Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Studying Portraiture

Portrait study of a woman
oil on canvas
14x11 inches

Those that know me well are well aware that my favorite artist of all time is Diego Velázquez. Another book I happily acquired for Christmas is Velazquez: The Technique of Genius by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido, which goes through and discusses the painting technique used by Velázquez in several of his greatest works, including close-up images of the paintings showing the brushwork. Though my only issue with this book is that it does not include two of his greatest portraits ever - Juan de Pareja and Pope Innocent X. Otherwise, it is a fantastic resource for studying his method and mastery of paint handling and manipulation.

The miracle of Velázquez is that his brushwork is so effortless and unsophisticated, and yet it comes together to create a perfect image. I've always been fascinated by the way he paints portraits - particularly the eyes. There are so many intricate details that go into painting or drawing eyes, and yet Velázquez seems to pull them off with just a few swipes of his brush. Take Juan de Pareja, for instance:

detail of Juan de Pareja
I can make out 3 steps or layers to the eyes - black, mid tone, and highlight. On a better detail image, you can also see that the small amount of light on his earlobe is a single, simple stroke of red. It doesn't seem as though Velázquez was a perfectionist that liked to spend a whole lot of time on a painting. Many of his works, such as this one, were alla prima (at first attempt/all at once).
I still attempt to work paint in the same manner as Velázquez, though as simple as his method was... it is by no means easy. One of my favorite pieces of his is the Coronation of the Virgin because it is also one of his most colorful pieces, and I could go on and on about everything else that draws me to the image. It is also an excellent example of his mastery of portraits.

detail of Coronation of the Virgin
As I continue to study the technique of Velázquez, and also continue to paint some studies of portraits, I am looking forward to my own technique to evolve into something much more loose, and yet even closer to an academic style than it has been... something I've been trying to do for a while.

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