“Cecilia’s Song” Creative Process + Time-lapse Video

 "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them."
{ Romans 12:6a }

I have a confession to make.

I don't enjoy drawing.

That might seem odd for someone who has created a whole ministry and business out of their art, but it just isn't something I generally choose to do in my spare time. Growing up, I remember how my younger sister would doodle in every margin and blank space in her school books—countless faces and cartoon characters and bizarre imaginary creatures.

But while I've really, truly tried to like drawing, I just don't.

This, obviously, presents a bit of a challenge when I am developing a concept for a new painting. I don't know how to get an idea from my brain into believable shapes and forms on paper. My sketches are often embarrassingly bad.

But while my sister was happily scratching away with a pencil and paper, I spent my teen years occupied with a completely different creative outlet: photo manipulation.

I don't even want to know how many hours I spent creating mystical scenes pieced together from random stock photos. Castles and faeries, flying horses and fungi forests—my digital scenes ranged from ethereal to plain weird.

This seemingly pointless pastime gave me a unique skill set that would prove unexpectedly useful over the next decade as I began to design the promo materials for camps Captivenia and Arcãtheos. But I did not foresee how I would need those skills once I began painting...

Creative Process Part One: Building the Concept

When I begin any painting, I have at least a general idea of the direction that I want to go with it. I begin searching the internet—especially stock websites such as Adobe Stock and Unsplash—looking for faces, poses, and other elements to inspire me.

When I was beginning to brainstorm for Cecilia, for whatever reason I pictured her wearing a wreath of flowers on her head. Later I discovered that, according to legend, when her new husband demanded proof that Cecilia's virginity was being protected, he received a vision of her guardian angel placing a crown of flowers on her head! That gave me chills. I eventually found a woman wearing a flower wreath that I liked on Adobe Stock.

There are many, many paintings of Cecilia. In some she plays an organ or piano, others a lyre or harp. I knew I wanted to continue building on the stylistic theme from I Choose All, so I opted for a classic Greek harp so that she could be fully facing the viewer. It doesn't really matter anyways—Cecilia (as far as we know) didn't actually play any instrument. She is remembered as the patron saint of musicians because while the music was played at her wedding, she sat apart and sang in her heart to the Lord.

When Cecilia's body was found, she had three fingers extended on her right hand and one on the left—a final silent profession of faith in the Holy Trinity. I wanted to subtly incorporate this into the painting as well.

The robe that I sewed for my Divine Mercy painting came in handy once again! I donned a belt and tied up the too-big shoulders of the useful garment and, using a remote timer, took several dozen photos until I got the pose just right.

After that, it was simply a matter of putting it all together in photoshop! I spent hours pasting in the various stock photos I had found, adjusting colour tones, adding shadows and highlights, resizing and liquifying and rearranging until I was happy with the image. It doesn't need to perfect, but it does need to give me a basic sense of how the painting might look. This photo compilation functions as my reference once I actually start painting so I can stay true to correct perspective, anatomy, etc.

Creative Process Part Two: Prepping the Artboard

My husband is often able to cut me artboards from scraps at the shop, which I then prime with tinted gesso. I like the subtle texture of the wood and much prefer it to canvas or paper.

Once the gesso has had at least 24 hours to dry, I can begin sketching out my image.

This is where I might attract some controversy. Although I've sketched freehand as well as using a grid—with satisfactory results—I decided years ago that I would save myself time and torture and just use a projector. Gasp!!

Apparently, there's a big debate in the art world whether using a projector should be considered "cheating" or not. And while I'm not interested in debating whether my paintings are "real art" (whatever that means), I will briefly give my reasons for using this technique:

  1. Did I mention that I don't like drawing? I find this step tedious and unrewarding and I will happily use any tool that helps me get it over with quickly. Painting is my passion and with my time as a mother and businesswoman so limited as it is, I would rather spend it doing something that I really love than satisfying someone else's idea of what the "proper" way of doing it is.
  2. It's not as easy as it looks. Even with the photo projected onto my artboard, I must discern which elements are actually necessary to the overall image. If I copy every line and squiggle, the resulting sketch would be unintelligible. I frequently turn my lamp on so I can check how accurate the drawing is and, once I've traced the basics, I turn off the projector and go over the sketch, reworking it until I am satisfied. At the end of the day, the sketch looks about the same as if I had done it entirely freehand.
  3. Knowing that my sketch is fairly accurate frees me in the painting process. Since I can trust the foundations, I can focus on the colours and details. Ironically, this has naturally (and painlessly) developed my ability to perceive shapes and distances—something I struggle with. As time goes on, I find myself relying less and less on the sketch. Eventually, I hope to forgo the drawing altogether and create the entire painting freehand.

Creative Process Part Three: Painting

With a toddler in the house, I decided I would just avoid the potential hazards inherent to working with turpentine and opted for water-mixable oils instead. I couldn't be more happy with them! I find them buttery and rich, with just enough open time to blend colours beautifully. I can also leave them for a day to dry and easily paint over them. Then, at the end of a painting session, I can just rinse them out with soap and water. Hassle-free!

Unlike some artists who start with big blocks of colour and slowly refine, I tend to work on a smaller scale, working in the details right away. I usually paint two to three layers. I try to get it fairly close on the first go, but the second layer brings in a whole new degree of depth, richness, and detail. The more detailed an area is, the more times I will return to it to get it just right.

I always, always mix colours. I think you can tell when paint is used straight out of the tube. Adding even just a hint of another colour adds complexity to the painting. I also don't thin down the paint very much—usually just a tiny bit of linseed oil to smooth out the blending.

Creative Process Part Four: Time-lapse Video

I have a tripod with my Nikon D600 set up by my art table which takes a photo every 5 seconds. The table is in the corner of our bedroom, leaving very little room to work (or walk by). Bumping the tripod even lightly can ruin a take. For this reason, I do a lot of close-up shots and move the tripod often for new angles. The camera automatically compresses the photos into a video file which I can then import into Adobe Premiere and manipulate to match the timing of whatever song I've chosen to accompany the painting.

I struggled for a long time to decide on a song for this video. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians—I wanted a song that would bring glory to God and recognition to someone who has used their talents for Him. I was lying in bed one night when it struck me like lighting: who better to represent modern Catholic music than Audrey Assad? I got up and immediately downloaded her Inheritance album off iTunes.

The next day I was listening to the album on shuffle while I worked, and the song Even Unto Death came on. It's like the world slowed down and I knew it was the one. "Lover of my soul, even unto death, with my every breath I will love you!" The timing and build of the song worked perfectly with what I had already edited and, well, you can just tell when God's hand is on something.

You can watch the full time-lapse video below!

Creative Process Part Five: Preparing for Print

This is arguably the most tedious and frustrating part of the whole process: getting a decent photograph of the painting and editing to look good as both a digital image and a print.

One of the major drawbacks to painting in oil is all the dust that gets stuck in the paint. Especially in dark areas, where glare is also a problem, every speck and spot is clearly visible. I try many different angles and locations, trying to minimize the appearance of the dust and any colour pollution or glare. Even the slightest change in lighting can drastically affect the photograph.

To make matters even more complicated, soon after importing the photo I often notice flaws in the painting that are worth fixing. So I take it back to my art table, make the changes, and start all over again.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this step comes close to driving me crazy every. single. time. Maybe someday I can afford to invest in a high-quality scanner.  😉

Once I have a satisfactory photo, I make adjustments to the brightness, contrast, and colour to get it as close to the original as possible. I go inch by bloody inch with the healing brush to remove any imperfections (this took me around 10-12 hours total).

The digital medium is so completely different from a physical oil painting that my goal is not so much to create an exact replica of the original as to make the digital copy a piece of art in and of itself. But no matter how nice the edited photo looks, it never compares to the original.

Creative Process Part Six: Sharing With the World

Once the digital copy is to my liking, it's ready to print! To avoid the high costs and storage space that ordering prints in bulk would require, I have opted to have my prints done locally and in small quantities—sometimes even just one at a time. Each print is carefully packaged and labelled by yours truly. While this means that I operate at a higher cost per print (not to mention the time it takes to package 'em all), it means I can introduce new prints without any serious financial (or spacial) investment, and I am never really out of stock.

Once again, the skills that I never thought would be useful as an artist have come in handy! Ten years of experience as a web and graphic designer mean that I have been able to develop all my own branding, including my own website and online shop. I am constantly in awe of the ways that God has prepared me to get tiSpark to this point. In many ways this ministry is self-sustaining because of countless tools and skills that I've accumulated over the last decade—from owning the Adobe suite that gives me video-editing software at no extra cost, to my knowledge of code that allows me to troubleshoot when a customer's order glitches, to my love for ministry which gives drive and purpose to my paintings. I praise God for all the ways that he has blessed me and I can only hope that I can use my gifts for the glory of his kingdom and the salvation of souls.

If you loved this painting, please support my ministry by liking, subscribing, and sharing with your friends and family! You can also give a small monthly donation on my Patreon page which will help me make more paintings and videos.

Thank you and God bless!

Posted in Creative Process, Time-lapse Videos.

2 Comments

  1. It’s so wonderful to see your creative process! Though I work with words rather than images, I’m always encouraged by seeing how others have found a process that works for them. Thank you for this post and the beautiful artwork you create!

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