20 August 2014

Color Study for a Portrait Painting Commission

A portrait commission is a collaboration between artist and client.  People want input during the design process, and they want to know what their finished portrait will look like.  Small oil color studies serve these needs.  Framed and viewed from a distance, a color study is a good approximation of the final painting.

Portrait of B and K (color study), 8x10", oil on linen

As the artist, I also want to know the final painting will succeed.  And I like working through color choices and composition on a smaller scale.  I'm not comfortable starting out cold on the big canvas.  I refer to the color study often during the painting process, and if I want to make changes towards the end, I try them out on the study.

Here's how I paint color studies...

I start with a pencil drawing, spray with fixative, then paint over with a fast drying pigment (burnt umber here, but it could be any pigment...experiment).  Using a pick-out technique, I work up the value relationships at this stage.

I use Rublev Oleogel medium to thin the burnt umber.  It gives paint a creamy flow and transparency, and doesn't slow drying time.  Better than just thinning with turp, and probably healthier.

Next, I add colors in big strokes...experimenting with color choices.

After the colors are in, I work up edges and add a few key details...not too many. 

This is ready for client approval, then I can move on to the big painting.

More information on color studies...

Here is a collection of color studies by students from Studio Incamminati, known for it's color emphasis, and carrying on the traditions of Henry Hensche.

A good book on learning to see color through color studies is How to See Color and Paint It by Arthur Stern.  A classic, full of great studies.

Here's a cool little color study by Anthony Ryder, from Underpaintings, via David Gray's blog.  And another link to a color study demo on Ryder's website.

07 August 2014

Another Slow Alla Prima Portrait Painting...and the Joaquin Sorolla Exhibition in San Diego

Here's another "slow" alla prima portrait of Tammy, the model you met in my last post, from a different angle.  I discussed the concept of slow alla prima painting in that post.

Tammy (vignette), 9x11", oil on linen
This is a vignette, a simple head study on an abstract background, a style of portraiture I offer my clients.  Painted in 5 hours...3 with the live model, and 2 back in the studio to finish things up.  If you'd like to learn more about the types of portraits I offer, please visit my website.


About the Joaquin Sorolla Exhibition (San Diego Museum of Art through 26-August-2014)...

Last Friday, for the second time, I saw the Joaquin Sorolla exhibition here in San Diego. If you admire his work, see this show...a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The selection of works is outstanding.  Some of his most important pieces are here ("Sad Inheritance", "Another Marguerite", well-known portraits of self and Clotilde).  Several pieces are accompanied by preliminary sketches, showing his working methods.  There is a nice mix of earlier and later works, and of paintings, drawings and pochade sketches.  Many portraits, beach scenes and landscapes.  He was a painter of motion and light, and a skilled draftsman.  I found it as impressive as the Anders Zorn exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco earlier this year.

Don't be tempted to order the exhibition catalog for the images.  The reproduction quality is poor. 

To close, a few images from the show...enjoy.

26 July 2014

Slow Painting Alla Prima

Alla prima portrait painting is challenging because of the time constraint...usually less than 3 hours.  It's high energy...no time to waste.  I learned this approach in art school, watching instructors slap down the paint during demonstrations.  As I develop my own skills, I realize that fast is okay if you're already a skilled painter, but for students, slow makes for more sense for effective learning.

Tammy, 9x12", oil on linen

Recently, I came across a blog post by Paul Foxton of Learning-To-See that mentioned a book called "The Practicing Mind".  It's a simple little book on learning to love the practice required to master any skill. One point especially resonated with me, that by slowing down we can accomplish more.  This excerpt makes the point...
Incorporating slowness into your process is a paradox. What I mean by slow is that you work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. This pace will differ according to your personality and the task in which you are involved. If you are washing the car, you move the sponge in your hand at a pace slow enough to allow you to observe your actions in detail. This will differ from, say, the slow pace at which you learn a new computer program. If you are aware of what you are doing, then you are probably working at the appropriate pace. The paradox of slowness is that you will find you accomplish the task more quickly and with less effort because you are not wasting energy. Try it and you will see.
Following this advice, I slowed way down in a recent alla prima session.  I didn't focus on the finish, as I usually do.  I didn't dart around the painting trying to figure out what to do next.  I didn't get amp'ed up when I realized the mouth was in the wrong place.  Using the process  I described in an earlier post as guidance, I simply focused on each task until I felt it was completed, then moved on.  Slow and deliberate.

I painted "Tammy" (above) during this slow session.  To my eye, the results are better brushwork and a more complete painting.  I learned more during the session because I was more present and aware. I spent less time correcting errors.  And I was more relaxed at the end of the 3-hour session.  All good. 

Adam 9x12", oil on linen

A few weeks earlier, I painted "Adam" using my usual fast alla prima method.  A decent portrait, but a simpler handling of the paint and not as complete as "Tammy".  I was too rushed.

Slowing down is a simple idea, but it is a breakthrough for me.  The kind of simple idea that may get me to the next level in my art more efficiently.  It might help you, too.

20 July 2014

Drawings of Hands

Hands are so critical to a good portrait...almost as expressive as the face.  These are from photos I collect while photographing Matt, the subject of the my last post.  I like his hands. 

When I drew them, I was looking for a finger hierarchy, picking a focal finger to push the "pose" a bit.  That's usually the pointer, thumb or pinky.  The 2 mid fingers tend to act together as supporting players.

Proof that practice helps: I drew the hands on the second sheet first.  You may notice they look simpler, not as well drawn.  By the time I got to the top sheet above, I was warmed up.

Drawn with willow charcoal and Wolff's 4B carbon pencil on smooth newsprint (18x24").

26 June 2014

Portrait of a Young Man...and What Martha Graham Said About It

A new portrait commission fresh off the easel..."Young Man with Cat and Coffee".  The subject is a young man of 21...the cat and coffee are his favorite things.

Young Man with Cat and Coffee 18x24" oil on linen

I don't track how long a piece takes to complete anymore, but this one took a while...at least 60 hours.  As with every painting I undertake, I learned a huge amount in the process, which makes the time spent worth it.

I like parts of this painting, but, the overall reality does not live up to my original vision.  Slight disappointment there.  That is often my response immediately after finishing a painting, when I'm still drained from the experience.  Once I recharge and get away from the painting for a while, I usually feel kinder towards it.  I'm okay with those feelings of disappointment, though.  They strengthen my resolve on the next piece. 

I had dinner with an artist friend last night.  During the conversation she mentioned a quote by Martha Graham which frames this state of frustration we artists often feel about our work...
"No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
 So true.

...I like the kitty...

And here is the final portrait...unified and improved by a nice frame.