This is my procedure for painting an illustration, mostly for paperback covers. It is a brief description, and it may vary from the methods of other illustrators.
Once I got the assigned concept from the art director, I hired models, chose costumes, got props, researched reference materials and arranged time for the photo shoot. At the photographer’s studio referring to my preliminary sketches, I described my vision and concept to the photographer and the models.
I have used primarily two photographers, during my twenty four years as an illustrator. They were both excellent and very creative. One was Bob Osonitch, who did most of my shootings and in more recent years, Michel Legrou. These guys were essential to helping me achieve my goals. They motivated and directed the models to get the most expressive results. They were resourceful in constructing and improvising needed props and they manipulated the lighting to get the desired effects. They were indispensable!
During the first few years all photography was done in black and white on 2 1/4" slides from which I selected a few to use for my layouts. I projected the images onto paper, illustration board or canvas, tracing the proportion in pencil. I then developed the concept layout, or, sometimes an oil sketch in color, to show the art director. Once they approved the layout, I would start the final illustration.
First, I placed a sheet of tracing paper over the layout and ruled a 1 “ grid on it. Then, I prepared my larger final panel, either canvas (stretched primed linen) or illustration board (gessoed). The size varied from 20" to 40", if the board was used, I would staple and tape it to a set of stretchers to prevent the board from warping. The larger panel was usually 3 or 4 times the size of the layout, so I would rule a 3" or 4" grid on the panel.
Next, the panel would be attached to my easel in a vertical position. I projected the slide's figures and/or other images to be sure the proportions were the same and the images were in the right place. I then traced the outlines, plus a few details in pencil. Sometimes, there might have been several other figures or parts of other images that also needed to be traced or drawn in freehand.
At this point, I used the enlarged prints of the models from the selected pose the photo shoot. When I used black and white film, I usually ordered a dark, medium and light print to refer to for the image. However, about the middle 1980's I started using color film, and then relied on one basic print.
I was now ready to start painting sepia tones to block in the darker areas. Then I would block in large areas of color, shapes and forms with oil paint thinned with turpentine. My way of painting was and still is to use large brushes in the beginning and for most of the painting so as not to get bogged down in details. After the basic forms were established, I would start painting thicker using only linseed oil as a thinner. I liked to develop areas one at a time before going on to other areas, because I enjoyed and got better results painting wet on wet. After, I nearly completed all the areas of the painting, I would finish by returning to the areas painted and make adjustments, finishing touches including details, and would pull the composition together. As I neared completion and was rendering the small details, I would switch from the larger bristle brushes to small sables.
Except for tracing the proportions, this is basically the same process I use when painting from life. This fundamentally is the same process many of the old masters used, from Rembrandt to Sargent. Even famous master illustrators basically used this approach also, such as Norman Rockwell.
After the painting dried I would spray on retouch varnish to prevent the darker colors from looking flat and losing their luster.