Being self-taught, my painting process has evolved through trial and error. I've experimented with watercolors, but now I use only acrylic paints, which I find to be versatile and forgiving of mistakes. I have painted on canvas, wood, and a variety of paper, but I have settled on a type of heavy cotton paper called Stonehenge. I was introduced to this paper at an early age by my father, a photographer, who used it to make specialized platinum prints and gave me leftover pieces. Like anything that evolved in nature, my process is a collection of new innovations and old habits.
The first step, of course, is envisioning a new painting. Usually I start with an idea for an animal, and then think of a setting in which to place it. Sometimes the setting comes first, or even just a color. My desire to maintain a diverse portfolio factors into the thought process. If I've most recently painted a mammal, I'll try to follow it with a bird, or insect, or some other type of animal. After a string of cute critters I'll be thinking of featuring less charismatic subjects. I am also mindful of rotating among color palettes: dark, light, warm, cool, etc. I often have two or three fully-formed ideas queued up, and several more simmering on the back burner. Some ideas wait in line for years before making it onto paper.
Because I want to portray nature as accurately as possible, I do some research and find one or more photographs to work from. Google image search is one of those new innovations that has become indispensable in my process. An even newer one is Pinterest, which is a great way to organize the pictures I use. With the photos as a guide, I make pencil sketches on drawing paper to lay out the outlines of the painting.
After cutting a sheet of Stonehenge paper to the right size, I prepare the surface by putting down a couple coats of gesso (white or black depending on the tone of the painting). I then mix paints into the color I want for the background, and apply several coats of that. The drying paint causes the paper to warp, so I have to interrupt the process at this point to press the paper under a board stacked with heavy items. My wife's sewing machine gets a lot of use in this way. It's not fancy, but it gets the job done.
Once the paper is ready, the next step is to transfer the sketch onto it. I do this by tracing the sketch over a sheet of graphite paper. Before I discovered graphite paper, I would cut the sketch up like puzzle pieces and trace around the edge of each piece. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore.
Then the real painting can start, but that's a proprietary process, so I won't go into details. Ha. Actually, I just paint solid areas of color which I overlay with thousand of tiny lines or dots to create shading and texture. The secret is the dots. The shortest part to describe is the longest to do; while I can go from an idea to a traced sketch in a day, from there it typically takes two to four weeks to finish a painting.