Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Academy of Realist Art Boston Portrait Painting Class

Hey everyone I wanted to announce that I will be Teaching again at The Academy of Realist Art Boston with the addition of a new class. Along with teaching the Portrait Drawing Class I will be teaching a Portrait Painting Class.

Classes Start The 14th of January:
Portrait Drawing from 10-1pm
Portrait Painting from 2-5pm
Click here to contact the Academy of Realist Art for information and enrollment.

In preparation of this course I decide to make a panel with the stages of a Portrait Painting. Granted there are as many ways to paint a portrait as there are artist painting them. So the goal of this demo was to paint a portrait in a systematic way of learning that could appeal to artist at all levels.

With any well done painting DRAWING is the most important aspect the will make sense of all of the Hue, Value, Chroma questions that one will come across as the painting progresses. In this class students will first be asked to make a linear construct or "cartoon" on paper before transferring it to canvas. Like they say,"well drawn is well painted."


First off I like to start with a block-in of the head. In a general way I tick off the largest height and width and measure their relationships to each other. At this stage every line is an approximation that I will be willing to move or change at any time. I feel that one must start somewhere and if there is nothing on the paper there is nothing to correct. 
I personally spend a lot of time on this stage of the drawing. I constantly refine the tilts and examine proportions to create a convincing silhouette. As simple as it my look it is the bedrock of what I will be building my portrait.

Blocking in the Features 
After spending a considerable amount of time on the block-in I have enough information in place to work on the features of the face. Keeping in mind that the refinements of the initial block-in are not fully completed I can still proceed knowing that my majors tilts have all been addressed. Starting with finding the angle and orientation of the center line I can then start measuring the heights of the other features. I like to start with making a mark where the Eyebrow Ridge is considering it is made bone and not likely to move. My next Measurement is from the Brow Ridge to the bottom of the Nose. In addition I'm constantly double checking how the features relate to the exterior block-in making sure all the puzzle pieces fit together in harmony.
Once all of the features are discovered vertically I can then run a plumb line in the orientation of the center line to find the width of all of the features.

Articulated Block-In

Here above you can see that I have taken the block-in and articulated the construct to bring out the character of the sitter. I used the same approach in blocking in the shadows as I did with blocking in the head. In a general way I sketch in the shapes of the shadows later to be refined like the exterior construct. When establishing the terminator line or "bedbug line"of the shadow I try to conceive in my mind what planes shifts or underlying forms are producing certain light affects. I image how the light wraps around the forms and try to replicate that impression on my page.

Finished Cartoon

After articulating the shadows I toned them in to compare the shapes to the whole. Once satifiy with the drawing it is ready to transfer.

The Transferred Cartoon
A couple days prior I toned some linen with raw umber and mineral spirits. I wiped it down until I could lighten it to about a value 6. Once the tone was dry I then transferred my cartoon to it.

Raw Umber Wash Heightened with White

Compressing my values I washed in a semi-transparent tone for all of the shadows. In relation to the shadow tone the background was slightly darker so I mixed a value appropriate to it.  With Lead White I scrubbed in the light areas keeping in mind their relationship to the forms and planes. Any value residing in the half-tones I left the pre-tone of the linen. I then leave this wash drawing to dry before I apply the color

Controlled Palette  

So I mixed several strings of color I believed I might find in this portrait. The strings to the left consist of Van Dyck brown and White for my neutrals. Then I have a grey/green consisting of Van Dyck Brown and Golden Ocher. To the right of that I have a grey/red made from V.D.B. and Light Red. On the opposite side is a mixture of Golden Ocher, Light Red and V.D.B. Next is only G.O and L.R. and last is a mixture of only Light Red and White. From this seemingly dull palette of mixtures I'm able to get a surprisingly beautiful natural variety of colors. 

Planar / Ébauche 

I approach my Ébauche Thinking about the Planes of the Head. I start with the shadow and then move to the half-tones. When I imagine shape of the planes I mix a hue with the relative value to the plane adjacent to it. At this point I'm not concerned with blending or modeling the form. If the values are correct then sense of the form turning will happen as a result. 

Finished Planar / Ébauche 
At this time I'd like to talk a little bit about paint quality. The Ébauche is meant to be thin sketchy wash.   In this Stage I dilute the paint with a mixture of 1 part linseed oil and 3 parts turpentine. I typically dip my brush in my medium cup and then wipe the excess oil off the brush. The remnant oil on the brush is usually enough to thin the paint.
My reasoning for painting this thin washy layer is to establish in a quick way all the colors and there relationships to each other. One might be saying to themselves this seems quite laborious to paint with so many stages. But for an inexperienced painter all of these stages can help the artist develop a stronger structure in which to finish there painting.

Form painting
The Form Painting Stage is when I repaint the whole head piece by piece to a finish. For some reason I almost always start with the neck. I slowly and carefully crawl over the form modeling the area section at a time. It helps a lot to have the Ébauche underneath, it allows me to think more about the modeling and less about the color. I try not to rush and move on to another part until the original section is finished. Whenever I catch myself moving ahead I take a quick break to regroup then I continue with patience. Often times when I rush I find I end up creating more work for myself later on. A lot of mindless feathering of paint doesn't amount to much but mud. So out of countless mistakes I've to be a little bit more deliberate with my paint application.


  1. Really nice demo.
    Lots of great info.
    Beautifully done !
    Thanks for sharing your work.

  2. Great post!
    thanks for sharing Brian!

  3. Excellent post Brian! This is great stuff - thank you for sharing!

  4. These step by step demos are awesome, thanks for sharing! :-)

  5. Hey Brian! I checked your post of your painting of Cornelis van der Geest and I loved it! Thank you for the explanation.

    I'm going to experiment more with oilpainting, so this comes in handy.This weekend I visited the museumnight here in Holland and I looked at paintings of old masters and it is so breathtaking beautiful. The techniques are so different then what I usually see nowadays. So I've been looking for documentary about the old masters but I only could find "The Power of Art" and another lesson video of Art webacademy, but you have to buy it. I also saw some books, but I think painting you have to see it. Do you have a tip maybe?