The Boy King - demo

Philip Howe Fine Art
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Fine Art - Figures,Portraits, Other Subjects
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Early work_ 1980's, 1990's
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This painting was done in essential 3 stages- a good foundation drawing, then a semi-opaque wash over the fixed pencil to create a dark middle tone for the final step- opaque final strokes to define the highlights and shadows. Anymore I try to keep the entire painted surface wet so I can paint into wet paint with fluid strokes and quick, delicate dashes. But I didn't always work this way. For many years I was convinced that the best approach to realism was to lay in a tight underpainting, then use thinner paint to work out the final details. This is a very easy approach if you have good drawing skills. An even easier method is to draw out, in pencil or charcoal, a very tight, even near photo-graphic drawing, spray fixed, then tinted in oil color. This is a traditional illustration approach that, with dryers, accelerates the process dramatically. Also, with this method you rarely loose the defining drawing beneath since the overlaid color is transparent and the drawing represents the values. Much like the tinting of a black and white photo, which is often a beautiful approach- it was in the easy effects that I soon became bored with the process and looked to heavier paint and wet into wet methods for a more overall tonal approach. If you think about focus, which is easier to explain by looking at a common photograph, you can see most images are somehat static and therefore less interesting than what we, as painters, can push or exaggerate by fudging the edges. This forces the eye to look at specific areas that are more in crisp focus. If the technique from the start can diffuse the edges and your drawing skills can bring the sharper planes back into accepted or discernable linear focus, then you can, theoretically, control the full depth of the image you are painting. This piece is somewhat of a hybrid in that direction. A full tonal piece might be all paint and no real line drawing, but I feel the drawing can help, at times to get me to that goal of controlling the focus and interest of the piece. Strong design and concept are what will take the image to a level of higher 'art'. I have always admired those rare artists who can put it all together and push for quality in whatever process they use. I think those works do stand the test of time because I feel there will always be people, like myself, who will seek out those well crafted, well designed creative pieces that don't just sit there on the wall like so many boring traditional works, but have something of a life of their own and can actually move people with the power of the imagery. I don't know if I have ever done that or come close, I really don't think about it when I work, but it would be a great compliment to think that something I have painted would move someone enough to get them to thinking about whatever the imagery contained and maybe to help stimulate an idea that perhaps they hadn't yet approached. I do sometimes feel like a movie director putting together a film within one image. Sometimes a single image is as powerful as any book or film. If you have a painting on your wall and its a meaningful work of art, then the power it has to stimulate you, even subconsciously, is an amazing energy and process and similar to the energy that many of my painter friends and I have felt and talked about, during the process of creating itself.

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Pencil on canvas, lightly spray fixed
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Quick semi-opaque washes with 4" house brush

Above, you can see the jar I use for mineral spirits. I think turpentine is a little stronger and keep some around just for a few cleanups, but very rarely use any thinner or medium even in my initial block-ins as I feel this creates too slipery an area to overpaint. I have tried to mix stand oil with diferent variations but its not quite the same as just pure paint on paint. Stand oil creates a nice tacky surface and sets up after a few minutes and is worth experimenting with, same as sun thickened linseed oil, which is the same thing, just less tacky and viscous. I get my best drawing from the strokes that pull off the brush easier which means I can control my line and edges with more accuracy.

The idea of using mineral spirits here is that I have already laid in a decent drawing, so the wash can be a little thinner. By the way, I use a glass jar filled with rocks and then with mineral spirits. Its easy to clean the brushes by rubbing them against the rocks and I can see how dirty the liquid is getting and can just dump it when its too saturated and grey. Rocks are cheap, so is Mineral Spirits, which you can get at any hardware store by the gallon for a fraction of what other cleaners cost, and its less toxic with no discernable smell. I would avoid turpentine because of the gradual buidup of toxic fumes and it tends to spread out the paint strokes. If you are getting headaches and use turps that may be why. I would also avoid kerosene as this is even more toxic and smells up the studio. I know some artists who use it to soak the brushes in, but after trying this I found it frayed the edges. Linseed oil and my favorite walnut oil, which drys a little slower and is a bit more vicous, are both simple, cheap, and work great for 3 days or so, as long as you remember to wash them out with spirits then dip them again for another 3 days if needed. Its better than washing them in soap and water evertime as this only distorts the delicate hair shape of the better brushes. I used to clean mine faithfully, but I can honestly say that they last a lot longer if you only clean them occasionally or if you aren't going to use them for a while. The oils keep them soft and help keep the shapes, and it saves a lot of time not having to clean them so often. I have kept them wet for months and noticed no damage.

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Moving from top to bottom with thick wash
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Full block-in at 30 minutes
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Rendering over blockin
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Near final head, approximately 5 " high
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The Boy King Final 30 x 40"

You can see the difference that the darker tone in the background makes in adding depth overall. Its been done for hundreds of years in portraiture and it works to give realistic paintings a feeling of quality and even a sense of timelessness. It also helps bring forth the darker areas in the figure, especially in the boy's hair and eyes, much as a dark frame will bring out the darker areas in a painting.

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