11 April 2015

Self-Portrait Painted in Oil

Finally getting around to a self portrait.  I painted this from my website profile photo.

Regarding the brushwork, I tried very hard to leave well enough alone.  I'm beginning to understand how this relates to individual style.  What each artist considers "well-enough" supports their aesthetic.  When we overwork (eg. not leaving well enough alone) the uniqueness disappears.  The work becomes generic. 

Self-portrait, 9x12 oil on board

Some comments and the progression...

I start with a charcoal drawing on toned, gessoed MDF.  I seal the drawing with workable fixative. It's not a good likeness at this point.  Big shapes are fairly accurate, though.

Next comes a loose underpainting in raw umber to set the values.

On the first color pass, big shapes are laid on quickly with flat bristles, using the largest brushes I can handle.  I'm thinking about the underlying forms and facial symmetry. Looking for "happy accidents" and trying to get a fair amount of paint on the board.  I want a nice wet surface to paint into on the second round.  This is an important stage, even though it's hard to look at.

 I refine the smaller shapes on a second pass.  This is the "leave well enough alone" stage.

Finally I add highlights to round out the forms, trying not to overdo them.  I like the contrast of the unfinished background against the face, so I consider it done at this point.

Recently I changed to a low chroma palette.  At Watts, students started out with a modified Zorn palette.  Cad red light, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, ivory black.  I now realize this was the wrong palette for me, way too chromatic.  My skin tones were always too hot.  It's better now.

Self-portrait, detail


  1. just outstanding, Candace...what impresses me most is how you got that slight head tilt back. That is so hard to get and maintain. Thanks for the explanation of your palette. Maybe too hot has been my problem all along too! This is great...just love the finished/unfinished business.

    1. Ongoing color problem? I don't think so. Skillful color use is what I see. Don't change a thing. Thanks for your comments, Celeste. Always a pleasure. C

  2. Hi Candace,
    I love this just as much as the one of your mother. Thanks for sharing the progression photos, too.
    A special thanks for the explanation of "over-worked". As one frequently guilty of the practice, it was wonderful to finally find out why it's not a good habit to slip into. It makes perfect sense now.
    Great work and a great lesson.

    1. Hi, Gary. I know the explanation sounds simplistic, but in my experience most of the important stuff is pretty simple, just hard to do. This isn't my original idea, I've heard other artists mention it here and there. It seems like one of those well kept secrets they don't teach you in art school.

      Thanks for visiting and and for your supportive comments, Gary. Much appreciated.

  3. Great demo, very informative. I like the stage you ended at, very fresh and spontaneous, nice sparkle to those eyes - which I think gives a portrait life. Was wondering what was the less chromatic palette? Thanks for the share.

    1. Hi, Jim. You are so right, the sparkle in the eyes has a big impact for 2 tiny little spots of paint.

      In this painting I used transparent maroon, terra rosa, Naples yellow and viridian for most of the fleshtones, with some alizarin and cobalt blue here and there. Those are mostly cooler reds. I have other reds and yellows I plan to try, too. I think it's critical for figurative painters to work through the combinations to find what resonates. I'm a tonalist, so the low chroma works for me.

      Thanks for your comments and questions. Best, Candace.

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Kelly. Ciao.

  5. Hi Candace, I wanted to ask you a question, you pass the fund on their screens, before starting to do the sketch?

    I await answer ...

    I really admire your work! :)

    1. Hi, Don. Thanks for your comments. Not sure what your question is. Please clarify and I will be happy to answer. Thanks, Candace.

    2. Candace, I wanted to know what you apply background on their screens before starting to sketch and paint.

    3. Hi, Don. Yes, I brushed on some raw umber to cover the white gesso. It was dry by the time I used the panel for this painting.

    4. Thank you Candace, Success with his works ...
      I admire your work! ;)

  6. Hi Candace your self portrait looks lovely, full of life.Though I would love to see a bit more color in the hair.( but that's strictly my opinion)
    I don't think your palette was high chroma, your art always looked lovely to me.I loved the portrait of your mom posted sometime ago.
    Well it's always great to experiment..happy painting!

  7. Hi, Arti. My husband said the same thing about the hair :o)

    I'm starting to experiment with how much information I can leave out (or leave up to the viewer). I've always admired that balance of realism and abstraction that I see in some artist's work. It adds an element of uncertainty that I like. Might have added too little here, I guess that's part of the experiment.

    Thanks for you nice comments and support, Arti. Best.

  8. Replies
    1. Thanks, Muhammad. Glad you enjoyed.

  9. What a wonderful portrait Candace!