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).

EDIM 11: Headgear (Self Portrait with Ice Wrap)

EDIM 11 Headgear (Migraine Ice Pack Wrap) graphite and watercolor, 10x7 in

EDIM 11 Headgear (Migraine Ice Pack Wrap) graphite and watercolor, 10×7 in

I had a migraine on May 11 and wore my jaunty blue migraine ice pack/wrap over a green scarf until the  meds kicked in. If I wear the ice pack without a scarf under it, the pain of my head freezing only makes the migraine feel better by comparison. The weight of the pack made my ears stick out which made it fun to draw them.

I should have left the pencil drawing unpainted. I think the color took away from the dimensionality I’d gotten with just pencil and white paper and now the shading looks like I’m growing a beard.

Portrait of Richard for Julia Kay’s Portrait Party

Richard for JKPP, Gouache, 7.5x6 inches

Richard for JKPP, Gouache, 7.5×6 inches

I really tried to focus on two things with this portrait, getting the drawing right and keeping the gouache colors light (gouache dries darker). For once I managed to keep a tilted head tilted in my drawing–for some reason my brain always wants to make everything upright and symmetrical. It doesn’t surprise me since I learned that the image that comes in from our eyes is upside down and it’s our brains that convert it to right-side up. My brain definitely has a mind of its own…oh wait a minute–it is my mind!

Below is the original pencil drawing over which I painted the gouache. I wish I could show you the photo I worked from, but I think those are only meant to be visible to members of Julia Kay’s Portrait Party, which you can apply to join on Flickr and play too, if you want to.

Richard for JKPP, Graphite, 7.5x6 inches

Richard for JKPP, Graphite, 7.5×6 inches

Painting with Gouache: Color Charts, Zorn Palette, Brush Tests

Zorn Palette color chart in gouache, 10x8 inches in A4 Moleskine

Zorn Palette color chart in gouache, 10×8 inches in A4 Moleskine

In trying to learn more about gouache I made a few color charts. I’m using mostly M. Graham gouache which I like much better than the Winsor & Newton and Schmincke I used before. The Graham gouache is creamy and brilliant, rewets well and doesn’t smell (like the W&N). I found that using fresh-squeezed gouache is more fun to work with than rewetting dried paint, but frugality keeps me trying to reuse dried. The best solution is to set up a palette for each session, squeezing out tiny blobs, adding more as needed.

Above is an exploration of the Zorn palette in gouache, a limited palette using only Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, White, and Black. The black paint, when mixed with white, is meant to serve as blue since it is a cool color that can look blue next to warm colors. Next I want to try using it in an actual painting.

M. Graham Gouache paint chart, gouache in A4 Moleskine, 10x4 inches

M. Graham Gouache paint chart, gouache in A4 Moleskine, 10×4 inches

Above is a chart of my gouache colors straight from the tube and mixed with white and each other. Sadly when I removed the masking tape it pulled off some of the paper from the extra large Moleskine watercolor notebook that is my current journal. I don’t recall previous Moleskine WC notebooks having that problem but I’ve switched to low-tack tape now.

Before ordering any new brushes specifically for gouache I wanted to see how the brushes I already had might work so did the test below. I found a few that I liked and ordered a couple of others. I’ll do another post about my gouache palette and brushes I’ve settled on soon.

Old brushes-testing for gouache

Old brushes-testing for gouache

Portrait of Stuart for JKPP

JKPP Gouache sketch of Stuart, gouache, 8x10 inches

JKPP Gouache sketch of Stuart, gouache, 8×10 inches

I sketched Stuart (from the Julia Kay Portrait Party) and painted him in gouache. I’m still struggling with mixing colors to dry light enough. In this sketch I started by painting the light on the side of his face and leaving it alone. That seems to be a good way to proceed since painting light over dark doesn’t work seem to work that well for me. I’m so enjoying painting and drawing people. I got too many layers of paint on his hand and arm so I gave up trying to get it right. I know the hand looks like a slab of mystery meat with no bones in it but oh well. It’s always about getting the drawing right first, which I didn’t do with the hands. I also apparently need to use less pink/red in flesh mixtures to avoid getting this icky pinky-grey color.

Portrait sketch, Stuart, pencil

Initial sketch, Stuart, pencil


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