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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Painting process for Tessa portrait

Progression of Tessa portrait: poster study, preparatory drawing, wash-in, form painting
 My recent visit to The Ryder Studio spanned 5 weeks of a 6-week (3 hours a day, 5 days a week) portrait sitting by Tessa, who is a wonderful friend and model from the Netherlands that we had the pleasure of meeting and drawing during the Rembrandt Pilgrimage last May.

This is a quick overview of the painting process I went through for this portrait.  If there is interest, I will follow up to show the process in more detail-- posting more photos and explaining some of the in-between steps, techniques, critiques and corrections.

Poster study
 After playing around with some rough thumbnail sketches to determine my composition, I began with a poster study.  This is a small color study about 3" square.

Preparatory drawing
I began my preparatory drawing with graphite on toned paper, then decided to overlay it with translucent drafting film to make corrections and complete the drawing.  The photo above shows this stage.  It is 6" x 6"-- the same size as the panel on which I planned to paint.  I transferred just the rough outside shape of the figure to my linen panel using a stencil I cut out from a tracing of my drawing.  Then, referring to both the model and my preparatory drawing, I worked within that outline to develop a finely detailed brush drawing on the panel.

 The wash-in is a thinly painted color underpainting, beginning with the darker areas and progressing into the lights.  The white of the canvas shows through to create the lights, similar to a watercolor.  Drawing issues continue to be worked out in this stage, and the colors begin to approach the target colors for the final painting, but generally remain a bit lighter.

Portrait of Tessa, 6" x 6", oil on linen
 The form painting is the final stage.  Beginning with the darker areas and working toward the light, I complete one area at a time.  Paint is specifically mixed in progressions that turn each small form from dark to light.  I continue to grapple with and resolve drawing issues throughout this stage.  At the end of the 5 weeks, I have completed the form painting on the face and ear, and finish the piece by creating transitions into the hair, neck, and background (which remain largely wash-in, as does the hoodie).

Thanks for taking a look, and please let me know if you'd like to see more from this process!

Edit: New post describing in more detail the first few stages of the process:


  1. I would like to see more of the process.

  2. I would also like to see more of the process. Can you also explain a bit more how you mix your progressions from dark to light to turn form? For example, before you paint each form, do you mix strings of color on your palette with several different value steps? Which forms do you start with? Thanks!

  3. Thanks for your questions!

    I do mix strings of value progressions on my palette, but rather than pre-mix all the steps, I usually start with the darkest mixture for the form and mix each lighter step once I am ready to paint it. Referring to the poster study helps keep me on track. One of its functions is to serve as a painting-specific value scale.

    For a portrait, I generally begin with the forms along the edge of the shadow on the jaw and chin. With this painting, I started with the ear and then the jaw.

    I will post more of the process soon, and address your questions in more detail.

  4. Thank you for your reply, Anna. I look forward to learning more about your process.

  5. Following up with a new post about the first few stages of the process, described in more detail: