Mackey: The Artist’s Process

Most of my paintings begin with a simple idea. It could be something I see, an experience I’ve had, or a place I have visited. It might be something that directly correlate’s to the themes of my art, like a meal and wine at a restaurant. But then it could be something totally unrelated. This could be colours, like an arrangement of fruit at a market, or the mood of a song I hear.

The Sketch

Every piece begins with a sketch. I have been drawing since before I can remember. This is an essential part of the development of the painting. Here I work out the composition, the theme, the background, the central figure or figures. These are hardly developed drawings but more small, quick, thumbnails. I can fill every available space on a piece of paper. I draw and redraw, adjust, cross out, until I am satisfied with the concept.

The Photos

Most of my work is based on photos, especially the central figures. based on the drawings I have made, I will take multiple shots of each pose. I adjust the lighting and angles of the shot, so that I have lots to work with. My favourite time to shoot is in the evening. That way I have total control of the lighting. I can set up dramatic chiaroscuro effects on the model. Chiaroscuro are intense contrasts from light to dark. This style was made famous by one of my favourite artists Carravaggio. He painted huge oil paintings in the late 1500s in Italy.

The Drawing

Once I have the reference photos, I select a canvas that will suit the image I want to work on. Then I begin to draw the image directly on the canvas. I usually use a soft pencil like a 2B or even an 8B. The drawing process is quite gestural. I don’t usually add in too many details at this point. It is more about making the composition work. I find this to be the most challenging part of making a painting. Finding a composition that works can mean erasing, drawing over, turning the canvas, and more. If you saw a painting at this stage, you would think it was an abstract piece!

“Blocking In”

Once I have the drawing portion done, I get a stiff brush and apply so thinned black paint. Here I pull out the actual lines I will be using from the assortment of pencil marks. I then block in the areas of light and dark to form the basic structure of the painting. After that I will add areas of colour and shades of grey to fill in the basic areas of the piece. I find this step really important because it allows me to work out an compositional or color issues before I add any details. It is much easier to paint over something at this point, then it is to paint over something that has fully rendered details. At this point it kind of looks like an impressionist or expressionist painting. You can see what this step looks like in the instagram post below:

Finishing Touches

The final step on the painting is applying the details over the blocked in image. This is by far the step that takes the longest. I use a finer brush and a range of colours and shades to bring out the details of the subject. I will also finalize the background at this point–Usually in a bit more bold or abstracted way then the main focal point. You can see in the post below, what the final piece looks like. If you compare it to the one above you can see the difference from the blocked in layer to the final details.

Spring Flowers. #art #artist #summerdress #flowers #vista #seaside #cinqueterre #pink #sky #shawnmackey #wallart A photo posted by Shawn Mackey (@mackeyfineart) on

Final Steps

Once the painting has dried I apply a thin isolation clear coat. I usually let this dry several days. Then I apply a couple coats of final varnish layer. I really like
MSA (Mineral Spirit Acrylic) Varnish with UVLS gloss 8 oz.
for this part. I find that it deeply saturates the colors and makes the darks and blacks deeper. Once the varnish has dried, the painting is ready to be framed or shipped.

I hope that gives a good idea of the steps that I take to make an original painting. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.