Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Oil Portrait of my wife...our early years.
28"x 22" oil on board...
I've been working on a portrait involving scraping back the
flesh next day after painting, which leaves a film residue.
You keep repainting and rescraping back to slowly build a
quality into the flesh that glows and appears more flawless,
then upon the last repaint session, you apply finishing touches
that give the work an appearance of alla prima, a fresh and
Things I've been learning from "Painting Methods of the
Impressionists" by Bernard Dunstan...attributed methods of
Sargent, Degas, Manet, Cassatt and Whistler...
This close up of the face represents the 4th repaint...and I'm
happy with the way it is progressing, and will let this one
remain without a fifth scrape back. I'll post the whole work
Note the steps of each repaint...to paint a midvalue flesh color
and block in the face area, then painting the darks and lights
directly into the midvalue wet into wet...
click on images to see larger...
With some of the questions people have, I'll explain this process a
bit more, and I DO NOT claim to be an expert of this. It is something
I am building some familiarity and expertise with by experimenting.
My fortee has been painting outdoor subjects, landscapes, wildlife
but I have done my share of "sporting portraits" over the years.
Follow that link to see a blog I only share with folks interested in that
aspect of my artistic offerings.
But...the basic alla prima approach can be demonstrated by my
showing a composite of my own self-portrait. That which can be done
in one sitting...(ie., "alla prima")-
A few lines to suggest the head, a mix of a midvalue color
for the face blocked in...and darks and lights painted
wet in wet to finish. This as I read was one of Sargent's
common alla prima method.
Reading Bernard Dunstan's book, "Painting Methods of the
Impressionists" I discovered that Sargent would apply such
wonderful finishing alla prima-like touches of paint, that
no one would guess it to have been labored and wrestled with,
keeping that fresh spontaneity. There is the genius and
The scraping back was a common practice, as I found utlized
by Cassatt...at times Degas, Whistler...and Sargent. Each
scraping back allows a residue of what was painted to build
into a lovely rendering of color. As the face builds thru
this scraping back, you then more judiciously decide what to
add paint to in future sessions, less and less until the final
alla prima-like finishing touches.
Here...you see my wife's portrait after its third scraping,
and you can see that the residue of paint film left behind
is revealing the building up of a portrait. Imagine then a
good six or eight such repaint sessions and how you can
eventually paint more transparently...or judiciously, leading
up to an ideal quality of the skin-
The painting I did of my grand daughter, Isabeau...has a half-
dozen separate scrape backs-
Now...agree with what has been written or not, how I am
interpreting the description of the process...I am finding this
to be a no brainer way to eventually arrive at the ideal and
lovely portrait. The flesh appears to glow...and the final
strokes of paint you leave are not incidental or accidental,
but intended. Appearing quite fresh and spontaneous.
But...I must be honest and report that psychologically, this
is brutal. Most difficult to commit to painting with such
great effort each time aiming to improve and do even better
knowing you will be scraping it out. For me, I waited 'til
the next morning. It was painful...but, after several sessions
you begin to see what comes and it becomes consoling and
As for the depiction of men...the less than ideal flesh tone,
surface texture, the blemish free feminine quality..is not
necessary. Painting the effects of gravity, a rough life on
the face is fun...and requires less doctoring and attention.
So...from what I read, less scraping back was required.
However with regard to fine ladies, young children and so
forth...the flawlessness and purity of the flesh is one of the
finer details the portrait must capture.