24 December 2011

Portrait Commission: First Mate

"First Mate" is a portrait commission of sorts...a painting of my brother and his son.  Sailing is a part of life in my family.  My father loved the ocean, and he passed that love on to my brother, who in turn is passing it on to his own son, his "first mate".

First Mate  20x24" oil on linen

The theme of this portrait is the bond between Ross and RJ, mirrored in their shared love of the ocean, and the family continuity it represents.  The model boat in RJ's hands was given to Ross by my father, when Ross was just about RJ's age.  Ross is also a painter, and the piece on the wall behind him is called "Setting the Mark"...a loose navigation term used in sailboat racing. Ross races sailboats.  I hope these connections make the painting more meaningful to them as time passes.  That's the deepest beauty of a portrait...it improves with age.

Technically, I started with a photo shoot, and an oil sketch from life to capture accurate values and skin tones.  Back in the studio, I combined several reference photos from the shoot, then did a graphite tonal study, pushing lights and darks to simplify down to 5 values.

Value study in graphite

The final preparation step was the color study in oil to decide on the palette, color mixtures, values, the background, and to make sure the painting would read.  Once I was satisfied, I transferred the image to a 20 x 24" stretched linen canvas as described here.

The color study, 8x10", oil on board

Ross and RJ were happy at the unveiling...that's the most important thing.  But, after setting the painting against the wall for a few months, I see things that need improving.  Artists should be their own best critic.  Improvements: The edges need more variety; the background is too noticeable, the window in the upper right needs re-working...too rendered; the temperature shift from cool in the light to warm in the shadows is not convincing.  Things I like: The texture of Ross' shirt, RJ's hands; the temperature shift between RJ's shirt and the toy boat.  I'll do better next time.  Each piece is a stepping stone...

First Mate  20x24" oil on linen

As this year closes, thanks to all who visit here.  2011 was a year of turmoil...it's a difficult time on Planet Earth.  But smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.  Best wishes for the year ahead.   C

23 November 2011

Portrait Vignette #4: Morgan in Profile

Another in my short series of oil portrait vignettes.  I committed to ten of these quick portraits (<6 hours), as a training exercise to speed up my execution and keep my brushwork loose and painterly.  Today's portrait was painted from a photo in 5 hours.

Morgan in Profile, 12 x 12", Oil on hardboard

This is my first time using gessoed hardboard, I usually paint on linen.  I'm planning a large, low-key painting, and need a surface that will minimize glare.  I've heard hardboard does that.  I found it very different from linen.  I needed my sables earlier in the process.  But the paint went on more smoothly, like frosting on a cake, buttery.  And it affected my brushwork...more flowing.  I liked it.

Hardboard preparation:  Very easy.  I shellaced both sides of pre-cut 1/4" MDF hardboard, as a moisture/chemical barrier, then gessoed one side twice with Liquitex gesso, sanding after the second coat was dry.  I toned with a mixture of Gamblin Fastmatte ultramarine blue and transparent earth red.   That's it.

Here is the painting progression for "Morgan in Profile".

First 30 minutes: My usual linear block-in with diluted transparent maroon. I was attracted to this image by the long diagonal going from Morgan's forehead down her back.  I liked the dynamic feel of that line, especially when set in a square format...nice contrast.

Hour 2:  The difficult stage for me.  Laying in the big shapes with average hues and values.  Let's face it...it looks pretty bad.  (Here comes my moment of doubt...this painting is a scraper...hardboard isn't for me...darn, I bought a whole bunch of it, too.  Oh well.)  But I persist, the doubt passes.  The hair mass is roughed in with a warm mixture of ultramarine blue, transparent red oxide, and transparent maroon.

 Hour 3: I continue refining the planes of the face.  I do a first pass of the features after the big shapes are working.  Also, start working up the background, trying to find a pattern that complements the subject, and provides opportunities for interesting edges.

Hour 4: Time for the hair and body.  I went over the warm hair mass with cold, dark blue-black, allowing some warm to show through.  I created the highlights with mid-tone purple, and light cobalt blue tint.  I like the mix of warms and cools.  Also refined the upper torso anatomy, clarifying the clavicles and the near shoulder and upper arm.  Finally, I added more highlights to the face and some reflected light under the chin.

Hour 5:  I'm refining edges and adding dark accents and highlights.  Also adjusting values to create lost edges (for example, the caste shadow on the left shoulder and the back of the hair).  More background workup, including the addition of some blue-green to add interest.  Just going around the painting to find small improvements....Oh-oh, sounds like over-working.  Put brush down.  I know there are issues here, but I will resist the urge to continue.  This painting is done.

24 October 2011

Portrait Vignette #3: Amanda in Red and Green

Third in the series...a portrait of my sweet daughter, Amanda.   You've met her before (here, here and here).  Because it's a simple profile, this portrait was easy to paint.  One eye, half a mouth, no major perspective issues.  It was painted from a photo in about 4.5 hours.

Amanda in Red and Green 14 x 11", oil on linen

If you're interested, here is an hourly progression...

Hour 1:   I pre-toned the canvas with a mixture of viridian and transparent oxide red, using a big brush for variety.  After drying overnight, I blocked in the head with thinned transparent maroon, adding value indications for the shadows.

Hour 2: I painted the big shapes on the face, using averaged values/hues. Also added some transparent maroon background.  This will give me something to work into when painting the hair.  The likeness isn't quite there, so I will adjust the shapes and positions of the features as I go.

Hour 3: In my opinion, this stage is most challenging.  It's always where, just for a brief moment, I wonder if this painting will be a scraper.  Must press on, through this moment of doubt.  It's about adjusting shapes and modelling the small forms, then doing it all over again ad nauseum.

Hour 4: Finally...on to the fun part of fine-tuning the features and shapes.  The likeness emerges at this point.  I adjust the shapes of the hairline, forehead, eyebrow, mouth and chin.  Added lights to the hair, and adjusted the strap to indicate shoulder anatomy better.  I've heard an accurate hairline is essential to a good likeness...I think that's true.

Hour 5: At this point I refined halftones to convey subtle forms...for example the slight bulge below her mouth and the under-plane of her nose are essential for likeness.  I painted some flesh tone into the hair surrounding the profile, to add halation, giving the flesh a slight glow.  Also added the highlights and a few dark accents.  Realized about half way through hour 5 that I was starting to ruin the painting.  Put down the brush...step away from the easel...painting done...artist happy. 

06 October 2011

Portrait Vignette #2: King of the Road

This is the 2nd in a series of portrait vignettes I'm painting to improve my studio technique.  I'm painting under time constraints, giving myself less time than I think I need to complete each piece. It creates some urgency, and keeps the brushwork loose, which I like.  Plus, I'm a slow painter, and need to accelerate anyway.

Today's model is Van, a favorite at the Watts Atelier.  Like all good models, he brings the best out in the artist.  You've seen him here and here.  He hasn't been around for a while...but I hope he'll show up this winter.  He's a bit of a transient, so I call this portrait "King of the Road". It took 5 hours to complete (vs. 6 hrs for the first piece in the series). 

King of the Road, 14 x 12", Oil on linen board

Here is the hourly progression...

HOUR 1:  I blocked in the drawing with gamsol-diluted transparent maroon (W&N) on an un-toned linen board.  I went into some detail on the drawing because I wanted to study the values a bit.  In order to leave some air on the lower third of the canvas, I was careful not to define the drawing too much below the chin.

HOUR 2: Every painting has an ugly phase, I've learned that from portraiture.  When it's ugly, you just have to push through.  Don't give up.  At this stage, I laid down the large shapes I saw while squinting, using averaged values as described in an earlier post.

HOUR 3:  I worked up the eyes and smaller shapes on the light side. I found it challenging to get accurate values on white canvas, so will probably go back to a toned ground for now.  It can be slow going during this phase.  Be patient and carefully model the smaller forms.

HOUR 4: This is the fun part.  I'm still refining the light shapes and adding details to the dark side of the head and neck.  Next, I go to work on the hair and hat, which add most of the interest to this portrait. They are the cool shapes that balance the warmth of the background and fleshtones, and they add interesting textures.

HOUR 5: Finally, I darkened the background to add variety and allow for some lost edges around the hair and hat. I'm also refining all my other edges at this point.  Once the background is in, I can finish the hair.  I also finish modelling the crown and edges of the hat, then add reflected light under the brim to make it pop.  I add reflected light under the chin, paint in a suggestion of a collar, then put down the brush.  It is done.   

22 September 2011

How to Paint a Portrait in 6 Hours

I'm doing a series of portrait sketches to practice the never-ending skills required to master the art of oil painting. I'm giving myself 6 hours to complete each painting...once the timer goes off I put down the brushes and walk away.  It's good training.  Creates a sense of urgency.  I need time limits so I don't overwork the painting, which is my tendency.

The first oil sketch in this series is a portrait of my lovely mother.  It practically painted itself, which confirms that familiarity helps when trying to capture a good likeness.   This was painted from a photo onto 16 x 12" linen board.

Here is the hourly progression........

HOUR 1:  I took my time getting the drawing right.  It's much easier to make changes at this early stage.  I blocked in the head with a small bristle filbert and thinned transparent maroon (Winsor Newton), on a linen board pre-toned with a mix of ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide.

HOUR 2: At this point I was just trying to cover the canvas, get something down that I could paint into later.  My fleshtones were mixtures of transparent maroon, yellow ochre light, viridian, and cobalt blue.

HOUR 3:  I focused on modeling the smaller planes and features of the face.  Once I had the fleshtones working, I completed the features to begin the finishing phase, and to reveal the character of my subject.

HOURS 4 and 5:  Next came the hair, clothes, earrings and glasses.  I like the vignette portrait, which was favored by Philip de Laszlo in the early 20th century, and is used by many artists today (eg. Schmid).  It has a fresh, spontaneous feel and leaves something to the viewer's imagination.

HOUR 6:  I added the pearl necklace and laid in some background, which is hard to see in the photo.  I darkened the values on the shadow side of the face to define the front and side planes more clearly.  Finally, I added a few highlights on the light side.  Finished in 6 hours.

I showed my mother the final painting and she liked it.  I learned a lot, too.  Success.

02 September 2011

Master Studies 1: Teachings of Richard Schmid

In the next few months, I'll be painting master studies as a supplement to classes at Watts.  I've done a few in the past (after  Zorn , Zorn and Rembrandt), so I know their extreme value as learning tools.  It's a tried-and-true approach...inexpensive, efficient, broad in scope, and the master teacher is always available.  Master studies reveal all the subtleties in a painting, details that just do not register on a quick glance.  They show you how the master applies "the rules".  My goal with these studies is to improve my brushwork...to push the paint around with more finesse.  I also want to focus on hair and backgrounds...2 of my weaker areas.

My Friend Bill, after Richard Schmid, 9 x 12"

Today's teacher is Richard Schmid.  If you don't know his work, check out this encyclopedic blog post at Lines and Colors.  I love the random energy and freshness of Schmid's brushwork.  He pushes and pulls the backgrounds and foregrounds into each other, back and forth into a seamless integration.  And he's a master of drybrushing, which he defines as "a brushing technique in which a clean dry bristle brush is used to pick up a small amount of undiluted pigment and is then dragged across the painting surface.  In this way, the paint is deposited on the tooth or texture of the surface."  The textural drybrush stroke is evident everywhere in Schmid's work. An important technique to master...also used often by Zorn.

Captain Don, after Richard Schmid, 14 x 11"

A few key things I learned from these studies: 
  • Add a few really crisp, hard edges to balance the softness in the subject. 
  • Lose edges when possible to integrate the subject into the background and add interest.
  • Contrast those lost edges with a few thick, juicy strokes near the focal point to pop the image. When I look at any painting, I like to cover those "zingers" to understand their role in the overall balance of the painting.  Amazing the impact of a simple, well-placed stroke.
  • Finally, try pushing a loaded paintbrush against the direction of the hairs for some nice textures without a chunky block of paint at the start of the stroke.  I've seen Schmid do this in his landscape paintings.  Nice effect.
  • I like the look of an opaque light stroke over a transparent darker one.  Visible on the hair in all studies posted here.

Sapphire, after Richard Schmid, 11 x 14"

The images for these studies came from Schmid's book Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting.  After a quick linear block-in by hand with thinned paint, I painted these on linen board in about 4 hours.

Loveland Gentleman, after Richard Schmid, 9 x 12"

You can watch Schmid paint an alla prima portrait in the video The Captain's Portrait: An Afternoon of Painting with Richard Schmid.  The video is VHS format, I just purchase it but haven't had a chance to view it yet.

Also, Dan Gerhartz's recent blog post on the value of master studies is worth a view.  Dan is presenting on this topic at Weekend with the Masters here in California in a few weeks, so I'm sure it's on his mind at the moment.

02 August 2011

Portrait Painting Progress

"How long have you been painting (or drawing)?"  It's a common question art students ask each other.  We want to know how long it will take to achieve basic proficiency.  The answer for most of us is...a very long time.   Lots of students might not start if they knew what they were in for.  If you want to be an artist, you better love the learning process.  Michelangelo's comment on the subject..."If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem wonderful at all.”

Today’s post is a progression.  It’s proof to myself that I am gaining proficiency.  Since my focus is figurative, I take alla prima portrait or figure painting every term at Watts.  The oil portrait sketches below were painted in class a few months apart.  I got plenty of help on these from my teachers, Jeff Watts and Ben Young...but my work comes through, too.  Learning art is collaborative.

Painted July 2011 --- Zara, with help from Jeff Watts.

Painted May 2011 --- Rose, with help from Ben Young

Painted March 2011 --- Model with green rim light,
with help from Jeff Watts

And finally, here is my first portrait, painted back in June 2009.  I remember thinking at the time that it looked decent.  What did I know.

Painted June 2009 --- Micki, with help from Erik Gist

Current methods:
  • These were painted in 3 hours on 12x9" linen board, toned 2 days earlier with a mixture of ultramarine blue and transparent earth red, to a mid-tone gray.  I use Gamblin FastMatte, a line of fast drying oils, for toning.
  • Paint smaller heads (5-6"), they're easier to complete in 3 hours.  Seems obvious, but worth mentioning.  Also, leave room for the chest and shoulders...good for composition.
  • I like to use a viewfinder to study the model for a few minutes before starting the painting.  For me...a frame isolates the shapes and reveals the final painting.
  • For a good dvd on this subject, try "Alla Prima Portrait" by Robert Liberace.  I watched this dvd the night before I painted the July sketch below.  It was helpful.
  • I'm also thinking about Harold Speed's value approach every time I paint.  It's fundamental, but a good starting point if you need some guidance.

19 July 2011

A different way to start a drawing or painting...

I usually start drawings and paintings with a linear sketch to establish the big shapes.  Once the lay-in is accurate, the modeling of form begins.  I's a common method.  I was recently introduced to a more intuitive approach, in a class with Jeff Watts, which starts by massing in the big shapes...no guide lines.

In the 20-minute sketch below, I started by smudging in a rough background, which also established the outline of the figure.  I worked this outer shape, back and forth with charcoal and a kneaded eraser, until it felt right, then added contour lines and interior details.  I like the result.  It has a fresh, painterly feeling absent from my academic drawings.

Wendy Seated, 24 x 18", charcoal on newsprint

Here's one more...

Wendy Standing 24 x 18", charcoal on newsprint (some edits by Jeff)

Here's the same approach in paint, from a one-day workshop I took in April with Vadim Zanginian.  Vadim teaches a similar approach.  I laid in the background and figure as 2 shapes (using an average hue for the fleshtone), working the boundaries back and forth until an accurate figure shape emerged.  Details were worked up once the big shapes were set.  An advantage of the approach is that the figure (or head or still life) and background form a more integrated whole.

LA model sketch,  12 x 9", oil on linen

If you want to loosen up a little, or you want to do something fun, try this method.  The results may surprise you.  Keep it quick, so there's no opportunity to refine and ruin the result.

02 July 2011

Lessons Learned From Long Figure Drawings

Here are a few figure drawings from a recent class on advanced drawing techniques.  A standard life drawing class is about 2 hours of drawing time, barely enough time to get a solid finish.  In this class, taught by Erik Gist, we had 4 - 6 hours of drawing time...enough to slow down and work on pose idealization, edge work, shape design, calligraphy.

I don't plan to draw like this too often.  I like a loose, painterly result, and I tend to overwork and over-render my longer drawings.  But they are a powerful learning tool, especially combined with shorter drawing exercises.  Each approach teaches something different.   Artistic cross-training.

Some comments on these drawings...

Model movement is a challenge during longer drawings. You can see movement in Jonathan's right leg, below.  It started out lateral on the first day, and moved to center on the second day.  If my anatomy knowledge was stronger, I could have pulled off the drawing.  I left that twisted leg as a reminder to review my leg anatomy. Model movement is part of life drawing. If you're a figurative artist, you learn to work with it.
    In the drawing of Stephanie, you can see where Erik adjusted the lower leg contours (darker lines).  By reducing the size of the ankles and feet, Erik improved the overall feeling of form in the legs.  Some artists idealize form in unique, and sometimes subtle, ways that define their style.  Small adjustments in the right place can have a big impact.

      Stephanie, charcoal on newsprint, 24 x 18", 6-hr pose

      Jonathan, charcoal on newsprint, 24 x 18", 4-hour pose

      If you are a student of figure drawing, get Henry Yan's beautiful book on the subject.  Full of examples of both short and long charcoal drawings, using a variety of techniques.  A good reference book.

      13 June 2011

      Gesture Portrait Painting

      Gesture painting is the name Jeff Watts gives to paintings completed in less than an hour.  It's not a unique approach, many artists use quick oil sketches for various reasons (see here, here, here, and here, to cite a few)  It is, however, less common to see whole classes devoted to the gesture in oil.  In the Watts class, we paint 3 40-minute gesture portraits per session.  The first painting is a warm-up.  The second and third are usually more successful.

      The goal is to capture an impression of the model (or landscape or still life), and learn something in the process.  Brief time limits require an intuitive approach, with no opportunity to go back and rework.  The results are loose and fresh.  If you're a beginner or want to break out of a rut, gestures will accelerate your progress.  They are great training for brushwork, paint mixing, and color harmonies.  Decent drawing skills are helpful.

      Methods and Materials:
      • If you try this in your own studio, paint for 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break to assess, then continue for 20 more minutes.  Pick a focus like color, value, temperature, or brushwork.
      • To make cheap canvas board for gesture painting, take a larger purchased canvas board and cut it to size with a razor.  Score 3 times on each side, then gently break at the cut line.  Some students paint on small pieces of canvas taped to board.  Easy to store, if you want to keep your work. 
      The pairs shown below are from 3 class sessions.  Each painting is 6 x 8".  The first of each pair is my work.  The second is my start with Jeff's improvements.  Teachers at Watts demo directly on student work.  Click to view brushwork.

      Sabrina with cool light
      Sabrina, with Jeff's improvements

      Male model with strong side light
      Male model, with Jeff's improvements

      Zara with strong side light

      Zara, with Jeff's improvements

      Jeff  recorded an instructional dvd on gesture portrait painting through Liliedahl Video.   I have this dvd and recommend it.  It would be a good substitute, if you don't have access to a live gesture class.  Watch the YouTube preview at the link above, to learn more.

      09 May 2011

      Figure Painting using Harold Speed's Value Strategy

      Please excuse my long silence...sometimes blogging is not the highest priority.

      Last week, I was fortunate to attended the Portrait Society of America's "Art of the Portrait" conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  The event was an education on the state of contemporary realism, figurative art, and portraiture...which are inextricably linked.  Inspiring pieces in the winner's circle. I felt fortunate to see these pieces "live".  Photos are such a poor substitute.  The competition, which is international, compares favorably with the BP Awards and Royal Portrait Society, in my opinion.  For more information on the event go here, here , and here.


      Today's post includes some figures I painted last term in Erik Gist's "Figure in Oil" class.  These were painted from life in 8 hours, so I consider them sketches.  I used Harold Speed's value strategy, which I use for portraits, too.  Briefly:
      • Start with a charcoal or thin paint block-in.  Nothing fancy here.
      • Divide the figure into the big shapes of light, halftone, and shadow and paint those shapes with an average color for each.
      • Adjust the edges (soft, hard, firm, lost).
      • Finally, add the smaller planes and details. 
      The approach ensures that the light (value) falls off gradually down the figure, adding to the illusion of form.   It's logical and a good approach for beginners like myself.

      Rose on Orange, 20 x 16", oil on linen

      I also did some figure invention here, pushing the curve of the back on both models (Rose was actually hunched over...the pose needed improvement).  Erik Gist is a master of figure invention, and helped me define the rib cage and upper hip areas in both paintings.  This sort of improvisation requires knowledge of anatomy. 

      Brianna with Shadow, 16 x 12", oil on linen

      The color scheme for "Rose on Orange" was inspired by a Sargent painting from his early studies in Italy. I'm still focused on accurate values, the art of color is somewhere in the future for me. When I need inspiration, I pick a painting and use that color scheme.  Sort of a color master study...a good way to learn.

      La Gitana by John Singer Sargen