I decided to take a foray into realism. Most of my paintings of late have been stylized, focusing on line-less, colored lines or graphic styles. It was a bit of an adjustment at the beginning stages of the pieces. For a while now, I have been working in threes. So for realism, I decided to do one interior, one landscape and one figure. Each had it's own set of challenges.
Here are the things I've learned and wanted to share.
1. Plan your pieces. (And collect reference.)
Take some time to figure out what you want. Gather good reference, look at other artist's work for inspiration, and make a bunch of quick sketches ahead of time to loosen up. It doesn't matter if your preliminary sketches are ugly or incorrect, as long as you get a feel for the piece. I usually sketch first and find a reference second.
Often I've found that reference will slowly contain my work within boring boundaries. It needs to be just that, reference, not something to inhibit your process. Early sketches will sometimes also inhibit my piece from developing. In the back of my mind I assume I've reached the best idea, instead of constantly looking for ways to enhance the work. A lot of best ideas can come very late in the game if you let them.
It doesn't matter how late you are in the process, if something is stiff and lacking energy, fix it. You'll feel better and the fixes will go faster than you think. Drawing my figure from reference made her a lot more stiff than I would have liked. After I had finished painting the body, I redid the arms and part of the face. I think it could still use some more energy, I need to put some more of my animation into my still images.
If you utilize any photo textures, make sure to erase out most of the texture in shadowed areas. It's easier to paint this way, and looks more realistic. If the human eye can't pick up texture in low light, why should a painting?
Blocking out with a large brush can be very beneficial to getting colors to blend naturally, but for the final details you'll always want to switch to a small brush. People ultimately want to know what brush settings famous artists use, but it's most important that you have a variety, that they don't distract and that the colors look good. A lot can be forgiven with good colors.