painting demo notes, info, ramblings

Here is a recap of the demo for the San Dieguito Art Guild. There is a set of images in progression and sequential notes to explain a bit about each image. There are a couple detail images further below to refer to as well. Mainly, these are some thoughts, observations, and explanations on the demo and my approach.

The approach I took to do this demo was a bit different from how I might typically go about tackling a painting from start to finish. Mainly because it was 3-hour demonstration, and in a demo there are other elements (like talking and explaining when you're painting) that aren't in a typical painting routine. Anyway, for this painting, I chose to work on masonite, which I prepared ahead of time - gessoed about 5 times, sanding between each layer to keep it smooth. Then I stained the surface with a mixture of burnt umber and white (similar to a turkey umber color). This color can be used as the midtones and can transition from cool to warm easily. The surface was dry when I started the portrait. I enjoy painting on masonite for its smooth texture, and also because the first layers of paint dry relatively quickly on this surface, allowing me to build the thicker more opaque strokes on top of the lay-in within the limited amount of time. The palette I used was mainly an earth tone palette, with some more vibrant or radiant colors. The palette surface is glass, with a toned surface underneath to match the value of the surface I’m painting on. I can talk more about colors on my palette in a different post, but mainly when I’m doing a demo (and, really, all the time), I want to have everything at my fingertips ready to go (like the keys on a piano), so that I don’t have to dig for anything while I’m working – so that I’m comfortable, and not distracted by the small things I can control. In addition to setting out my colors from the tube, I then use my palette knife to mix piles of colors according to the set-up, creating an extended ‘keyboard’ to work with. My solvent is Gamsol (mineral spirits), which I use mainly to wash out my brushes, but can be used to thin the paint as it is applied to the surface. My medium in this case was Liquin, which is a relatively fast-drying medium. In the beginning stages of the painting, I use bristles, and then use a combination of bristles and sables as I build the paint on the surface. I find bristles work best for laying on the paint and moving it around. Sables work well for softening edges, applying softer strokes, and for ‘flattening’ areas of thick paint or blending/softening striations in the strokes. These are just a few reasons I like the two types of brushes, but there are so many ways to use them and I don’t necessarily stick to just one particular effect of a brush to get a specific result. This painting was mainly tiled (think of the word ‘tile’ as in tiles on a floor, but not quite as literal. Blocks of color are laid next to each other, but don’t have to be square or the same shape or laid down in the same direction as the one next to it). I started with big tiles of darks and midtones applied thinly, and then built small tiles on top of the big tiles, which are thicker and more opaque (stacking them, in a way, from thin to thick). This approach is a direct painting approach that mimics some of my tendencies to paint when I paint an indirect painting. It doesn't include the indirect glazing of layers that I often do in longer paintings. Still, this direct painting approach does use layering, given the surface and materials, and how I can make them work for me. My temperament is to paint in layers, building from thin to thick. This direct approach utilizes some of the same types of effects as indirect painting does, as long as there is an understanding of what the tools can do and how to use them to get the desired results.

(don't forget, you can click on the images to view them larger)

Here are some notes on the progression above (#1 coincides with the first image in the sequence, and so on):
1) At this stage, I have blocked in the large shapes of color. I didn’t start with a drawing per se, except to give myself outer anchor points of the silhouette, so I can be sure of the composition, and that it has an aesthetically pleasing placement on the page. These place markers keep me in check, so the silhouette doesn’t “grow” as I paint. The blocks of color are placed inside these place markers as I see them as blocks of color on the model. I do not want to go straight into detail and then paint around the details. I will build up the masses and volume, adding smaller shapes of color into the larger shapes of color, and so on.. adding the detail last. The paint, at this stage is relatively thin.
2) The smaller shapes are added into the larger shapes, refining edges as I go. The point of interest, for me, will be his left eye (the one on the right in the painting, the eye closest to the viewer) and the furrowed brow – mainly the light side of the face, but I’m especially drawn to the eye and brow. The areas in the lights are applied darker than the lightest lights – more as the midtones in the lights. This is so I can build my lights on top of the midtones. You can see examples of this in the detail photos of the painting. I’ve added some more thorough explanation about that below with the details.
3) Again, I’m adding the smaller shapes inside the larger shapes. At this stage, I’m also adding the texture and character of the model’s skin as small, loose brush strokes. Each stroke remains a stroke (or tile), but the value relationships need to stay relative to the overall value that I’ve laid in at the beginning. The colors change, the texture and direction of the strokes vary as they define directions of planes and light on the skin, and the spontaneity of the strokes can stay loose as well. They’re simply on a smaller scale, and each stroke varies in color and value slightly from the next, giving the illusion of blended tones from a distance. When applying paint to smaller areas, it isn’t necessary to get uptight in application, as in rendering or blending. Especially in this case, blending would lose the character or integrity of the model. The strokes can be applied just as loose as the larger strokes – they’re just smaller.
4) In the 3rd photo and in this one, there is one thing that mainly really stood out to me. I lost the likeness by stretching out the lower half of the face. In hindsight, I think I can say that it got lost because I was focusing on a small area of the painting that I considered the focus, and was not looking at the whole picture enough. Also, the overall value of that area was off as well. It’s important to stand back and take a look at your painting frequently, which I know I didn’t do enough between sittings because I was talking with people and answering questions one-on-one during that time. I spoke about this in the demo, and it turned out to be a good lesson. Anyway, because of time constraints, this is where the demo had to end.
5) I took it home and worked on it for about another hour. Mainly, I moved the tip of the nose up, the jawline up, and refined the brushwork again after I adjusted the shapes. Moving things doesn’t mean ‘erasing’ or wiping out. It means observing (spending the most time doing this), and placing the blocks of color in the right place, then moving everything else accordingly. If the painting is thicker, it might require sanding, but this painting was relatively thin in the areas that needed adjusting. It was important to me to keep the spontaneous feel to the brushwork. My fixes were made, with this in mind as well. I had some photos from the demo, but none from the exact angle from where I was sitting, so I wanted to work on it while the image of the model was still fresh in my mind.

As I mentioned above, I started the painting with thin layers of darks and midtones. To achieve the effect of the furrowed brow, or the wrinkles of the brow, I leave the midtones as they are, and paint the short direction of the planes of light. I’m not painting the darker ‘lines’ or wrinkles on top of the light. The ‘lines’ are the midtones I have already painted underneath, so I’m not painting them, they’re already there. What’s happening on the surface of the skin is what I want to mimic in paint. On the skin, wrinkles or furrows are the areas where the planes are meeting up. They are small areas of darks between the lights, and are receding from the light. As in the surface of the skin, the paint is applied similarly. The light areas are closer to us, the darks are farther from us - literally. Again, it’s important to keep your darks and midtones thin, and use a light touch when applying the lighter tones in opaque paint on top.

(click on the image to view the brushwork closer)

A note on brushwork. If you noticed in the top photo, how I am holding my brush, please keep in mind that this photo is just one photo of a split second in time. I am constantly moving my hand and arm in different ways, using different sensitivities of pressure, and turning the brush in my hand in different directions to get different results depending on which way I feel the brushstroke should appear.

One last note. The model is Van. I want to make a note of this because I really enjoy painting him. Aside from an incredible amount of character, Van has a wonderfully strong positive energy and really enjoys his work. He furrowed his brow for 3 hours! For a demo (if I have a choice), painting a model that I have a good connection with, helps me to focus on the painting and talking, and allows me to be comfortable overall.

Also, thanks to Brian for taking photos during the demo, and thanks to everyone who went and asked such great questions!


Anonymous said…
Hi Vanessa,

Thanks so much for putting in the effort to get this together to present on your blog- I would love to see similar posts in the future going into more detail on the various topics you touched upon (palette, support, demo vs longer pieces, lighting, brushwork etc)

I'm a huge fan of your work, I really hope to pay a visit to you and Ron and also the Jeff Watts atelier when I can get out to Encinitas:)

Anonymous said…
That's really cool to see your thought process for the demo; thanks for sharing it. :) Maybe someday I'll get the hang of masonite... I have had some pretty epic chemistry failures on the stuff. Van is one of my favorite models to paint, too, because I like his energy so much, and he's so engaged.
Gabriel Hunt said…
All these strokes are amazing. Maybe the strokes in the shirt are my favorite. I don't know. I'm torn between awesome and awesome.
Hemnil said…
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