23 April 2013

Portrait of Aaron...and Diego Velazquez

Portrait of Aaron, 14x11", oil on linen

Today's piece is a commission..."Portrait of Aaron".  Aaron is an earnest young man of 12 years...older brother of Drew in Blue.   Such a tender, pivotal age...I tried to capture that essence in his portrait.  The painting required 8 hours of planning and 40 hours at the easel.

As usual, I started with a small color study to establish values, the palette I would use, the basic design, etc...it's so easy to work through all the uncertainties in miniature.  And for commissions, it gives you something to show the client.  It took me 5 hours to paint...most of that was "thinking" time.  I considered giving Aaron a slight smile, but he wanted a more serious look. 

Color study for "Portrait of Aaron", 8x6" on linen board

There were 2 challenges with this painting.  First, there were 2 light sources on the subject.  Values on the light and shadow sides were close. If the values weren't kept separate, the whole painting would break down into a muddled mess.  The lightest dark must be darker than the darkest light.
Second, I wanted to push the temperature differences...cool flesh tones on the light side and warmer in the shadows, even though it wasn't so apparent in the reference photo.  This temperature difference would reinforce the value differences, to help define structure.

Here is the progression...

Each photo shows one day's progress after 4-6 hours of painting.

I blocked in as described previously, then covered the white of the canvas with thinned paint.  When I absolutely must get a likeness, I mark the corners of the eyes, mouth, and nostrils with transparent maroon, as guides during the painting process.  After the transparent block-in, I defined the big shapes carefully with an average value/hue.  Next came a first pass of the features.  It helps get the painting out of the "ugly phase" and I need something looking back at me...it tells me things are working.

At this point, I took a long look at the painting and designed a strategy for finishing.  I listed the major steps in a sequence that would allow me to work edges wet-into-wet, or have a dry layer ready for a second pass at the right time.  With a few more years of experience, I won't need to do this type of planning, but it's helpful to me now.

Once the big shapes were accurate, I started breaking them into smaller shapes to turn the form.  The smaller shapes must fall within the value ranges of the larger shapes to maintain the structure.  I am thinking about the shapes and planes, and leaning on my drawing skills, as I move through this stage.

I tried not to blend adjacent shapes to create transitions.  I like to see the brushwork.  When a halftone or subtle plane change occurred, I tried to express it with a separate brushstroke, or tile. 

To finish, I kept painting until I couldn't see anything to correct.  I did 3 passes on that focal eye, adjusting the shape and value.  Towards the end, I realized the mouth was too high (a short filtrum is one of my common errors), so had to move it down about 1/8".  Got rid of those wrinkles in the right shoulder (Thanks, Mary).  Darkened the subordinate eye (Thanks, Lea).  Constant corrections all the way to the end.  Next step is the unveiling with the client.

Framed and done...


Regarding artistic inspiration...

Looking at great art motivates me during painting.  I found inspiration during this painting in the works of Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez. How to infuse that much gravitas into a portrait?...stunning.

If you want to add Velazquez to your library, I recommend 2 books: Velazquez: The Technique of Genius by Brown and Garrido and Velazquez by Dawson Carr et al.  I own them both.  The second book is a steal under $30.

Self-portrait, circa 1645

Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena, 1638

Camillo Massimo, 1650