11 March 2014

Dreaming in an Open Place...and Andrew Wyeth's Process

Dreaming in an Open Place, 2014, 24x16", Charcoal on paper

Today's post is a drawing of my muse and daughter, Amanda.  Inspired by the art of Andrew Wyeth.  I stumbled on a book titled "Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures" at a friend's house about a year ago.  The book showed Wyeth's picture-making process for 35 different paintings of his muse, Helga Testorf...from concept sketches to finished work.  Interesting to see his preliminary ideas...how he flushed out the final compositions.  Wyeth's painting "Seated by a Tree", shown in that book, inspired the present drawing.

Wyeth's comment about this painting..."I think anything like that---which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone---people always feel is sad.  Is it because we've lost the art of being alone?"  I think the alone-ness in Wyeth's image is what appealed to me.  Artists know about being alone.  It's part of the creative process.  I view it as a positive, and hope that comes across in "Dreaming".
Seated by a Tree by Andrew Wyeth

Another strong influence for my piece...Julio Reyes' beautiful drawing "Stars Above".  Julio is a skilled and imaginative draftsman, painter and sculptor.  A large number of his drawings were included in his first solo show at Arcadia Gallery.  An encouraging trend for us artists who love to draw.

Regarding how I made "Dreaming in an Open Place"...

I used willow charcoal sticks on 90 lb. Stonehenge paper.  Willow makes a darker mark than vine charcoal. Fine details were laid in with Wolff's Carbon pencils. 

In between layers, I fixed the drawing with Lascaux Spray Fixative.  Doesn't say so on the can, but it is a very workable fixative.  Using a fixative like this stabilizes the very delicate charcoal layers and restores some tooth to the paper, allowing for those final dark accents. 

As I built up the layers, I masked areas of the drawing I wasn't working on with tracing paper to protect the surface.

The original graphite thumbnail.  
This is about 1/5th the size of the final piece. 

After roughing in the composition on the 24x16" Stonehenge paper, I used a cool little device called an Accurasee proportional divider to measure shapes and positions.  I don't like using transfer grids...the divider is a better alternative, imo. Check out the product website if you'd like to see how it's used.

Here is the progression for your interest...

"Dreaming in an Open Place" was entered into the 2014 International Portrait Society of America competition.  The PSA is taking more interest in drawings these days, which I applaud.  Leslie Adams' drawing, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, took the grand prize last year.

21 February 2014

Fresh Commission...

Today, a fresh commission of 3-years-old Eli.  Kids this age cannot sit still, so getting usable images is a numbers game.  I shot 300 photos to get the reference I needed.  This painting is a composite of 3 shots.  His grandmother propped a doll on top of my head while I was shooting, to get him to look towards the camera. Whatever it takes.

In painting this portrait, I pushed the gradations in the background to create a sense of depth in the image and make the subject come forward.  After carefully painting it in, I used a mongoose fan brush to fuzz out the far background.

I also focused on turning form with temperature, most apparent in the white t-shirt.  I was guided and inspired by Ryan Mellody's recent article in the online magazine, Artists on Art (issue no.9). The article addressed color temperature in the half-tones, or what he calls the "last light".  A somewhat advanced technique which can electrify a painting, or muddle it if not handled well.   I haven't mastered halftone temperature, but knowing it's there is a good first step.

Here is the completed portrait, unframed...

Portrait of Eli at 3, 2014, 16x12", Oil on linen

And framed...

The progression for your interest....if you have questions on my process, leave a comment.  Each frame shows 3-5 hours of work.  You can see how the painting "sunk in" in the 5th frame.  To bring back the value range and luster, I oiled out with a mixture of 1 part linseed oil to 2 parts turp, as seen in the 6th frame.  A nice multi-purpose medium.  Almost eliminates the need to varnish.

27 January 2014


Here is a recent portrait of my daughter, Amanda.  A difficult painting because there was so little value change across her face...which tends to flatten the form.  Amanda was in shade, except for a few spots of sunlight on her head and arms.  Her face and forearms were lit by reflected light...subtle and challenging to convey.  I learned a huge amount from this piece.

Embrace, 2013, 18x24", Oil on linen

Here it is framed.  I include this to show how the right frame enhances a painting.  Some artists always paint on a pre-framed canvas.  Not a bad idea, if you know in advance which frame would suit the outcome.

"Embrace" was a finalist in the 2013 Western Regional Oil Painters of America exhibition this past fall here in the States.  That part was nice.

15 January 2014

My Portrait Process: Fourth Step is the Final Painting

Happy 2014.  Always good to start another year.  Hope you had a nice break.  I did, however, I am happy to resume normal function and get back in the studio.

Back in November, I was working up a series of posts describing my portrait painting process, based on a portrait of my friend's son, Kirk.  Today, I end the series with the fourth step...the final painting.

Twenty (Portrait of Kirk), 24x18", oil on linen

For commissioned portraits, I paint indirectly...building the painting up in layers, allowing each layer to dry before proceeding.  It's easier to get a decent likeness imo (compared to direct painting), and it allows the creation of transparent flesh tones.  I won't describe my actual method here, it would be very long-winded and boring.  However, for your interest, I recommend Virgil Elliott's book "Traditional Oil Painting" (see chapter 6).  The method I followed here was an approximation of the Venetian method.

To summarize, my 4-step portrait process includes the value study (top left), the color study (top right), the underpainting (bottom left) and the final painting (bottom right).

It is done................

14 November 2013

My Portrait Process: Third Step is the Underpainting

...grisaille, monochrome underpainting, burnt umber pick-out...much has been written about it, so I won't belabor the topic here, except to point you to what I consider a thorough discussion by Jan Blencowe, if you would like more details.  I use the underpainting to transfer the drawing and value relationships to the canvas.  A critical step.  And the color of the underpainting can lend a nice contrast to the final painting, where it peaks through as a warm layer under a cool color scheme, for example.

Here are a few examples of how other artists apply the technique...using the direct method: Nelson Shanks and Teresa Oaxaca...using the indirect method: Jacob Collins and David Gray

For my portrait of Kirk, I used a burnt umber pick-out technique.  I enlarged my drawing of Kirk to the final size (18x24") using a photocopier.  Using a piece of tracing paper coated with graphite, I traced the image onto my canvas, reiterated the tracing with pencil, then applied a sealant. Next, I laid down a mid-value stain of burnt umber diluted with OMS.  I picked out the lights with a rag, Q-tips (plain or dipped in OMS), and a kneaded eraser, and laid more paint in for the darks.  Not worried about the background at this point.

Here is my final underpainting.  That front arm/hand is still giving me trouble, so I'm working through it with some additional drawings.  Next step is the final painting...
Portrait of Kirk (underpainting), 18x24", oil on linen board