Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Portrait a day.....

Well, OK, not one a day.  Maybe one a week?  Well, let's say at least two a month.  Resources are plentiful even if they aren't all my own.  The WetCanvas site has several on-going monthly "challenges", including some opportunities to copy the Masters.

Here's my entry in the November Monthly Portrait Challenge at the WetCanvas Portraiture forum.

It's oil on 9" x 12" canvas panel.  About two to three hours.

Oil on canvas panel, acrylic gesso.  9x12

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Travels with My Easel

Tomales, CA
As I was going though old pictures, it dawned on me that I have quite a few of my easel set up at various
spots for plein air sessions.  Here are a just a few of the spots where I've enjoyed painting outside. 
Near Shingle Springs, CA
Gold Rush Era Iron Works, Sutter Creek, CA

Bodega Bay, CA
Near Shingle Springs, CA

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Copying William Godward's "Classic Beauty"

This exquisite protrait was painted by Willian Godward and is entitled "Classic Beauty".  Once again, I don't know anything about the artist, having found his work on another of WetCanvas's monthly challeges.  Trying to copy these classic paintings is a wonderful exercise...and I'm beginning to find it a bit addicting.  So, while nothing else is waiting on the easel, I'll give this one a try. 

I decided not to attempt to copy the entire work, so I selected a 16" x 12" linen panel to attempt just the head and shoulders.  I sketched directly on the untoned canvas with a small brush. 

Using just a few colors I tried to cover all of the white canvas as soon as possible.  This is only the second painting I've done on linen with an oil based gesso and I'm beginning to like the feel a lot.  My initial reaction was not felt so different from the acrylic gessoed cotton canvases I am used to...but now I am definately enjoying the way the paint lays a little more on the surface.  It's easy to manipulate with brush, rag and finger. 

I ended the first day with a little more detail in the hair and face...and with some suggestions of pattern in the background.  Time to let it set up for a day or two.

Up to this point, I've been using an 8 x 10 print from my home printer, which isn't the best. The quality is mediocre.  I'm going to try to paint from the laptop screen for the next phase.  The colors are so much more vivid when viewing a high resolution print on the computer screen, and the details show much more clearly.

At this session of about 2 hours, I worked quite a bit on the background, putting in the tapistry patterns and trying to find the right values.  I noticed that Godward lightened the background in a few spots near the head.  It's most noticeable at the bridge of the nose.  This is a technique that Rockwell used many years later and it imparts a kind of glow - a halo effect - that is striking.  I'm going to remember that little 'trick'. 

I wanted to work on the face too, but attempts to do some glazing and opague passages resulted in lifting the earlier layer.  It was obviously not completely dry.   I'm going to let this rest for at least three or four days before the next, and maybe final, session.

Some final glazes and I am done.  "Classic Beauty" by John William Godward. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Searching for "Irene"

"Irene" is yet another of Adolf William Bouguereau's stunning works. Oil on canvas, 1897 18 x 15 inches (46 x 38.1 cm)  You can find a high resolution photo, and even order a quality print, at the Art Renewal Center (ARC) here

I discovered it in the Masters in Oil (MIO) October thread on WetCanvas.  They post a new masterwork each month for the members to copy. I've tried to copy a Bouguereau painting once before, so I am aware that it's pretty much folly. It would take a lifetime of study to even begin to understand how one manages to capture such subtly and light. But I also know there's nothing quite as eye opening as attempting to copy a masterwork.  It's a time honored assignment for art students.  So, with that in mind, I did the sketch and first block in the first two evenings.

I spent a little time trying to do a preliminary sketch in pencil on the linen canvas. I don't usually do that, preferring to sketch directly with the brush. I though I'd use the pencil to make a more careful start, but not sure it made a real difference. How did he ever get those exquisite features...and that bump in the nose????

The next evening, using primarily Burnt Sienna, white and a purple (all Utrecht brand oils) I blocked in the painting pretty quickly. I wasn't going for a traditional underpainting although I had considered that before starting. This was just a quick 'laying in" with a limited pallette. After finishing the block in I realized that I have the head shifted to the right relative to the original. (The canvas I am painting on is smaller but proportionally correct to the original size (the blue tape marks the lower boundary of the proportionally correct area). I considered wiping it out, but after thinking about it overnight, I decided to push on as is. It isn't really critical...the real challenge is the face....that's what I really need to worrying about. So here are my first two steps in trying to capture another of Mr. Bouguereau's incredible paintings. Talk about attempting the impossible!

A couple of evenings went by before I could return to Irene. By this time the block was pretty dry with the exception of some of the hair. I started to darken the background and the hair. I begin to add color to the face, neck and shoulders. It all went downhill.  At one point, I felt like I had completely lost the painting and using a rag and turp, I wiped out the entire face. Talk about frustrated! Fortunately the block in was clearly visible since it had dried, forming an underpainting. (I suddenly realized the value of an underpainting!) I spent another hour and re-established the face before quitting for the night. This picture was after the wipeout and a second blocking in of the face.

During the next two session, I contined bringing out the face and neck areas using glazing and scumbling and finger wiping and whatever else I could think of. How in the world did Bouguereau get those incredible flesh tones and subtle transitions??

I feel like I'm pretty close to calling it done. More work on the tiarra, the hair and the gown is needed, but it's getting to the point where my knowledge and abilities are exhausted and it's time to admit to the master that he wins again.

One more evening and Irene is finished.  I darkened the hair and some areas of the background.  I defined the Tiarra a litttle more, but stopped short of the detail in the original.  I follow the same idea with the gown, suggesting Bouguereau's work, but not including the detail.  I do just a very little more to the face.  Most of the work is around the eye, trying to lighten the values just slightly.  Finally, I cut the backgound into the chin just the tinest amount.  That's it.  I'm done.  I estimate the total time for this study at about 8 hours more or less. 

The statistics once again: Oil, 12" x 14 5/8" linen panel (WN), all paints Utrecht brand.  Medium: turps and Utrecht alkyd glazing medium.  Colors: yellow ochre, Utrecht white, burnt sienna, cad red lt., veridium, ultramarine blue, and touches of a few others like alizarin crimson and a diazanine (?) purple.

Thanks to the Master for this experience.  Once again, I've learned a lot, including just how much I don't know!

And here's the original painting once more.  It helps to be reminded of how far there is to go!