I would like to share with you an effective way to start a portrait in oil painting. It is one of the methods I use to start a painting and a personal favorite. The method involves starting the painting using primarily big masses to find the placement, proportions, alignment, and orientation of the head, then slowly develop smaller features and fine details from these big masses. I learned this method from the teachings of contemporary masters Richard Schmid, Jeremy Lipking, and Casey Baugh, and I really like it because of a few reasons:
1) it often retains the freshness at the beginning stages through to the end, 2) it is fast and therefore very suitable for alla prima sessions where the time is limited, 3) you can stop at any stage of painting and the result will tend to hold its own.
(This is not intended to be a detailed tutorial but rather an introduction to this type of start for a painting. If you need more information on this topic, I have a Youtube channel where I upload tutorial videos. You can visit me at http://www.youtube.com/c/DecompressArt)
Let's get started! I will use three of my alla prima paintings to demonstrate the idea. All of them are done in 2-3 hours from life.
You can see in these examples, I first started with just two values - one light and one dark - to find the big planes of the head and the general shadow shape. The goal of this stage is to place the head on the canvas, find its proportions (length vs. width), find the planes of its main features (for a head, you need to find the shadow under the eye sockets, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips, and the chin), and make sure each shadow shape is in the correct relationship to another.
Once the beginning stage is relatively satisfactory, I will start developing each individual area. I like to start with the eyes but that's just a personal preference. The general principle is that I work from big to small, more important features to less important features, and dark to light. How to render each area of the head is beyond the scope of this article, but in the future I will write more articles and hopefully cover the specifics.
Thanks for reading and have fun painting!
Henry Tian, figurative artist based in Halifax, NS. Website: www.henrywtian.com Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/c/DecompressArt Represented by: Art 1274 1274 Hollis St.
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