Process Talk with Chantel Lynn Barber

by Sue Henry 2 Minutes

This week, artist Chantel Lynn Barber shares with us how she works through a painting. You can see her work through a piece firsthand by checking out her video,Painting from Photos: Expressive & Emotional.

I want my work to have both spontaneity and academic adeptness. If the drawing is correct and the edges are accurately placed, then I can play with dynamic brush marks. I have always felt that the power of the suggestive carries a greater impact and allows for mystery and a chance for the viewer to dream. Suggestion, not reality, paradoxically makes painting come alive!



To do this, I start with a plan. Planning is important because every stroke I lay down is dependent on the stroke that went before it. It is also important to control how and when the paint builds up. 

For example, I don’t want to apply paint too heavily in the dark passages, but rather allow them to retain translucency. I like achieving a nice contrast between thick and thin passages of paint, which means I have learned when a heavy or a light touch is required. Too much paint in the wrong place can ruin a work.

Once I have a plan, I walk through a few steps.


Block-in: In the block-in stage I start with an open and flexible drawing that avoids hard lines in order to visualize and establish the composition. I take my time in the initial stage because here it is easiest to make changes that keep the painting from being overworked. Throughout this formative stage, I am thinking about lights, darks, shapes, and using limited color.

Color mixing: I start mixing pools of color on my palette, experimenting with what I think would be a good fit for the painting. I want to have a nice selection of light, middle, and dark value choices on the palette. I start with middle values and work into the light and dark. The acrylic I work with typically dries one value darker, so I mix the color pools keeping them one value lighter (some brands may not work like this).



Building the painting: I avoid hard edges until I know where I definitely want them. Refining the drawing with each brushstroke ensures the painting continues to get stronger. Keeping fresh eyes, and being ever observant, I continue to look for ways to truly see how the painting is developing. Like a photo that is blurry and comes into focus bit by bit, editing along the way brings out the finished piece.

Bringing the painting to a finish: I want the finished piece to have rhythm and movement throughout. I make sure there is a good contrast between thick and thin passages of paint. I check values and color temperature to ensure a correct reading. I want to maintain an accurate drawing with lost and found edges. The painting needs to look good up close and from a distance.


Learn more about how Chantel Lynn Barber creates her unique portraits by checking out her video,Painting from Photos: Expressive & Emotional.