I have an interesting relationship with painting portraits. A loose, confident application of paint is required in watercolor to keep the paint fresh and clean while an accuracy in the positioning and drawing of the main features and structure of the forms is required to make it convincing. I’m after a balance between the cartoon and photo realism. This is the demo I did during a class I taught at our local gallery.
I’ve been teaching a Saturday afternoon oil painting class at GalleryOne in Ellensburg, WA. We started with a small still life of a lemon…. not so easy, but everybody did great. The second Saturday we got a good start on a landscape, learning to simplify and look for values. Next week we’ll dive into a portrait. It’s an interesting process to figure out where people are at and what they need. I hope I’m doing a good job.
When I’m a bit lost I remind myself to get back to the basics. Composition is the foundation for all that sits on top of it. Value is where form is described and color is like the flavors that make up a good meal. Out of many tiny thumbnails a few will stand out and call for more exploration and refinement. It’s design at this stage, pushing the shapes around and easy to adjust anything at a small size, no more than a few inches. Then after many small idea sketches a few will stand out and hopefully one will be interesting enough to take into a painting. This is just one process of many, but a good one to remember.
In my little watercolor notebook I start working this out. I want the brightest glow from the sky to just hit a bit on the right wall and around the figure. Perhaps the left wall is still too light. And I have to do a couple real vanishing points so the walls read correctly. And then the water reflection shapes need to be worked out as I don’t have a real photo of this, just a snap from a TV image.
Karen, at Gard Vintners called me up the other day and said I could set up anytime. We hadn’t talked for 6 months at least and had never set a date for a show at their nice wine and music place in Ellensburg. I had two days to pull it together and hang a show of about 25 pieces. Looking through my older work, some enamel paintings and oil pastel drawings from the 1980s seemed to fit with some of the newer acrylics. They all had to be taken apart, cleaned up and reassembled. The glass and surfaces were really dirty, but with some cleaning the colors popped and I could see what I was going after almost 40 years ago. There is a continuity to these two eras, something that ties my work together that is only knowable after this many years.
I’ve been working on fine tuning my technique for figures and portraits. In this painting of my friend Chelsea, I used something similar to the Venetian Technique with a complete tonal underpainting in an earth red. In this case Terre Rosa and Venetian Red but with no white,
just the white ground showing through the scumbled drawing. In this way I had the time to really work on the drawing without the complexity of the color. After that was completed and dry I could work over it keeping the shirt a looser more painterly style with solid strokes of opaque paint while tightening up on the face. This technique seems to suit my temperament right now, it can be as tight or loose as I want to go while getting the placement and tonal structure correct first to create the illusion that I’m after.
This spring has been a color feast for the eyes. The early sun hits the top edges of the Manastash Ridge and glows with pinks and purples, defining the rolling shapes of the hills. I’ve been making my morning coffee and doing a few watercolors looking out our kitchen window. Now the snow is gone and the glowing emerald is just beginning to cover the hills.
After sitting with this painting for a couple of weeks and getting some respected outside opinions, I’ve sanded out this guy on the left. I just couldn’t get the shadows right. Luckily, Neal, was over at Tito’s and I got some shots of him with better lighting. I did a tonal sketch at full size and here I’m whiting out the lights to lay a bed for the new painting.
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