Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Joan of Arc: Part 2 Final Drawing

William O'Connor

"Joan of Arc" Graphite and Gesso on Wood Panel 24"x48"

My Joan of Arc painting is progressing quickly, but when the Muses strike you have to work!

I began by griding off my gessoed panel in order to enlarge the sketch to the board, but immediately realized that this was not a technique that was going to work.  Using the grid technique is ideal when blowing up photographs to eliminate distortion in the proportions, but for this drawing the proportions had already been composed, and the grid would take too long.

Instead, I used a technique that I have been employing for years.  I blew up the sketch in the computer to the size I needed and printed out the image on a series of 11"x17" sheets.  Tiling them together I used a 6B graphite block to blacken the backside.  Positioning the carbon copy over the panel I used a red ballpoint pen to trace the sketch onto the surface of the panel.  I use red so that I can keep track of the transfer work.

Once the sketch has been roughly transferred I begin drawing the details onto the panel.  At this point I adopted a medium that I had never used before.  Super Heavy Gesso.  This material has the consistency of thick oil paint, but dries in a matter of minutes with a smooth chalk-like surface that is ideal for drawing on.  Instead of erasing my corrections I spackled the heavy gesso like joint compound with a palette knife adding dimension to the surface while rendering detail with the pencils.  Spot sanding the gesso smooth is also very quick and simple.  I had never used this technique before, but the physicality of sculpting the painting was very enjoyable, allowing me to make large changes quickly.

To the detriment of my bad back I spent many hours rendering details and repositioning elements.  Researching Latin phrases for the banner and finding medieval ornaments that complimented the costuming.  The biggest changes I made was that I positioned the figure of Joan more towards the center, in order to replicate the symmetry of Gothic equestrian paintings, entering the banner logo so to create a halo element behind Joan's head, and repositioning the dove to add movement into the composition.

At this point I have done all the work necessary to begin painting.  After a three day drawing marathon my back is giving out and I need to take a break! Much of this detailing will be obscured by subsequent layers of paint, but will act as a guide as I move forward.

Keep watching to see how it progresses.



Below I have added some of the reference that I am using as inspiration for this painting.


  1. I really like the addition of the dove and the placement of the whole composition now. Just a quick your primary gesso toned or is that just the lighting form the photo? Just curious.

    1. both actually. I tinted the gesso yellow ochre, and then the WB was turned off on my camera, but I liked the sepia tones, so I kept it.

  2. Awesome, looks like fun. I always enjoying seeing process especially traditional ones. In your pictures the prints of the sketch to not appear to be as wide as the final board. Did you decide to widen the composition after selecting a sketch? Really looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.

    1. actually, most of these photos are just impromptu snapshots as I was working so many may be cropped. The paper transfer, I only needed the central focal point, the rest I did free hand. I'll get a better lit and more comprehensive photo as I move forward. Thanks!