My final project of 2015 has ended up being my first completed project of 2016, thanks to a nasty cold laying us both on our backs for a week. I've had comments that my new painting, "Furs," is "very Russian," which I take to mean the model looks like she's cold. Or pickled in vodka. Either one.
As usual, I started off with a charcoal and white chalk drawing on toned Strathmore paper. I've probably said in previous posts that I use Canson, but it turns out I've been living a lie. That stack of paper in my paper cabinet is actually Strathmore. It's a bit smoother than the Canson, so I get a better hatching effect. As usual I draw straight from my laptop monitor, which took about year for my brain to reprogram to in 2013, but is pretty easy now and saves a ton of money in photo printing while providing a truer colour reference.
After completing the drawing I knocked out a few little vellum colour studies. That wildly orange background is a giant, old-fashioned carriage house style door with studs. It was in the original shoot, but I realized that as much as I love that door, it would kill my subject's skin tones. So I putzed around with some green and blue and found that the colour arrangement on the far right was best.
Next came the head study. Usually I paint directly onto a plain white acrylic ground, but this time I had a panel toned with a bit of grey. Having a coat of paint, however thin, provides a surface that grabs subsequent layers of paint a little more effectively, and the soft grey itself is pretty easy on the eyes and doesn't scream to be covered up with paint the way that a white ground does. I really need to paint on toned grounds more, but I'm just so lazy, and sadly there ain't no cure for lazy.
Something about the stage below had me saying, "Do you see? DO YOU SEE?"
By accidentally making her nose too long I gave Maddie a very grown up look, I think. She didn't actually age three years since the last painting.
Because the toned grey worked so well in the study, I toned the panel of the painting proper to match. I traced the drawing I had done with some vellum paper (which is sturdier than tracing paper and lies nice and flat), applied a thin coat of umber paint to the back with a bristle brush, and then transferred the line drawing by drawing over top of the lines of the drawing. I like to cut out the figure instead of keeping it embedded in a big sheet of vellum (although if you do this, it is absolutely necessary to have a plumb line somewhere in your drawing so that you don't rotate the drawing accidentally and transfer the drunk version). It helps me appreciate the positioning better, although I do still manage to mess it up the first time around almost every time. I had to wipe and retransfer this before I was satisfied.
Because the days have been short during our dark, Canadian winter, I had a daytime project going for about four or five hours a day, which I would chase with this, my evening project. It can be a little challenging working on the same project in varying lighting circumstances. Natural daylight is very different from fluorescent, even if the the fluorescent is very up on itself for being full-spectrum. I found the painting looked very flat when I worked on it during the evenings, but came to life in the daytime. I've heard that one reason for this transformation is that natural light is generally so much more intense than artificial, and since oil paint is essentially a transparent smear of colour on a white ground, a more intense light will penetrate those transparent layers, hit the ground, and bounce back out again with a little more pizzazz than will artificial light. When looking at a painting under natural light, it's like looking into a transparent pond where you can see surface scum, pond water, and pond bottom all at once. When looking at the same painting under artificial light, it's like looking at the same pond filled with silt and the effect is that I'm only seeing the upper layer of paint. I don't know if this is true but it sounds damn poetic so I'm going to go with it.
Below is the colour wash-in, or ébauche. The colours have been applied in a general manner with plenty of Gamsol to help the paint spread, creating a lean paint layer that will dry rapidly. I used to be very particular about my edges and my drawing in this stage, but more and more these days I realize it's not so hard to get the drawing back later on, and it's really fun to knock this stage out quickly before parts start to sink in, which happens a lot quicker than usual when working with OMS in your paint. It's nice to be able to stand back and take a good look at the overall effect of the colours without the sinking in affecting it.
And below is a close up. It looks like I kept things very rough and simple at this stage, but I actually put a lot of time into nudging her features this way and that so that the drawing, no matter how rough it may seem, is accurate. One thing I made sure to push were the vivid reds in the folds of the eyes, the nostrils, and the mouth. These accents are so hard to establish and easy to lose, so I try to force them in right away.
To be continued...
Furs, Part II