Late 2022 I started a few personal projects that were build upon whatever I learned at Watts. The plan was to start with some small paintings of florals, eggs, jars etc., and gradually grow into bigger more complicated arrangements.
I am happy to report that for the most part, I have been on schedule. Here are the florals I have done so far, and I hope they are proper celebration for the New Year and the Spring Festival:
In early 2021, I audited an online workshop by artist Joseph Todorovitch (see a brief description here). At the time I felt the content was too advanced for me. It may still be. It came to my knowledge recently that the artist had a more fundamental series in 2020 called “Painting the Portrait with Ease.” It is a nearly 9 hours video series featuring step by step painting of the portrait of Abby. You can buy or rent (for 48 hours) from Vimeo.
It is more fundamental because the portrait involves no complex background and clothing, and the palette is limited (not as monochromatic as it seems though). The “ease” part comes from the artist’s clear explanation of his choices and thought process. If you are looking for shortcuts circumventing learning and practices, there’s none. In fact the artist’s approach is quite meticulous and laborious. He shows no hesitation in scraping off the “finished” part of a painting and going at it again. While there are plenty basic information on portrait painting for a student, the process he used is the same for completing advanced works. This is a series that deserves revisit from time to time.
Here’s the painting I did while following along the series:
Another young artist I took lessons from recently is Alex J. Venezia. The lessons are a 12 hours video recording from East Oaks Studio, featuring also the portrait of a young woman. Mr. Venezia used a layered approach, and the videos were recorded over weeks. If you want to follow through, you need to be patient and let the paint dry in between. The artist is also extremely particular about the subtle changes of value and color in his paint. I feel like I need a better habit of organizing my palette and more practice in mixing colors to make the best out of these lessons. The painting I did during this series is a not a step by step following along and is abandoned halfway. I do plan to revisit the lessons in future:
A few more words on East Oaks Studio: While you do need a subscription to access the above mentioned videos and many other recorded and live lessons, East Oaks has plenty free content posted on their YouTube channel. They feature quite some established working artists. It’s a rich resource that takes time to digest.
If you are interested in portrait art, you’ve probably heard of “earthsworld” – a photographer that took Candid photographs of Americans at county fairs. Over the years, I have multiple artists recommended this photographer to me. Take a look at the website or the Instagram account and you’ll know why this is such a rich resource for portrait painter, character designer and people watcher. To me, it opens up a side of America that beyond my natural habitat.
I picked a few photos from the collection as references to practice portrait painting, and only to notice that the ones I chose all features a touch of bluish green. Hence the title of my small series – “Turquoise in Earth’s World:”
A few notes:
Again, the above paintings all used references from various earthsworld’s county fair collections. They are all painted with oil on canvas board.
The collection is very helpful in practicing non-typical studio model expressions and props.
The nature of the subject matters do push me to loosen up a bit (not as much as I wished) and be creative with the composition and background design.
Years ago in a watercolor class, we practiced rendering glasses by choosing from a couple of setups. I got ambitious and turned the practice into a full painting:
The roses were supposed to be a different setting, and I didn’t choose it because I thought apples would be easier. However, in composing the whole piece, I thought the glimpse of the flowers would be interesting. As you can see, I indeed didn’t know how to handle those petals and leaves back then, but I think they added liveliness to the scene. I remember some fellow artist commented, “The roses are saying,’We are here! Our turn! Our turn!'”
Recently when looking through some old reference photos, I was surprised to see that I actually took a few shots of the roses at the time. Hence, their turn:
Hehe, the petals and the leaves are still challenging, but I feel they are happy to be in the spotlight!
The way I learned to paint in oil, is to start with an underpainting. It could be a monochromatic value sketch, or a diluted full color draft. Either way, the underpainting would be covered by thicker paints as I progress and hopefully the process took the work to a better place. Once in a while, I just fell in love with the underpainting, and the continuation of the work was saturated with doubts.
This river landscape (a Watts homework) was an example. The one on the left was the underpainting and the one on the right, the final work. I hesitated quite a while after the first draft about whether I should proceed at all. There was a liveliness and richness of color that I loved and didn’t know how to preserve when I added more paint to it. Also got lost was a sense of flatness, something more graphic and watercolor-y. This is not to say the underpainting was a better painting, but it makes me wonder the different directions I could have taken in finishing up this work (if it is not a homework in realistic landscape). Even some of the pencil marks begged to stay!
Moreover, can I achieve a watercolor effect with oil paints? Well, somebody can.
That’s Australian artist Julian Meagher, who painted in oil but managed to achieve the transparency and the lucid aesthetics of watercolor. Apart from his website, Amber Creswell Bell’s collection Still Life: Contemporary Painters has a good section on Mr. Meagher’s work. He painted with extremely diluted oil paint, and did not hesitate to use the white of linen canvas instead of white paint. The result is a good combination of precision and fluency.
His works remind me of Giorgio Morandi (1890 – 1964), one of my favorite still life artists (as I mentioned many times before). The technical approach couldn’t be more different. Morandi is opaque and static, while Mr. Meagher is more colorful and vibrant, cleaner and much more scaled up. However, the solitude, the quietness and the thoughtfulness are there.
The more I see good art, the more I am wowed by the range and the potential of the each medium. We are only limited by our skills! (Is this a good thing or a bad thing? :))) )
According to Mr. Watts, there would be many more levels of still life courses after the gesture one. However, the people at the Atelier see no plans for new releases. I still have some catching up to do in the landscape area, but otherwise, I will focus on my own practice and projects in the coming months.
The first one is a Zorn palette without time limit, and the rest are supposed to be gesture with an open palette. My plan is to finish the still life course soon, and I will write more about it when it’s all done.
These are the final ones from Phase IV of Watts Atelier’s portrait painting courses:
A few notes:
This phase focuses on the “loose style and expressive edge work of gesture portrait painting.” It’s quite obvious that I need more practice and confidence to be more gestural. It takes a lot of effort to achieve the look of effortless.
Color wise, this stage is pretty open, but I still start with Zorn, and add others if necessary. It’s nice to have a familiar starting point.
According to Mr. Watts, there would be several more levels of portrait painting courses after this. However, I don’t see they have any plan for new releases in the near future.
For the time being, my “guided practice” of portrait painting will take a break and I will move on to “independent study.” The plan is to continue focusing on the looseness, giving more variety to the background design and trying to achieve a less rendered but more finished look.
These are some of the portraits I’ve done recently. Palette wise I have pretty much opened myself to everything now:
Here’s an old Zorn palette one:
A few notes:
The first three paintings are supposed to be gesture studies. I obviously overworked.
On the other hand, spending more time designing the background makes the process more interesting and the painting more finished. I like that.
Managing an open palette did distract me from better value control and cost more subtlety in skin tone.
I am thinking a two-step approach to improve: first spending more time preparing the palette – premixing most of the colors like I did with the Zorn palette; and then use a timer to push for a more gestural result. Two hours? Three? 🙂
It’s been a while since I did any master studies, and luckily the Watts’ program forced me to catch up. Here are some of the facial features I copied recently:
Eyes – Fechin
Nose – Rembrandt
Lips – Leyendecker
Ear – Bouguereau
A few notes:
The reference photos I used are provided by Watts Atelier, and some of them are not very close to the original. For example, I believe the last one is from William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825 – 1905)’s Portrait de Gabrielle Cot. The original painting is high on realism. This doesn’t really affect the study though.
The most difficult thing I found is to re-create the texture, which is achieved by either manipulating the surface (Fechin) or brush strokes (Rembrandt). In the former case, it’s hard to guess how the manipulation was done. As for Rembrandt, it’s a laboring buildup that can’t be achieved in a few hours. For now, I am still focusing on the basics. Texture and brush strokes are like signatures. They are very personal and take long time to form.
I find choosing a topic and taking a small portion of the masterpiece to study is more effective than copying a whole painting. I also like the exposure to different styles. Bouguereau and Leyendecker are completely new to me and I find the highly stylized approach from the latter very refreshing.