visit my website

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Intermediate Stages of Tessa Portrait: Stencil, Brush Drawing and Color Wash

Details from brush drawing and color wash of Tessa portrait

This is the third in a series of blog posts detailing the painting process for the portrait of Tessa that I completed at the Ryder Studio earlier this year.  Here are the first two posts:

Transfer with Stencil and Brush Drawing

My painting support for this piece was a 6" x 6" panel onto which I had mounted extra-fine oil-primed portrait linen.  I use Artfix L84C, which is quadruple-primed and the smoothest linen I have found.  I adhere it to the panel with acrylic gel medium.  Then I moisten extremely fine 1500 grit wet-dry sandpaper and gently sand the primed surface to an even silkier finish.  

To "transfer" the preparatory drawing to the panel on Wednesday of my 2nd week, I traced its outline and essential landmarks onto another piece of translucent vellum.  Then I cut out just the outline of the figure to create a stencil.  I placed the stencil on the panel and outlined it with thinned light blue paint approximating a lighter version of the background cloth color.  

Tessa stencil clipped to panel
Blue paint outline on panel

Next, referring to both the model and my preparatory drawing so that I could make corrections as I went along, I worked within that outline using very thin paint (diluted with solvent) and a small round brush to develop a finely detailed drawing on the panel.  

Working up the brush drawing

My preparatory drawing didn't have much detail for the hoodie, so when I worked on that area in the brush drawing, I completed one main section at a time between breaks.  Folds of clothing end up looking slightly different each time a model leaves and returns to the pose, but the general character of each major subdivision will usually stay fairly consistent.  

Completed brush drawing on Friday of 2nd week
Detail of brush drawing

Easel Set-up

I sat on a folding chair at a French easel, which held a tall piece of homosote board.   I used thumbtacks to secure my panel to the board, clipped the preparatory drawing next to it, and taped the poster study above.  In the second photo you can see how I leaned my small palette nearly upright against the base of the board, directly beneath the painting.  This second image is a detail from a photo on the Ryder Studio Facebook page, which you can find here: original photo

Easel set-up
Beginning the color wash
Original photo credit: John Reger of The Ryder Studio

Color Wash Part 1: Ear, Jaw and Mouth

By Monday of my 3rd week I was ready to begin with color.  The color wash or wash-in is a thinly painted full-color underpainting, beginning with the darker areas and progressing into the lights.  The paint is diluted with solvent, and 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.

I began by surrounding the ear with some of the dark tones in the hair, and working a bit of a transition up the jaw.  I then painted the ear in detail, first placing the darker shadows and then turning each form into the light.  As I worked on each form, I developed gradations of paint on my palette, each mixture progressively lightening in value and subtly changing in hue and chromatic intensity.  I also thinned the paint to adjust the value as well, by allowing the white of the canvas ground to shine through more or less.  I mix the colors as accurately as I can, but due to the nature of the color wash, they are only an approximation of the poster--a map that I can build on and adjust when I move on to the final opaque layer: the form painting.

Color wash: Surrounding and beginning the ear
Color wash: Completing the ear, including placement of the earrings
Color wash: Working across the face, out to the cheekbone, chin and mouth
Color wash: Mouth sequence
Color wash: Finishing the mouth area above the upper lip, and starting the nose

Color Wash Part 2: Critique and Corrections

On Friday of the 3rd week, I received a critique from Tony.  He mentioned some specific adjustments I could make to the nose, eyelids, and head shape. As I continued to wash in the face, I made corrections based on his suggestions, which I've detailed in the photo captions below.

Color wash before critique
Detail (before critique)
Making corrections:
-Reshaping tip of nose and far nostril
-Lifting eyebrows
-Reshaping lower eyelid (far eye)
-Extending outer corner of near eye
-Reshaping upper-eyelid crease (near eye)
-Adjusting highlight on upper eyelid (near eye)
Continuing to make corrections:
-Swinging out bridge of nose (far contour)
-Reshaping near-nostril cavity
-Adjusting highlight on upper eyelid (far eye)
Final corrections from critique:
-Adjusting tilts of forehead and back of head

Color Wash Part 3: Hoodie, Background and Hair

On Monday of my 4th week, I started washing in the hoodie.  It looked fairly similar to the way I had drawn it in, but there are always variations in how the clothing falls on the model from pose to pose.  However, for consistency, I chose to stick pretty closely to my drawing, rather than make too many adjustments to match the changes.

Color wash: Starting the hoodie

After partially completing the hoodie, I scrubbed in the background color and moved on to the hair, subdividing it by first putting in the darks between sections.  I then finished the forehead and hoodie, and the color wash was completed on Wednesday of the 4th week.

Color wash: Laying in the background
Color wash: Subdividing locks of hair
The completed color wash
Completed color wash - Detail

Coming soon: Form painting!  (The final post in this series)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

First Stages of Tessa Portrait: Thumbnail Sketch, Poster Study, Preparatory Drawing

Thumbnail sketch, Poster study
Block-in, Preparatory drawing
In a previous blog post, I showed an overview of the painting process for the portrait of Tessa that I completed at the Ryder Studio earlier this year: 
In this post, I will describe in more detail the first few stages of the process.


I arrived at the studio on Monday, February 10th, one week into the 6-week pose.  The first thing I needed to do was to choose a spot.  I chose a low easel at the right front corner of the model stand.  I liked the three-quarter view of the face and the balance of light and shadow, reminiscent of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring; and I realized that looking up at the model from a low angle at close distance would provide me with a perspective challenge.

The next task was to choose a format.  I had prepared two potential painting supports:  a 5" x 7" panel and a 6" x 6" panel, both mounted with extra-smooth portrait linen.  In the past few years I have become comfortable working at this smaller scale.  I also had a small viewfinder with a slider, to see how the composition would look cropped in different ways.  Tony has always taught us that the poster study is a great compositional tool as well as a color map, and in this case he advised that if I couldn't decide between the two formats, I could do my poster study large enough to encompass more of the scene, and then decide how to crop it after I had established the value and color relationships.  This was my plan.  However, after experimenting with a few thumbnail sketches such as the one shown below, I quickly decided that I preferred the square format.  The extra width would allow me to zoom in closer on the face while leaving room to fit in the waterfall of ponytail, the draped cowl of the hoodie, the stable base of the shoulders, and a bit of breathing room around the figure.  I also liked how the strong diagonal pathways flowing through the pose added dynamic movement to the static regularity of the square.

Thumbnail sketch in graphite, approx. 2" square

Poster Study

I was now ready to investigate color by painting a poster study.  I wanted a study that was approximately 3" square, so I cut a piece of Canson Canva-Paper slightly larger than that and taped the edges to a piece of homosote board that was set up on my easel.  I use the back side of the Canva-Paper, which is a little smoother than the front side.  In the past, I've had trouble with the blue painter's tape sticking to the paper too well and tearing off the top layer.  I recently acquired some purple painter's tape that is a bit less sticky, designed for more delicate surfaces.  This seems to work well.

I didn't take progress shots of this poster study, but I'm working on a future blog post where I will demonstrate my approach.  I started with a very quick brush drawing based on my thumbnail sketch.  There are no details-- I don't put in eye sockets or lips or noses with this kind of study.  I began with the darks in the hair and then moved on to the next lightest areas, until I'd reached the lightest lights in the face.  Then I evaluated my choices, and repainted areas that needed adjustment until I was reasonably happy with the study.  I planned to go over it one more time to correct a few more things after doing the preparatory drawing, but as it turned out, I left it as is.

A few of the things I keep in mind when doing a poster study:

  • Very small scale.  This doesn't suit everyone, but I prefer to size my studies between 2"-4".  It's easier for me to take in the whole set of color relationships in the composition at once; I can cover the surface more quickly; and it reduces the temptation to add unnecessary detail (see next point).  
  • Minimal detail.  I want to abstract the most essential color relationships and eliminate the distraction of drawing issues so that I can give color my full focus.
  • Quality and direction of light.  In this case, a large bank of fluorescents filled the space with clear, nearly color-balanced light and soft-edged shadows, similar to a skylight.
  •  Clean-edged, opaque paint patches.  I usually avoid blending and transparency in this kind of study.  I want to be clear and specific about my mixture for each area, so that I can easily identify its role in the composition and quickly determine the degree and direction of any adjustments that need to be made in terms of hue, value and chromatic intensity.  
  • Quick first pass.  Because the poster study is all about relationships, it's difficult to judge the first brushstrokes until the whole thing is covered.  Attempting to match each color in isolation is not enough-- it has to work with the other colors in the study to create the desired feeling of light.  For each mixture, I make my best hypothesis about what will work, test it in the laboratory that is my canvas, and observe the interactions that happen.  Once I am finished with the first pass, I spend the time and effort to re-evaluate and adjust as necessary until it "sings".  

Poster study, approx. 3" square, with purple painter's tape

Preparatory Drawing

After completing the poster study, I moved on to the preparatory drawing on Wednesday of the first week.  Working with graphite on toned Strathmore charcoal paper, I traced around my 6" square panel, lightly sketched in the initial construction lines and blocked in the pose.  For the very first lines, I swung the pencil in gentle arcs to find the flowing diagonal movements that swept through the pose.  I kept the shapes very broad and abstract at first, avoiding regular geometric shapes like squares and circles and instead choosing irregular shapes with dynamic, organic character.  John Reger, who is one of the instructors at The Ryder Studio, helped me double-check the tilts and head shape for accuracy.  When I began to block in the features, I first made "nests" for them.  Instead of trying to drop the details of the eyes into an empty expanse of face, I first made broad subdivisions, looking for the larger forms around the eye sockets and lightly indicating landmarks like shadow edges and the contour of the brow.

Preparatory drawing block-in.  Graphite on toned paper, 6" square.
I continued to develop the drawing on Thursday and Friday.  I had already moved the features around quite a bit, trying to get them right, but on Monday I took a fresh look and could see that I still needed to make some major corrections.  I decided to overlay the existing drawing with a piece of translucent synthetic vellum (thanks, David!) and make the adjustments on the vellum.  I wanted to be able to see the degree of change between the original and the corrections, rather than simply erasing the original.

Friday's efforts
Beginning to make corrections.
You can see the original drawing slightly ghosted underneath the vellum. 
On Tuesday, Celeste Ryder gave me a critique and helped me determine that Tessa's left eye (the one on the viewer's right) needed to move up and in.

Before critique
Moving the eye
By Wednesday, I was eager to begin painting.  Although it was not a perfect likeness, I felt I had pushed the reference drawing far enough for it to be a helpful guide during the rest of the process.

Preparatory drawing on synthetic vellum, 6" x 6
In the next post, before going into the color wash stage, I will show how I transferred the outline of the figure to my panel with a homemade stencil, and then developed a finely detailed brush drawing within that outline.

**Update** I've finished the next post in the series:

New Trompe L'oeil Diamond Pendant

I've added a new gemstone to my Etsy shop of trompe l'oeil painted jewelry!  I spent time studying the facets of the brilliant cut and the possible paths of a light ray as it is refracted and reflected within a diamond.  Then I designed and painted a pattern of surface and internal reflections with fiery flashes of color.

Hand-painted Trompe L'oeil Diamond Pendant, oil on linen, 5/8" diameter