Portrait/figure painting in oils, Days 3-5

October 6, 2014

After preliminary sketching on the first day (all were discarded) and settling on a cartoon by lunchtime on Day 2, came the transfer to 16×20″ canvas panel on the afternoon of Day 2 and working on mid-tone flesh colours in the succeeding days. By rights I ought to have kept drawing till I was 100% happy, perhaps even until the end of Day 4, with some risky alla prima painting on the final day.

I tried to leave intact as much of the Raw Umber imprimatura as possible and fiercely resisting tackling any of the lights. The paint is applied in the early Flemish style, with no use of mediums or solvents or turpentine at any time – just ‘glazes’ of unadulterated thin paint, applied leaving no brushstrokes and with the canvas texture intact.

Because of my lack of interest this week in pursuing furniture, soft furnishings and context, the painting remains largely monochromatic. I watched my colleagues apply colour to the dark olive green drape behind the model and the bright blue sheet the model was draped on, but the colours were so garish I decided not to go down that path.

Working with the less-than-competent drawing and cartoon caused endless frustration. With that frustration leading to ‘tunnel vision’, my best option was to short-circuit everything and work up a portrait on a separate A3 canvas panel so I could approximate some of the larger paint areas adopted by my colleagues.

At each point, I had to say to myself, “This is as good as I can do at this time,” and move to the next process.

I tried to transfer all of the good qualities of the larger, A3 portrait to the smaller face on the figure without success. After scraping back three times, I abandoned the face – my hog bristle flats were simply too big for the job.

I was able to construct a grid of paints on the palette (Ivory Black, Van Dyck Brown, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White) from which to construct my own mid-tone flesh colours, given the moreno complexion of the South American model.

Of utmost important were the unity of the flesh across the figure and maintaining the integrity of the tonal values. On the morning of Day 4, I had to stop “painting” and make some drastic alterations through the act of “re-drawing”. It wasn’t enough to fix the underlying errors in the cartoon but helped significantly. The ‘re-drawing’ decisions were made two metres back from the easel. It’s worth mentioning that I wasn’t able to see the whole model at any one time because of the closeness of the other easels which may have contributed to disparity in the legs.

On the last day I paid attention to edges, aiming for just one sharp edge and “losing” all the others. My paint surface wasn’t as ‘creamy’ as that of my colleagues (they retained a graphic quality from separating the tones much more clearly than I did) but I was able to make the paint thicker and more opaque as required on the lights, leaving the darks as warm as possible with the Van Dyck Brown and as thin as possible.

The photos were taken every four hours and I’ve duplicated the sequence in more detail at http://rwb-art.tumblr.com



Day 2, late afternoon









Day 3, late morning










Day 3, late afternoon








Exif_JPEG_PICTURE Day 4, late morning








Exif_JPEG_PICTUREDay 4, late afternoon





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