Demo of The Passing of Time

Philip Howe Fine Art
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This 3x4 ' oil on canvas painting was done in the same manner as "Far Below" where my intention was to do a single opaque pass of wet paint, let that dry for weeks, then go over this with a thinner detail layer that enhances the color and detail, where needed. This is not 'fat over lean' since the layer above drys faster than the underlayer. However, this patina, or glaze effect is only done when I know the base paint layer is completely dry. I am not using paint so heavy that I worry about future cracking, which would inevitably happen if I used heavy impasto. The hard part is waiting the 3 or 4 weeks until I am sure the underlying paint is bone dry before coating the surface again, since I know this 2nd coat will bring back all the rich color and enhance the overall look of the piece. In galleries, I often see work that looks dead or dull already as if its lacking those extra tweaks that could bring it all together. I suspect this is due more to the artists need to have the work finished and shown rather than a lack of interest in refining it. Most artists I know have enough integrity to want to do their best work. So when I do see the obvious dulling or lack of rich color natural to oil, it may be, in part, due to the artists preference for a matte varnish instead of gloss. Traditional Damar varnish works best for me, applied at least 2 months after a painting is completed. I usually do several pieces at a time and vent the studio well. I like Kamar varnish, a Krylon Spray, the best varnish I have ever used on both acrylic and oil. Unfortunately, its toxic, like many artists sprays and liquids. If you use Kamar or another spray, like retouch varnish, do it outside if you can or in another room that you can vent separately. Its a buildup process and it can cause dizzness and even vertigo, which I have had more than once even with my precautions. Now I stick with traditional Damar and brush it on, then leave the room and let it air out completely.

Over my slightly fixed pencil drawing I wash a thin, quick drying layer of oil using only mineral spirits and sticking with a wide 2 inch bristol filbert, which forces me not to worry about detail areas but to concentrate on large local-color areas.

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Wash over Line drawing

Below, the glass palette shows the large pile of paint I can go through in a few sessions. I add several drops of linseed oil to each pile to get a smooth, buttery consistency, mixed well with a small palette knife. For larger paintings, my real goal is to keep the entire surface wet for the 2 or 3 days it takes to completely cover and finess it. I know that the earth colors will dry fastest, then more neutral colors and finally the blues and purples. I always use just a few colors, knowing I can mix any 2ndary hue from these. I isolate the black (ivory or lamp black for the darkest shades on more blue pieces) , burnt umber and yellow ochre, red oxide (or reddish brown variants) and to these I add a few drops of oil of cloves. I mix this well into each pile and this allows the paint to stay wet not for a day but up to a week, even on the palette.

Why do this? Of the paintings I have studied that appeal to me most, I realize the edges are controlled. If you can achieve a controlled focus, which is a key to great tonal paintings, then the work can take on a quality not unlike selective focus on a lens. Most painters achieve this by simply painting with thicker paint more quickly, as Sargent, Boldini and Zorn did. Sargent wanted to paint every portrait to look like it was done spontaneously, but I am convinced, as an artist, that he simply desired to paint wet into wet for the effects, at least around the head, and to achieve this goal he often wiped out and started over several times to achieve a look that was effortless and masterful. Knowing this, my goal is to extend the overall working time to be able to see those planes and edges after I have quickly laid in the foundation coloring, then model or finess this wet paint into the adjacent wet colors. These are more strokes than blended areas, but either gives an effect of controlled focus. The trick is to lay down the paint with the right viscosity and this makes the tonal fusing easy and fast. Its nearly impossible to achieve if the paint is tacky or dry when you want to go back in here and there and further adjust color, value and focus.

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Palette showing large piles pre-arranged

The head was painted in very direct and only took a few minutes to get the look I wanted. I had an accurate drawing down and even though the paint was opaque and covered the pencil and wash, accurate mixing and direct stokes of color allow for a quick result.

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Head quickly painted
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Block in of central area
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Fog blocked in

Above, you can see the loose block-in of the fog. Even though its meant to look diaphanous for the final to be believable, I know the paint will stay wet for some time so I don't need to work this area just yet. I prefer to block-in most of the rest of the image and then relate the fog color and values to the harmonious whole. In this way, I can better judge how far to model the edges and get the transitional blending needed to give it a sense of transparent space.

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Lower areas blocked in
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Lower blockin and refinements
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The Passing of Time final

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