07 March 2011

Portrait Painting Using Harold Speed's Value Strategy

Today's paintings incorporate a strategy for judging values that I described a few posts ago, from Harold Speed's book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.  The main difference here is that I'm using color, instead of just monochrome.  Briefly, I lay in the big shapes of the lights, halftones, and shadows in a single average color, clean up the shapes and edges, then add the smaller forms and details.

It's a common strategy, just new for me. I get through the early stages of a painting faster using this strategy, which leaves more time for modeling, rendering details, and exploring color. If you are looking for a fresh approach to your alla prima work, this simple strategy might be worth a try.  See my earlier post for more details.

Briana (cool light) 12 x 9, oil on linen board

Mr. Lincoln (warm light) 12 x 9, oil on linen board

Tammy (rim light) 12 x 9, oil on linen board

Rob (side light) 12 x 9, oil on linen board

These paintings were completed from life in 3 hours in a class called "Portrait in Oil: Exploring Different Lighting", taught by Jeff Watts.  Credit must go to Jeff, who demo'es directly on student work in class.  His changes significantly improved each of these portrait.

I'm also posting the similarly-lit portraits from the first and second repetitions of the class together, to show what 9 months of progress looks like.  I didn't use the "Speed" strategy the first time around, back in July 2010.  I think that shows in the results.  I see other subtle improvements here.  My paint handling is better, I'm getting a bit faster and more confident with color, and I think the spirit of the model shows through more.  Progress is slow but steady.  I'll do another progress check 9 months from now.

Cool light portraits: left: Feb 2011, right July 2010

Warm light portraits: left: Feb 2011, right July 2010

Rim light portraits: left: Feb 2011, right July 2010

Side light portraits: left: Feb 2011, right July 2010

Added Note:
I attended the "Masters of the American West" exhibit at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles this past weekend.  If you have the opportunity, see this show, especially if you are a figurative or landscape oil painter.  Even if you don't care for the Western genre.  It's not often one sees so many examples of mastery in one exhibit, and so many different technical approaches and styles, too.  Inspiring.


  1. I can see the improvement! Well done Candace! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. hmmmm the most obvious difference is that the portraits on the right are all super warm. Well...your work is just outstanding. I think you should be really pleased with your progress.

  3. Celeste, I was on a burnt umber background kick in those earlier paintings. Yikes. The photos aren't very clear but the modeling of form is more convincing these days. It should be after 9 months of effort :o)

  4. Ramesh, Jala, and Rebecca, Thanks for visiting and for your positive comments. My underlying message here is that you've got to be in this thing for the long haul, in order to succeed. I was talking to a master artist about progress recently. He said the more advanced you are, the slower your progress. He's been at it for over 20 years and he has a breakthrough maybe once or twice a year now.

  5. It's really cool to see your paintings side by side with last year's. There is definitely a big improvement. Keep it up!

  6. Kelley, Thanks for the encouragement. It definitely helps :o)

  7. Candace, as always I enjoy your site each visit, very much, and I love viewing your work both past and present any time.