I started this painting session feeling very down. I left off yesterday feeling good, but I wasn't feeling good about it today. It's funny how your perception of a painting can change so drastically overnight; in some ways it feels like the painting itself changed while you weren't looking.
So before I started today, I was thinking about redoing parts of it and maybe squinting in order to clarify the values. I've fallen into this trap before, thinking that squinting will magically solve my problems. I ignored the temptation to simplify and decided to just dive in. Instead of looking for an easy solution, I just kept battling and reworking until it started to look better. I've noticed that my process is a very up and down process and I really fight hard to make it look good. It always requires a lot of struggle.
I think the portrait is just about done and I'm going to work on the background some more and see how that goes. Quite a journey with this one, but I like the way it looks
Just started a new self portrait, using a canvas that I recently made with Natural Pigments lead oil ground. The beginning is always rough and I'm not going for any detail at this stage. I think of the beginning like the understructure of the painting. Portraits have a lot going on, but they need to progress gradually. It's good to keep the beginning malleable instead of committing to some exact detail such as a highlight. The painting gets more delicate as more modeling is added so it's not good to jump to details right away. The beginning has some slight indications of general details, but nothing concrete in case I have to adjust some proportions.
As I said, I'm using a lead oil ground; lead oil grounds are very different from titanium oil grounds. Lead has a really nice level of absorption that also repels a good amount of the paint laid on top. I've noticed that titanium white grounds absorb a lot of the paint and it feels like you have to pile on the paint just to get any level of impasto. If you're a painter that likes thick paint applications then I encourage you to use a lead oil ground.
I'm going slower with this painting and with more of my old intuitive approach. I still like alla prima painting, but I can't get the level of detail and modulation of tone with pure alla prima. I already paint fast and I feel the need to slow myself down and let it dry when necessary in order to build up the detail. I'm excited to work on this more and will post more as it progresses.
I'm excited to be starting a new book tonight all about the materials and techniques of artists. I recently read The Painter in Oil (1897) by Daniel Burleigh Parkhurst and this is a similar book. The Painter in Oil was fantastic and very informative; I think I learned more from reading that book than my entire time in art school. I'll write of review of this Doerner book once I'm finished with it.
Anyone who's interested in this information about traditional painting should go check out Natural Pigments because they have all the old school materials and a ton of information on their site. I'm a brand ambassador for them, but I would recommend their products even if I weren't affiliated with them.
I'm doing some tests with a recipe I found in volume IX of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonne published by Yale. This final volume contains an extensive analysis of Sargent's materials and methods written by Rebecca Hellen and Joyce H. Townsend. I highly encourage anyone who's interested in Sargent to check out this series of books.
I'm a purist when it comes to materials because I have tested out a ton of different paints, surfaces, mediums, tools, etc. and always come back to the more old school materials. I've learned that the materials that I use to paint have a pronounced effect on my final work. I also like doing research to learn about some of these methods.
The canvas recipe from this book says to apply a heavy layer of size to the linen (canvas and linen are both fabrics used for painting, but the term canvas can be used to describe a linen canvas as well). Size is a glue that acts as an isolating barrier between the oil ground and the fabric. The size is really important because the oil ground would eventually ruin the linen without it. The first layer of size is heated in a double boiler which you can see below and (following the books instructions) I'll apply a second layer of cold size with a palette knife once this first layer dries.
Apparently Sargent preferred canvases with this heavy layer of size and two thinner layers of ground. I haven't used this yet, so I'll have to report back with the results; but I am guessing that this heavy size layer will cut down on the absorbency of the ground and allow the paint to sit more on the top layer. I'm not sure if I'll like this so I only made two smaller canvases to test it out. It's all about experimentation and seeing what works.
For ground, I use Natural Pigments Rublev Colours lead oil ground. It's a great product and provides a lead surface like what Sargent would have used. I'll report back with the results of this experiment later this week..