Thursday, January 16, 2014

Portrait Painting Class v. 2.0

This week I started my portrait painting class once again, after a 6-week go in October - November, we decided to pick it back up, and we've even added a few new folks to the group. 
This time around, I am trying to put an emphasis on drawing, and the importance of having a good, accurate drawing in the first step of the painting.  The first step, which we worked on this week, is simply what I refer to as a "drawing with paint" or an underpainting using only one color.  In this case, we're using raw umber or burnt umber.  Though we're using paint and brushes, it is still a drawing and employs all the principles of drawing.

Master copy sketch ("Portrait of Vladimir Stasov", by Ilya Repin)
Burnt umber, oil on canvas

Master copy sketch ("Self Portrait in Red", by Anders Zorn)
Raw umber, oil on canvas
I'm starting my students off doing master copies because I think it is a very useful exercise for a couple of reasons.
1.  By referring to an image of a painting, you are already "reading the language" of a painting.  In other words, you are already looking at the portrait as a painting because it is a painting, which makes it a little easier to imitate it in painting form.  This way, you are able to clearly see the ways in which the artist picks out the various shapes and forms in the face, and depicts them on canvas.
2.  Art history is essential for every artist.  One of my students mentioned how she was becoming much more familiar with different figures in art history simply because we had done these master copies in our classes before, and we were doing them again.  One of the main influences and learning tools in my own work as a portrait painter as been a knowledge of the old masters.  Reading up on these masters of the past and browsing through their work has opened my eyes to the countless techniques and styles of painting, particularly when it comes to the figure and portrait.  Read books and go to museums and look at these paintings.. study them closely!  You'll be amazed at what you can pick up from just looking at a painting for more than a few seconds.  Know where you came from by knowing the work and lives of the artists who came before you.

So getting back to this week's lesson.  I narrowed down the painted drawing to 5 basic values - darkest dark, light dark, midtone, light, and highlight.  Since we're dealing with a painted drawing, that basic value scale works well because it prevents us from getting too caught up with details in this first step of the painting.  Though, this first step is the most crucial because the underpainting is essentially your reference - your roadmap for the rest of the painting.  One of the problems I saw in our first painting sessions last fall was trying to make significant corrections and alterations to the painting in the latter stages of it.  Changes such as proportions, positioning, and other areas are things that needed to be well established in the first stage of the drawing.  Making sure the drawing is accurate in that first stage will better ensure that the rest of the painting will be accurate as well.

The next step, and the lesson for our second session of the class will touch a bit on color.  We'll be applying a very simple flesh tone to our portraits using burnt sienna and white.  This basically gives us a transition from a monochrome underpainting/drawing to now working with a little color.  But since we're using only burnt sienna (in the 5 values), we will still have drawing on the mind.  This will also be a lesson on paint application.  I'll be demonstrating how I apply paint, when I apply it, and how to go back and forth between different colors (or in this case, values) when corrections and/or additions are needed.  Here is my copy of the Repin painting with the different tones of burnt sienna applied:

Though it may be a little hard to point them out (you can try if you want!), I used the 5 simple values that I mentioned before, using the burnt sienna and white (and a touch of raw umber in the darks) in this stage of the painting.  I will be doing the same thing in my demo next week with the Zorn copy.  One of the things to keep in mind with these portraits is that we never stop thinking about drawing even in the latter stages of the painting when we're applying a full palette of color. 

Coming up in March... A couple of years ago I did a series of blog entries for the season of Lent called 40 Days of Artists, where I highlighted 40 of the best masters (in my opinion) and gave a little history behind them.  This year, I've decided to do something similar called 40 Days of Paintings in which I will highlight 40 of my favorite paintings by masters of the Renaissance, Baroque, 19th century and today.  This will be a considerably difficult task because there are way more than 40 paintings that I love.  But I will try to pick the best of the best, and talk about what I love about them, and what I think makes them the greatest paintings in the world.  Stay tuned for that starting Ash Wednesday, March 5th.  And as always, stay tuned for more new work from the studio to come!

No comments:

Post a Comment