11 April 2010

Making a Painting

Morgan 2010, oil on linen, 12" x 16"

This painting is from the class “Staging Artwork” taught by Meadow Gist at the Watts Atelier. The purpose of the class was to guide students through the development of a piece, from model shoot to preparing a composite image to the final painting. A great exercise, especially for beginners. This is not a straightforward painting from life. It's a process more suitable for a narrative-type painting using multiple figures or elaborate settings.

Rather than describe each step, I have just a few comments on the process...

Of 400 images shot during a 1-hour session with the model, I found 3 images I really liked! My advice…shoot lots of pictures. Get extras of the background. Make sure your chosen photo reference has good resolution, a dominant light source, and clear definition in the light and shadows. This is my final photo reference. I used the "steelyard composition" for my design concept; the bright lace cuff balancing the head and torso. I changed both hands, using images from other photos.


Value and color studies save time. I did value studies by manually spot-adjusting b&w thumbnails printed from Photoshop. My color comp (at left, 6’x8’ on canvas; with Meadow’s improvements) was where I decided on the palette and worked through problem areas (flesh tones, background, edges). It was indispensable during the final painting. Color sketches were standard for Sargent, Zorn, et al. The practice gave rise to alla prima painting.

I transferred my image onto stretch linen freehand, using graphite on a 2" grid guide. I spray-fixed before painting to preserve the graphite under-drawing.

The palette was yellow ochre pale, cad red light, transparent oxide red (TOR), viridian, ultramarine blue, titanium white, ivory black. The basic color scheme was complementary (red and green). I used TOR in every brushstroke. It was the basis of my black (TOR+ultramarine blue). I used it to neutralize the greens. It was in all my fleshtones. TOR throughout helped harmonized the color scheme. You could do this with any color.

I tried Sean Cheetham’s “mud” system for the flesh tones. Sean mixes paint pools for the light side, the shadow side, and the darkest darks. He modifies these starter hues with warms or cools to achieve subtle temperature and value shifts. In his approach, if the value and temperature are correct, the painting will read properly with any color. That makes a lot of sense.

Finally, I completed this painting in about 40 hours. Meadow painted the feather and front headband in the final painting.