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.