Here is one of my most recent paintings. While I still don't have one particular method that I use for starting and completing a painting, I share here the process I used for this painting. I hope it can be of some benefit to other artists.
Stage 1: I drew some basic shapes for the composition on the white canvas using vine charcoal, and immediately began blocking in the painting using a thin wash of Gamsol and Rembrandt transparent oxide brown. I allowed some of the drips to stay, and dabbed some of the others with a paper towel. I also left some of the white of the canvas showing through (once you lose it, you can't get it back!). I was working for the first time on lead-primed linen (commercially prepared), which I found to be too absorbent for my taste. However, even though I was forced to really load the paint on (and it was hard on my brushes), the plus side was that I had a lot more control over the placement of my brush strokes because the canvas "gripped" them so well.
Stage 2: I began blocking in the big shapes on one of the sisters but tried to get as close to the exact values and colors as I could from the start.
Stage 3: I tried to work the edges of the subjects and the background at the same time in order to keep it looking fresh and atmospheric.
Stage 4: I began to develop the likenesses of both girls and gradually built up more detail in their faces, hands, and head bows, still simultaneously working the edges along the background and negative spaces.
Stage 5: I used a palette knife to load the paint on for the couch, leaving some of it alone, and using a brush to smooth other areas. I also continued working on the background, leaving much of the underpainting showing through, and I worked the soft edges into the girls' tutus.
Stage 6: I blocked in the bottom section of the painting, and pulled some of the edges up and down to create the feeling of softness, as well as to break up that hard line created by the bottom of the couch.
Stage 7: I was unsatisfied with my rendering of the older sister's hands, so I scraped them down and started over with simpler shapes and values. I then took a break from the hands to block in her legs, and finish the younger sister's head bow.
Stage 8: The feet are finished at this point. I tried to keep everything very simple, so that the viewer's eye would go straight to the girls and their giggling faces.
"Sharing Secrets" - 20x16"
oil on linen mounted to board
The finished painting shows the hands and tutus finally resolved and a signature in place. Shortly after this piece was finished, I entered it in the Oil Painters of America Summer Online Showcase, and it won 1st place! Thank you, juror Bryce Liston, and OPA!