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PROCESS: Portrait Process

A pencil sketch is often the way i start, and this one was the choice i went with. At this point i know the qualities that i want to capture from the subject.

Studied Llyado Torrents, Thomas Lawrence and Rembrandt’s work for inspiration and research. For shape composition i took it from Llyado Torrents, with his somewhat unusual square canvas, with the face dead centre. Which i thought to be very striking and effective, to add some variation to this, the hair had to be somewhat asymmetrical and the shoulders a little tilted. I looked at Thomas Lawrence for his sense of flesh (modelling and colours), and Rembrandt for similar reasons plus effect of light/luminosity. Such studies often demands copying, sketching and/or painting, taking notes as i come across certain realisations/problems/solutions etc…

I start with a Transparent red oxide wash, i wanted to show at later stages of the painting particularity in the dark and textured areas(hair, cast shadows, parts of background) some of its color

Alternating between tissue/rag(rubbing off) and brush i draw the face, at this point im only concerned about the major value shapes (one for the lights and one for the darks), and checking if the composition still holds. I stick to the original pencil sketch, but one needs to be flexible, sometimes i find later as i paint that the initial composition could’ve been improved, sometimes even changed! Which requires to be a different painting all together. In this case i was checking if the size of the face should be bigger or not given the canvas size.

  I now introduce paint on the canvas, i like the way the colours blend wet on wet, by having a layer of somewhat thicker paint on for the skin, it allows me to model without going to far out the range of its value(because the colors blend on the canvas), applying the biggest planes first moving slowing to smaller places. Something to beware at this stage is that drawing is not done separately, that one has to draw with the brush at all times.

 Once the face and likeness starts to take shape i remind myself not to drift too far off from the initial idea for this painting, the pencil sketch, so i darken the background. Also i start to implement some impasto, there’s is two different effects that i went for, impasto as a relief(in reverse) effect, so whatever is closer to the viewer(in form) is thicker, some i got from studying Rembrandts work). And thick brush marks for high lights, as the lights sits on the paint, it gives a brighter effect. If one knows that the painting is going to be lit from, lets say a spot light from above, the horizontal thick brush marks will caught more of the light.


After refining the edges on the face i start slowly introducing the background and the edge of the hair. Checking the value of the face against the background for the overall balance, keeping it fairly dark and soft, both in value and colour. The background is a great tool to complement the portrait but have to be careful not to over do it. Once i think such balance has been achieve i stop. I realise next day that the overall temperature might have been a bit too warm on the face, so i let it dry (its oils so is going to be a while!) as i see the only “easy” solution at this point is to glaze.

  After the painting is dry i glaze/scumble a cooler tone over for the skin and give final touches using the same technique on the whole painting. This is a very safe to work because at any given point i can always go back to the dry paint.


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