Friday, January 09, 2009

Alla Prima Self-Portrait...using a Sargent approach

I've been pretty hyped up reading thru my various
painting methods books, particularly on Sargent
and his scraping back practice on portraits sometimes
to fix errors...but frequently to create a film stain
that works its way into the ground, and then other
subsequent scrapings to build up a particular quality
in the flesh tones.

Sargent was known to also demonstrate his alla prima
methods to art students as well, though he wasn't
particularly fond of teaching being shy and not too

One method he taught was blocking the portrait face
in with a midvalue flesh tone...and then painting the
darker values/color and lighter directly into the wet
paint or wet into wet.

Now...this reminded me of a method I use to paint
plein air landscapes which I call the midgray neutral
mud palette. A version of the pigment soup or mother
color approach.

Thinking the portrait much as a landscape of the face,
reading about Sargent's midvalue flesh tone suddenly
clicked in my mind...and I had to paint a study. To
this end...I simply grabbed a picture my wife took of
me having returned successful from an outdoor venture.

I grabbed a 12"x 9" panel...and below spells out the

I drafted a few gestural lines for the portrait, then
using Indian Yellow and French Ultramarine Blue, applied
a nice dark to the background. My son Jason, let me
in on just how nice of a black Indian Yellow and the
blue make, and he was right...quite luscious!!!

I mixed up my midgray flesh tone, which is the color
seen to the far right here-

Then painted in the whole of the portrait as I read
Sargent would do-

Next, I mixed up a palette of color/values to paint
wet into wet and complete this portrait-

I begin to paint darker values, some lighter and
bit by bit feel my way around the landscape of the

farther along-

and finished, here is a closeup of the face-


James said...

Wow, great job Larry! I like how this turned out. With this approach you got to the finish with a very fresh yet accurate likeness.

Larry Seiler said...

Thanks James...
feels good to return to a few more portraits this year. I painted them by commission during the first near two decades of my painting career using acrylics, many many hours...highly detailed, but such works after 60-80 hours hardly feel like you're painting anymore. More like an illustration you labor over.

Painting with oils predominantly the past 14 years, its been fun taking what I've learned, reading into techniques of past masters and giving it a go. I had fun with this, and very satisfying not to have to wait so many hours to see a thing come together!

Antti Rautiola said...

Looks absolutely great, Larry!

Jason Seiler said...

That's an interesting way of doing a portrait, turned out nice!

Larry Seiler said...

thanks Antti..and Jason...

the face is not spot on...but demonstrates what I've long believed and that is...whether the face is too wide, narrow, the head long or short...if the eyes capture the sense of identity, folks will yet recognize the portrait.

Kinda goes along with Sargent's oft repeated saying, "a portrait is where something is wrong with the mouth"

The option is still there for me to do some scraping down and fix proportions a bit better, from the eye on the left to the ear...should be broaded a tad. I may as yet do so...this being only a study. Not a necessity to fix, but also not an issue experimenting with the principle of scraping either for that matter.