. This allows me to experiment with multiple color combinations without laying out colors on the canvas until I am happy with the final picture.

I take about a month to complete a single picture, and I am usually satisfied with the effort (traces of Rex’s post on vanity resonate here ;-). Sometimes, I whimsically refer to this technique as ‘High Dynamic Range Painting’ (in line with the current trend of HDR photography that builds on similar effects).

The following site at Saatchi lists a little more detail on the thought behind some of these paintings…

People have commented in certain online forums that using photography to produce art is not real art. They have also gone onto say that using a computer tool to manipulate the photograph and produce the final oil is not really art. What do you think? I am interested in your opinion as this serves to understand perceptions that people would have to my art and to art like this in general.