Quick Portrait Painting

We’ve been doing a lot of short drawings in my life-drawing course recently (2-5 minutes or so), and although the drawings I get out of those exercises are rarely anything to rave about I like the way that having such a short deadline changes the way I approach the drawing. So, in that spirit I decided to try a few of what the kids are calling speed paintings.

First, I should say that trying to paint something in 2-5 minutes was just not helpful. Paint just takes longer. Instead I aimed for about 15-30 minutes.

The first one is an acrylic of an interesting fellow who had his daguerreotype taken some time around the turn of the century.

The result is awfully flat and I had quite a bit of trouble blending values on the face because of the way acrylics dry as you work. I think I’ve been getting so used to oil paints from class that switching back to acrylic was problematic. Oil stays wet and workable for hours or even days so blending colors on the canvas is much easier.

The second one I painted in photoshop. This is Mr. Kanae Kobayashi, a Japanese Businessman from post WWII Japan who’s photo is in the Life archive.

After all the trouble with the acrylics I decided to try a little experiment with this one. In Photoshop I set my brush to a fixed size (i.e. not growing and shrinking with pressure) and completely opaque. That way there would be no transparent washes and any blending I wanted to do I would have to do by mixing and sampling adjacent colors. I ended up with this sort of patchy oil-pastel look that’s kind of interesting.

Painting Class: Morandi and the Demon White

The painting pixies must have been reading my blog last week because the theme for class this time around was white on white.

Although I may not have picked up the best panting habits in my previous painting classes, one thing my professor did provide was an exposure to a few painter’s I’ve come to really appreciate. One of them is Giorgio Morandi, a turn of the century Italian painter who’s oeuvre consists almost entirely of quiet, mostly white and grey still life studies of a a dozen or so vases and bottles he painted over and over and over again. If you’d like to know more about Morandi there’s was a great article in the New Yorker by Peter Schjeldahl.

Well this week it was our turn to play Morandi. We were given a still life of mostly white things on a mostly white background, a palette of white and little else, and a couple hours to work it all out.

Here’s mine:

So, how did it go?

Well first of all, as with last week, the titanium white tends to make everything a bit soapy which was giving me some grief. I’m sure the solution here is something along the lines of “embrace the soapy”.

What else? At the end of class we all look at each others work and I noticed how much I liked the patchy colors that some of the other student’s came up with. I spent a good deal of time mixing colors on my palette to find the right color and value, but the others did their mixing on the canvas and got much more interesting modeled colors. Something to try for next week.

By the end of class I also noticed that I’d completely forgot about using complement colors to make shadows and highlights. I’d opted instead to mix up a makeshift black from burnt sienna and ultramarine blue and mix that with my colors to find different shades. It takes a lot of the vibrancy out of the shadows but in this case I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

More next week.

Painting Class: So Much Burnt Sienna

Well after all that exciting talk of color the previous week, painting class this week focused on value and a limited palette. Working from a still life we started our paintings using only burnt sienna (which, it turns out, is basically my new favorite color).

I put a thin base layer of burnt sienna over the whole canvas to tone it, and then added or removed paint to make a base value drawing as an underpainting. Then I slowly began adding in ultramarine blue, yellow ocher, and titanium white.

Here’s the result, about 2 1/2 hours or so:

One thing I’m learning is that I’m not a fan of titanium white. It’s useful for making colors lighter of course, but at the same time it’s so opaque that it makes them look soapy and dull. This is especially disheartening over the burnt sienna because it has such a vibrant transparent look when unadulterated with the demon white.