Tag Archives: #portrait

Portrait of Abby and More

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:

Abby, 16 x 20 in, oil on panel, November 2022

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:

Portrait of a Young Woman, 11 x 14 in, oil on panel, December 2022

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.

Turquoise in Earth’s World

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.
  • It’s such a wonderful treasure. Do check it out!

The Recent Batch of Portraits

These are the final ones from Phase IV of Watts Atelier’s portrait painting courses:

Oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2022
Oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2022
Oil on canvas board, 9 x 12, 2022
Oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2022
Oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2022

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.

Colors Getting Loud

These are some of the portraits I’ve done recently. Palette wise I have pretty much opened myself to everything now:

Japanese Girl, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, March, 2022
Male Model, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, March, 2022
Female Model, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, April, 2022

Here’s an old Zorn palette one:

Female Model, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, December, 2021

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? πŸ™‚

Master Studies – Facial Features

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.

A Delayed Plan for 2022: Portrait, Still Life, Landscape and More

2022 for me is not only moving on from the beloved Zorn palette, but also a broadening of the subject matters. The plan is to keep practicing portrait and still-life, with an emphasis on loosening up and becoming more gestural. Meanwhile, I will add landscape and later figures to the learning schedule. For medium, oil is the focus for now, but I’d like to do more watercolor sketches with or without ink.

Here are some my recent homework from Watts:

Oil painting of orchid flowers and a Buddha statue with drapery, realism
Orchid and Buddha, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Dec. 2021
Pine trees in front of snowy mountain, oil painting, landscape
Pines, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Jan. 2022
Oil painting of crashing waves and rocks, seascape
Waves 1, 11 x 14, oil on board, Jan. 2022
Oil painting of an old man, gesture portrait, realism
Old man, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Feb, 2022

A few notes:

  • Landscape is not a particular interest of mine, but for years, I used it as a check-mark to see if I have made any progress in techniques. After doing other subject matters for a while, I would attempt a few landscapes to see if I feel more confident and comfortable. It never did!
  • It took me some time to figure out that apart from value control, the key to a successful landscape painting is shape design. To deliver a believable tree, on surface you have more leeway than doing a portrait, but the lack of definitive guidance (the shape of an eye, a nose etc.), you need to come up with your own. That freedom can be a curse.
  • Looking above, it suddenly hits me that before doing trees, it might be a good idea to practice more bearded and hairy portraits first! πŸ˜‰

Zorn in Watercolor & Gouache

Watercolor portrait of model Felicia, Zorn palette, realism
Felicia, watercolor on paper, Fall, 2021
Watercolor portrait of old man, Zorn palette, realism
Old Man, watercolor on paper, Fall 2021
Gouache portrait of young girl, Charlotte, Zorn palette, realism
Charlotte, gouache on watercolor-board, Fall 2021

A few notes:

  • For the watercolor paintings, I planned two different approaches, a softer and muted one, vs a more vibrant and contrasted one. The results were somewhere in the middle. Especially for the first painting, I wish I had softened some edges and let go certain definitions instead of spelling out everything I saw.
  • The gouache one is a homework from Watts. It is a practice of the Zorn palette and the tiling technique. I found both the medium and the technique challenging. Tiling is to juxtapose thick layers of close-value paints and blend them (if necessary) later. It’s a good preparation and practice for oil painting, but it requires a lot of patience in value control and shape design. Hehe, patience! πŸ˜‰

Something Seasonal … :)))

Oil painting of skull, side view, burnt umber
Skull – side view, oil on canvas board, 9 x 12, 2021
Oil painting of skull, quarter view, burnt umber
Skull – quarter view, oil on MDF board, 11 x 14, 2021
Oil painting of skull, front view, blue
Skull – front view, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2021

A few notes:

  • Still homework from Watts, burnt umber pick out, burnt umber and white, phthalo-blue, black and white respectively.
  • I like MDF board covered with canvas better than MDF board with gesso, because it’s more absorbent. On gessoed board, the paint takes longer to settle which can be frustrating. However, if you like the super smooth and realistic look, board it is.
  • I need to learn how to take photos of oil paintings. πŸ˜‰
  • Happy Halloween! πŸŽƒ πŸ‘»

Recent Works, Still Zorn …

Oil:

Oil painting of a young woman with head wrap, earrings, Zorn palette, realism
Young Woman, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, July 2021
Oil painting of a young woman with earring, Zorn palette, realism
Young woman, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, July 2021

Watercolor:

watercolor painting of a young man with  green jacket,, Zorn palette, realism
Jeff, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12, July 2021

The more I learned about anatomy and head drawing, the more I am afraid of making mistakes, and the tighter my paintings become. Especially in watercolors, things were all under control (to the extend of my ability of course). They rarely just happened. The recent Draftsmen podcast mentioned how as a student, one learns and memorizes everything, and later forgets everything to become an artist. Hehe, we’ll see.

Focusing on Portraits

I have been more and more focusing on portrait painting in oil recently. Neither do I have the intention to become a portrait artist, nor do I want to switch my main medium to oil. It’s a practical choice. With portrait, I don’t need to spend much time choosing subject matters and thus narrowing on technique. There are plenty free references online, and there’s always the option of a mirror. Plus, it’s easier to find more comprehensive oil classes from online than other painting mediums.

Since last fall, I have taken three portrait classes. The format is similar – the teacher demoed in class, you did your painting at home and submit online for critique. In retrospect, the painting styles I was shown are quite different.

The first one was with an extremely talented young artist, Kailun Qu. Kai painted in alla prima style, fast, spontaneous, and effortless (seemingly). He gave effective critics without reservation, something I’ve been looking for for years. Here’s one of the portraits I did for the class:

Portrait, oil on paper, fall 2020

The next artist I studied with is almost the opposite of Kai. Renowned figurative artist Joseph Todorovitch held a 5 week workshops online, with 4 hours each week. The 20 hours were dedicated to one painting, and in the end he’s not done. Later we received 8 more hours’ demo. Take a look here and you’ll understand why the labored approach is fully justified. It’s quite surreal to witness the birth of a masterpiece, but I have to admit a couple of weeks into the workshop I realized this is way above my weight class. I didn’t spend even half of that many hours on my version:

Alexandra, 20 x 24 in, oil on panel, February, 2021

The most recent class is from Watts Atelier, Portrait in Oil with Ben M. Young. Watts has all sorts of art classes all year long, and is more focused on basic skills. You can choose to audit or participate in the class, and the feedback worths every penny. Here’s one of the class homework:

Portrait, oil on panel, Feb, 2021

The good thing about online classes is that if you pay for the critique, it’s not just a verbal feedback. The instructor could easily paint over digitally to show exactly what he meant. Plus you get to keep a video version and therefore the ability of constant review. I will repeat some of these classes on my own several times to get the most out of them, and probably take a few more from Watts. For the time being, that’s the plan.

Hopefully later on I could carry the techniques I learn this way onto other subject matters and even different mediums.