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.