In 11th grade art class our big project for the course was to produce a realistic self portrait using graphite. We were taught that a common approach to realism involved drawing a grid on the original photo and the canvas or paper (one inch on the photo would represent two inches on your drawing for example). Using those lines we were then able to measure and recreate the proportions, shapes, and angles in the photo. At the end the lines would be erased and we were left with a very realistic drawing.
I found this process incredibly tedious. So much so that I couldn’t even bring myself to finish the portrait (it was marked in its ¾ finished state, and still sits in my closet untouched). I had to find a different strategy if I wanted to ever get to the fun part of a painting, so I started skipping the measuring and planning stages and haven’t looked back.
I now paint and draw using what I like to call “successive approximation.” I begin with a loose shape that vaguely resembles my subject. I go over the same shape repeatedly, refining it and adding detail with each pass - hence the name. Each layer brings the subject closer to its intended form, though it never reaches a stage where it is perfectly proportionate. I make these layers with paint or ink, never pencil, so any mistakes that I make are part of the final product. I like to think that those mistakes add to the charm of my art; after all, I could never make the same piece (or mistakes) twice.