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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)


  1. Thank you so much for posting your process. I have never done something like this (and want to) and you make it seem much more approachable : ) It's looking great!

  2. You've done a marvelous job, thanks for sharing!