Model Looking Up- demo

Philip Howe Fine Art
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Fine Art - Figures,Portraits, Other Subjects
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Life Drawings (Figure drawings)
Early work_ 1980's, 1990's
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This small painting was fun to do as I made up a lot of the middle tones, working from a very small, nearly out of focus model shot. Sometimes the larger masses can be more easily seen for block-in areas if the reference image(s) is diffused. This dulls down what the eye can see, since our vision is in 3d and so sharp that it picks up and refocuses on every possible detail within range. A soft focus image, like a blurred photo, diffuses the details and forces the mind to accept the more important larger masses. These are the essential areas that make for interesting realistic work. Its similar to squinting or reducing an image to a thumbnail size. I am sure its what Sargent and others had in mind when doing their tonal painting as you can see the effect more clearly in his initial block in stages more evident in his sketches.


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Pencil sketch on canvas
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Brushing on acrylic over fixed drawing

Over the charcoal drawing, lightly fixed, I used slightly thinned acrylic gloss medium and a golden-ocher hue over the canvas to give it a nice, overall warm tone. The beauty of gessoed canvas is that it takes all washes, either water based or solvents, and never buckles. You can actually do a watercolor effect fairly easily with turps or mineral spirits and very thinned oil or alkyd paint, although its not recommended as this breaks down the ideal consistency intended for the binder. But then, most people don't realize that adding any vehicle to the ideal manufactured consistency will lessen the permanency of the paint surface and painting thinner rather than really heavy will certainly last considerable longer. I don't worry about those things any more, it can prohibit the workflow . So long as you use reasonably safe methods, which you learn with experience, most oils will last several lifetimes and with current expertise in restoration- virtually forever. I have spoken with a number of museum restorers (conservators) who work with oil paintings and was told that they anticipate being able to shear off the oil layer of an old painting and re-seal it to a more permanent backing without cracking or damaging the original surface. Thats pretty amazing. After all, if they currently repair a lot of the neo-expressionist work that practically falls off the painting within a few years of its creation- then I figure its safe to paint along traditional lines and know that we, as artists, are in pretty good hands.

I have recently read that painting oil over acrylic is not safe, but I disagree if the precaution of abrasing the acrylic, say with steel wool, is done to the surface so that the oil will adhere better. Lightly abrasing the surface is also suggested for heavy glazing of oil or any smooth surface so the next layer can better attach itself to. You can also use pumice powder or other light abrasive that, done properly, will rough up the surface just slightly to make it more receptive, but not damage the image so that scratches are seen. As in all cases, its best to experiment on a scrap area or other painting first.







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Dry wash (dry brush over acrylic wash)
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Brown oil or alkyd underpainting

I let the acrylic washes throughly dry before doing a quick brown oil drybrush underpainting. Many people think acrylic paint drys to the touch and so its completely dry, but it can actually take several hours even for thin paint , as the paint is often still moist beneath its surface layer. Acrylic over acrylic can be applied more spontaneously over each underlying layer when dry to the touch, however. As an illustrator, time is everything- clients have deadlines and I can fit more jobs in the faster I am. So a hairdryer is used to speed things up. If this was an illustration and I needed to do something more linear, say, put a building in the background, something with hard edges, I would probably do this with acrylic or even gouache (later fixed). Acrylic is a great medium to build the underpainting from since its water based and fast drying, but I don't like the 'plastic' look of its surface, which always looks commercial to me. Oil has a natural depth and sheen that gives its surface a look of richness and quality, especially when direct light hits it. I almost always prefer a gloss final surface for this reason, the paintings just look that much more luminous, especially opaque pieces with heavy coloring. Its something the internet here just can't show and why I suggest that my artists friends seek out the original works and not go by the color in books. I have 4 books on Sargent, for example, that show the same image and the coloring looks quite different in each book. Book images can't begin to reflect light in the same way encapusulated oil can. Its very similar to how honey or syrup looks when caught in sunlight. Its like the light is trapped within the surface. This effect is most pronounced in pure-glazed paintings, ala Parrish or the better Rembrants, where every thin layer is trapped with a layer of varnish. Its like sealing light in. Its less pronounced in opaque work, which often looks dull by comparison. Since I have experimented with a variety of techniques I would say that if you want to get the 'glazed' effect, or something close, you can put a final layer of thin paint over any surface thinned with a medium that enhances the underlying layers as well, so long as the previous layers are really dry. The best medium I have found for this is Windsor-Newton's Liquin. This drys fast, however, and I only apply the final coating, or 'patina', after I have let the painting dry for a period of a few weeks at least. That way I feel more confident the thicker paint underneath won't pull and eventually crack because the top layer dried so fast that it pulled the lower layers. That's the usual train of thought anyway.

Once I have the brown drawing in accurately, after its dryed for a few hours, its fairly easy to simply blockin the colors and then, below, I move the paint around with a soft brush like a high quality bristol flat or filbert (1 or 2"), pulling edges together here and there. The idea is to take the halftones that butt up to each other and smear them together, as well as those where the light falls off, as in round forms and soft edges, like hair. In fact, the majority of the painting can go slightly out of focus, an easy thing to do in oils if you use heavy enough paint at the block in stage. The fear is, of course, of loosing the drawing, which is one reason why good schools on realism should push figure drawing. Whenever I had a student that was weak at painting, but a good draftsperson, I knew I could coax good painting from them since the fundamentals of SEEING were there from the practice of study while drawing. You can always improve if you continue to refine your drawing skills. Good painting, for many realists, is just refined drawing in color.

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Quick color blocked in with large brushes

For students, if you compare this softer image to the final below you will see how effective the edges are. Edges are where two planes meet, there are no lines. Lines, like outlines around forms, flatten shapes, although they certainly make for more graphic effects and I am always looking for a way to use them. Some of my favorite illustrators use clever linear effects to great advantage. Study Dulac, Leyendecker, Mucha, even Rockwell and you will see beautiful line work. But for tonal painting, its the loss of edges that round out forms. Below, the sharpness in the image is simply defining opaque strokes over the sharper areas that were slightly smeared out of focus above. Its a simple theory that works and gives a great realistic effect with minimal effort.

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Block-in smoothed over slightly
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Model Looking Up final 20x30"
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