I hope you enjoyed the weekend, I know I sure did! I was fortunate to put a lot of time into the studio Saturday and Sunday. Most of Saturday was spent cleaning and organizing my space. Now most of my tools have labels and designated places which I'm hoping will keep me more organized as well. Studios do have the forgiving reputation of being messy so I guess its not that big of a deal.
Saturday night I painted a loose interpretation off of a watercolor sketch I had made in January, while at my mum's house. I forgot to photograph the watercolor sketch, however I do have a similar watercolor painting from the same day to give you an idea of what I was working from. (Sketchbook pictured below). Ignore the Frenemies parts, they were for a project that I'm waiting to reveal...
So, from a quick watercolor "gesture" of a small plant, that I need to learn the name of still, I began an oil interpretation on a sheet of Duralar a product that is archival and semi-transparent, commonly used in mixed media artwork.
I'm really happy with how this sketch turned out. I haven't invested a ton of time into this surface material yet, but hopefully I can continue to find satisfying results. The translucent quality of the Duralar helps create a glow and softness that I particularly love. My thoughts going into this painting were fairly minimal. I wanted to find a fresh image that was both simplistic and uncommon. I wanted the plant to feel realistic and/or inspired by one unique plant. In loose and quick approaches like this, I tend to favor the linework. Scratchy brushstrokes help to keep me from overworking the image.
Following this painting I decided to try another plant painting from a different watercolor sketch Sunday morning. To say the least I'm currently unsatisfied with the newest one. The leaves were red and I included part of the planter which is a teal color. I think the color scheme wasn't working for me off the bat.
I blended out the red plant and taped it to the wall where it will sit until inspiration hits or the tape peels off and then who knows what.
I cut down one 14" x 17" duralar sheet into a 7" x 8" piece and taped it to my easel. I work with a sheet of sketchbook paper behind the duralar to give a solid value. I looked around the studio walls and flipped through a sketchbook to see if maybe I could paint from something I had already done. Ehh, I didn't see anything worth exploring. Remembering how much I enjoyed self portraits from a mirror; I decided that's what I should try. Also I don't think I've worked on one that was this small before.
Here are a few stages of the self portrait:
1. Block In
Here I'm just looking for the biggest shapes and how they relate in space. Value is irrelevant. With a lot of turp and a dab of galkyd I mix a fluid batch of prussian blue and van dyke brown. The shirt area is thinned out green lake I believe. Because of the marble like surface of the duralar, the thinner creates these beautiful drips and pools of paint and separation. This stage is where I use what I've learned in watercolor. I find it way easier and more enjoyable to start a painting as loose and uncontrolled as possible, then working towards detail.
2. Finding Common Flesh Tones
My studio lighting is completely artificial which isn't what I would prefer necessarily when working from life. I tend to see very muddy colors without natural lighting. But the exercise is to train your eye in finding true color. Not just your local colors (ex. fire truck - cherry red, water - blue). When first learning how to paint the human figure; artists will work from their memory of understanding skin and flesh. As kids we grow up coloring with "flesh tone" crayons. Which may only match one small area of a human portrait. There are a lot of colors that one wouldn't notice without looking long enough. A few years ago, my painting professor Diane Bywaters encouraged me to start implementing more green colors, like Sap Green for example, into my portraits. But then I started wondering and researching what other painters use in their figure palettes. Blues, yellows, greys, purples, and various reds appear in a portrait. When I'm looking at my complexion I try first to respond to one color.
Boom, I see a greenish-raw sienna around my forehead and cheeks. Out of habit I tend to mix a blueish brown for shadow areas like the brow and eyes. General rule * Cooler colors help to convey a receding space and warmer colors help to bring your form forward.
Blurring your vision usually helps when looking for the first colors to "fill space" in these early stages. It's not the end of the world if a color is off. No one sees this layer of the painting, unless you photograph it for a blog post like me or to help recap on your process which is a good learning practice.
Also during this stage I will note that I continue to construct form and begin to lay in maybe 3 or 4 values to "sculpt" the head.
3. Layering More Colors / Start Defining the Face
In this stage you can see that I have hardly worked into the shirt. When I paint portraits I like to spend the majority of time on the face and leave choices on the environment and lower body to the end of the process. I think that painting is really about how information travels visually. Artists while working are responding to the work and process. Me especially. I like to let the mood of the process dictate how/when it will finish. Paintings like this start as an exercise and have little plans for concept and purpose.
During this part of the painting I was trying to push the placement of specific parts of the face. The paint is very flexible at this point. At this point I stop putting a lot of paint on the surface, mainly because it can get muddy. Also its hard to change the structure when you have a lot of paint in your brush. I can look at the mirror now without having to blur my vision and focus on specific distances between edges and colors. As you can see I have left a lot of my colors unblended edge to edge. Sometimes I really like this look in a painting and will end it there. However, in this one I wasn't satisfied with the sharp edges in the marks at this point.
When working Alla-Prima or wet-on-wet, I work continously through my range of values. Sometimes if I'm working on a painting that requires a lot of time, details, and layers I will plan on working from my darkest values and furthest perspectives, then work up through distance and brightest values. I've found that doing this will help support the illusions of 3D form and depth. But, with Alla-Prima painting you really need to be able to work with the painting as it evolves and be ready at any moment to go back into the darks and/or light values. I describe it as a push and pull process. I constantly look at how two values/colors are working together. For example, take the top half of my right ear in this painting. On the left there is a dark brownish red color shaped like a cresent moon. This shape hugs a lighter peach/beige color where my ear folds. I will look at areas like this in the mirror and then at the painting, then back to the mirror and so forth. Until I feel that the colors and shapes I have placed there are accurate or at least believable.
I do that for the entire painting.
Sometimes I'll get bored and just throw in an incorrect value or color to liven the painting process back up. But in this stage I'm mainly working on middle-sized shapes and not worrying about blending the transistions between colors. The paint consistency here is still fluid, but I would describe it as a ranch dressing consistency, or ketchup, whatever you prefer.
4. Blending and High Details
Disclaimer* The color appears different here because I used my DSLR camera instead of my phone for this last image. Sorry for waiting until the end to do so.
The 1" painters tape is a good reference to show the size of this painting. I think the head itself is about 2.75" high. Really fun and frustrating at times to work this small.
The final hour of the painting was spent working from step 3 to step 4. I spend most of that time smoothing out the texture of my face and adding in small brush strokes for detail. Occasionally I'll add in a new color or a stronger color when needed.
One really important consideration when painting realistically is learning how to paint over the entire subject, and then building up your values. This will give your subject more visual weight in the end.
Going back to step 3 you can see the area around my right eye and how similar that color was to the rest of my face. In step 4 that same area is much brighter and has a pink hue. This new color was made by adding lighter and lighter colors of paint directly over that area until it looked right. This again is the push and pull tactic. Everything relates. If I paint my eyebrow too light, then my skin would look too dark. If my lips are too dark, then it would make the left cheek appear too bright. One way to avoid any incorrect color relationships like that is to constantly bounce around the painting. Don't spend too much time (5 minutes tops). Move around!
Most of this last hour was painted with a size 2 brush. Long skinny bristles. Because this painting is so small I had to resort to a tiny brush to create those small shifts in color. But I also believe that if a painting is done with the same size brush entirely it may create a dull surface. To find more energy in the painting change up your brush sizes.
I hope that this post was informative and as exciting for you as it was for me. Please shoot any questions or comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If I plan on exhibiting this painting anywere I will be sure to make an announcement.
Also, here's a shot of what my setup looked like during the process in my studio.
Looks kinda crazy, but hey its not always about how you got the painting done, right? I do look rather emotionless don't I? I think its because it was a whopping 16 degrees in Stevens Point today. If I had to guess I would say the studio was sitting at about 42 degrees. Well when you need to paint, you need to paint! :)
Thanks for reading