Portrait of Nick for Julia Kay’s Portrait Party

Nick K for JKPP, oil on Mylar, 9x12

Nick K for JKPP, oil on Mylar, 9×12 inches

Wanting to continue my alla prima portrait painting practice but without a live model, I picked a photo of Nick K. from Julia Kay’s Portrait Party to paint.

I recently looked up the saying, “Perfection is the enemy of good” and read about the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule or the law of diminishing returns that states it “takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task, while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.” This is so true with my painting. I can enjoy and complete the majority of a painting in 6 hours or less and then easily spend another 60 hours tweaking, finessing details, and overworking it until I’m sick of it. I stopped painting this one as soon as I’d said what I had to say, way before I usually consider a painting “finished,” but also long before it stops being fun.

After toning a sheet of Mylar (see previous post) with raw umber and letting it dry, I sketched out the image in thinned raw umber. Then I took a photo on my iPhone and using the Miira app, traced lines on my drawing to compare it to the original photo (first photo below). I could see I’d completely missed the boat and started another sketch on a fresh sheet, tested it again, and decided I was close enough to begin painting.

Later, I realized the mouth was in the wrong place and moved it. I discovered that when you turn a painting on Mylar over you can see the original drawing through the film (see the red arrow on the reversed image below, pointing to where I moved the mouth). I’m really trying to see the shapes and planes that make up the face and head. Holding up a bamboo skewer or knitting needle along the angles and “plumb lines” of the face really helps to visualize what lines up with what, and is helping my drawing tremendously.

Portrait of Pigeon Plumtree III

Portrait of Pigeon, oil on Duralar Matte, 12x9"

Portrait of Pigeon, oil on Mylar Duralar Matte, 12×9″

I took a fantastic 1-day Alla Prima Portrait Workshop with the amazing Elizabeth Zanzinger at her studio in Oakland. I spent most of the day watching and listening to her, which was my goal; to observe and learn from her. It was a revelation to see her approach to alla prima painting, which begins with dots to mark the edges of shapes and features and then proceeds with small tiles of color and value painted along the planes of the form. You can see her completed demo painting on her Instagram.

In the late afternoon I started my own painting but ran out of time. Fortunately, our model, the exquisite Pigeon Plumtree III, generously allowed us to take photos of her for a small fee. Although my iPhone wasn’t quite up to the task because of the lighting, it gave me enough information to make another attempt at painting her.

We painted our portrait studies on Mylar Dura-Lar Matte Film, similar to the Canson Vidalon Vellum that Sadie Valeri uses, but twice as heavy. Elizabeth tones the Duralar first with a thin film of raw umber which she allows to dry before starting to paint. I absolutely love painting on this surface; it is so smooth but not too slippery and very forgiving. It’s archival and can be mounted to a panel later to be framed.

Below are a few steps in the work in progress. Click any image to enlarge or view as slide show (and then click the x in the top left corner to return to this page).

Studies from Sadie Valeri’s Alla Prima Still Life Workshop

Avocado and Pear, oil on panel, 10x8"

Avocado and Pear, oil on panel, 10×8″  Available. Click image for purchase information.

I took a wonderful Alla Prima Still Life workshop from Sadie Valeri recently and really enjoyed the class. She is such a generous and knowledgeable teacher. I really appreciate the way she is able to verbalize what she’s thinking as she demonstrates and how organized and thorough her teaching style is. I got this one nearly done before the end of the day and finished it up at home from memory.

Oil on Canson Vidalon Vellum, 8x8"

Lemon Studey, Oil on Canson Vidalon Vellum, 8×8″

We started the day by doing a lemon study on Canson Vidalon Vellum. What a great idea for a painting surface for studies–so much cheaper than using panels or canvases. Taping it to a board with a piece of white or grey paper underneath works great. This was a limited stroke painting, done quickly as a warm up to practice laying in colors in little color chips, side by side.

Mika, Formosan Mountain Dog Portrait

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10x8 in

Mika, a Formosan Mountain Dog portrait in oil paint on linen panel,, 10×8 in

This little cutie was a fun challenge to paint. Below are some steps along the way, including the reference photos that I joined and edited in Photoshop to simplify the background and combine the tops and bottoms of her ears. Her ears were too tall in my first sketch (done in gouache in my journal). I must have added extra length when I assembled the two photos in Photoshop so edited them down to life-size in the painting.

Mika’s owner was happy with the painting and noted that Mika, who is a playful goofball in real life, seems so dignified in the painting. That gave me the idea to ask owners to also provide videos of dogs I’m to paint in the future so I can get a better sense of their personalities. I tried to include some of the family’s garden in Mika’s portrait but I struggled with getting the spring flowers to behave in the background. I painted over them with sky, planning to try them again, but when I sent Mika’s owner a photo of the painting with the sky background, she liked it better that way and so did I.

Crockett’s Funky Main Street

Crockett Main Street, ink and watercolor, 10x8 in

Crockett Main Street, ink and watercolor, 10×8 in

Inspired by a wonderful urban plein air painting workshop and demo by one of my favorite artists, Randy Sexton, I sketched the main street in the funky little town of Crockett that houses his studio, Epperson Gallery and a tattoo parlor. Randy is one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met, as well as a highly skilled and talented painter, and a gifted teacher.

Crockett is home to many oddball characters and funky old bars and shops. When I said I’d love to paint portraits of some of the local denizens he said he’d been doing just that, starting from when a professional model didn’t show up for a figure painting session. He and his fellow artists just popped in to one of the neighborhood dive bars and recruited a regular to come pose for cash and beer.

Busby’s Orchid in Sadie’s Footprint Pot

Orchid for Busby in Sadie Footprint Pot, graphite and watercolor, 11x7 in

Orchid for Busby in Sadie Footprint Pot, graphite and watercolor, 11×7 in

For Mothers’ Day my daughter-in-law Brittney gave me this adorable flower-pot that she and her mom decorated with my grandbaby Sadie’s footprints (dipped in paint) as the wings of a butterfly. Then last week a florist delivered a beautiful double orchid plant to me from my veterinarian in memory of my kitty Busby who, sadly, had died the previous week.

The orchids were a perfect match for the Mothers’ Day pot and combining the two helped ease my mind and lift my spirits. I see the orchid and feel sad for Busby and then see the pot and feel happy about little Sadie. It was fun and challenging to draw while trying to keep track of which flower and bud were which.


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