Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus" debuts at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504) in connection with Artprize, September 21-October 9, 2016

**To vote for this painting, VOTE CODE:  64099
Note: You must be registered with Artprize to vote and physically present in Grand Rapids, MI


To view the creative process of this painting, please visit:


Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This painting, entitled "American Heritage 2", is a newly completed companion piece to "American Heritage."  For many years I have wanted to paint this illustration, and finally, I feel the project has been fully expressed.

I am honored to have this diptych accepted into Artprize (artprize.org) in Grand Rapids, MI.  They are currently on exhibit at DeVos Place (303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503), from September 23rd through October 11th, 2015.  If you are in Grand Rapids and wish to vote for my entry, my vote code is:  61952

Limited edition prints of these paintings are available.  These giclee prints of "American Heritage" and "American Heritage 2" are signed by the artist (myself), and are offered printed on paper or canvas.  Each print is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.  A 27" x 27" (original painting's size) paper or canvas print (edition of 250) is $575.00 (unframed).  An 18" x18" paper or canvas print is also offered (edition of 250) for $395.00. Please contact me at jason@jasondowd.com if you wish to place an order.  Please specify "American Heritage" (boy reading) and/or "American Heritage 2" (girl reading) when placing your order.

To view other works, please visit:  www.jasondowd.com

As I mentioned earlier, the concept for this illustration had been coursing through my imagination for many years.  Finally, the stars aligned and it was time to move forward.

The reason for this work is the same as its predecessor; inspiring children to read, and thus, educating themselves as a worthy pursuit.  Education has always been a cornerstone of strength in any successful society.  It is my intention that these paintings stand as a testament to this universal truth. 
Furthermore, applauding the incalculable contributions American women have made to our great Nation is paramount.  Mothers, wives, sisters, and any number of ambitions give our families, and thus, our country the necessary bonds to thrive.         

Three months were spent this summer (June - August, 2015), to finish this work.  I have documented the step-by-step process below, for those interested in the creative process.  

As with any of my illustrations, the process remains the same.  First, I make preliminary sketches called "thumbnail" sketches (typically about 2" x 3" in size).  This helps to establish the composition, or placement of the the characters in this case.  Once I am happy with this arrangement, it is time to find models.

This proved to be more time consuming than in the past.  It is crucial to find people with features that truly express the spirit of the subject.  Starting with friends is a great place to begin.  My friend Joann Pitteloud would make a great aviatrix.  Picturing her as such in my mind's eye was easy, and fortunately, she enthusiastically agreed to model.  Being a creative soul herself, she understood the nuances such a project entails.  Colleagues and students from the college where I teach (Laguna College of Art and Design) also jumped in to help when asked.  Christa Jech (suffragette), Lacey Bredsguard (Annie Oakley), Kimberly Winters (Harriet Tubman), Emmalyn Tringali (Betsy Ross), and Monica Magana (Sacajawea) all graciously accepted my invitations to pose.  Of course, I had to find the star of the show - The girl reading the book!  A friend of my son's, a girl named Talia, would prove to be just perfect.  It can be a challenge to work with children; communicating expressions, subtle movements, and keeping their attention during a photo shoot are all potential obstacles to capturing the much needed reference.  However, she was very attentive and delightful to work with, and being that we were all family friends helped a great deal.  With hair braided (thank you Mary!) and ribbons in place, we moved through the shoot with ease.  Thank you, one and all, for your contribution to this painting - It couldn't have happened without you!   

                                                                                                          Lacey Bredsguard as Annie Oakley

Now it is time to move onto researching costumes and props that the model's will eventually use in the portrayal of their characters. For example, Betsy Ross was just 24 years old when she sewed our Nation's flag.  It seemed a natural touch to have her proudly displaying the thirteen starred creation in her hands.  Fortunately, I found an excellent costume shop - Bianca's Historic Costumes, located in East Long Beach, CA (562-235-8887, biancascostumes@verizon.net).  Bianca and Peter were very helpful in offering just the right dresses, hats, and gloves to bring this image to life.  Thank you both! 

Things were moving forward and everything "felt right."  This feeling cannot be overlooked in the creative process.  I tell all of my students that they must make every effort to find that "creative spark" of inspiration before beginning a new piece.  If that feeling can be carried through with its original enthusiasm intact, then it is almost guaranteed to be a success.  

Usually, I would proceed from the thumbnail sketch stage to refining rough sketches followed by the final drawing.  However, time would not permit these important steps (apologies to Mr. Rockwell), as I knew the Artprize deadline would arrive quickly.  

Instead, I went from the photo reference to the final painting.  The following steps will visually explain each stage from block-in to finish:

                                                                                   Drawing and block-in underpainting with acrylics

                                                     Unifying glaze of Brown Madder Alizarin creates "jewel-like" effect

                                                 Simple underpainting establishes general value and shape relationships

                                                 Detail of girl's head shows "relative finish" compared to block-in areas

                                                                  Color block-in/detailing continues... Many changes to come!


                                                                     "American Heritage 2" and "American Heritage" (diptych)

I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this post regarding "American Heritage 2."  It is always a pleasure to share insights with students and creative enthusiasts alike.  Please feel free to contact me (jason@jasondowd.com) if you have questions or comments to share.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Michael Dolas - Illustrator

This post is about a piece of vintage illustration I recently purchased and restored.  It is by a wonderful, but relatively unknown illustrator named Michael Dolas (1912-2010).  He had a career spanning six decades and was friends with Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.  I have written an article about this great artist which may be seen in the July 2014 issue (#45) of Illustration Magazine:

The piece came to me through the estate of a very close friend, Bill Vann, who passed away in 2011. Bill was an incredible illustrator himself and had the most amazing personal collection of vintage illustration I ever had the pleasure of viewing.  It is a privilege not only to possess such high calibre of work, but to have the honor to restore it to its former glory.  It is a Budweiser billboard from the 1950's, in what was coined (by MD) as his "floating head" period.

Unfortunately, at that time, original illustrations were viewed solely as a means to a commercial end. Once a piece was finished, it might have been kept by an art director, shoved into a flat file, or discarded all together.  In this case, one-third of the work (right side) was cut off.  Likely, the party involved was only interested in the people, not the type or bottle.  In any case, we are thankful at least to have part of the original work preserved.

Upon researching Dolas' work from that era, I had the good fortune to find a website dedicated to billboard art:  http://advertisingbillboards.blogspot.com/2008/04/old-budweiser-beer-billboards.html
It features well over a dozen billboards by MD and confirmed the authentic layout/content therein. Now, it was a matter of putting in the necessary hours to complete the task at hand.


Here is the illustration as it was received.  Note the splatters (top right), masking tape, and though it may not be apparent in this photo, a generally dirty surface.

The first order of business was tape removal and a good, careful cleaning.  Per Ralph Mayer's Handbook of Artist's Materials and Techniques, a lightly dampened cloth/Q-tips (with water) was applied inch by inch over the surface surrounding, but not touching the heads.  Thankfully, this simple but painstaking step did wonders in removing years of grime.  Since the type is watercolor/gouache, however, extreme caution had to be observed when cleaning in and around the letters.

Next, again citing the RM book, it was time to bring out the dental tools.  These 60+ year old smiles needed a cleaning.  Using a loop and a steady hand, I observed dirt within the pits of the brush strokes. Every effort was made to avoid contact with the metal edge and paint surface.  The idea was to "pop" loose whatever soiled material was present, then gently clear it away with clean air.  It was amazing to discover a rhythm, not unlike the act of painting itself, which seemed to take over during the process. Once again a tried-and-true method had worked its magic and the surface sparkled.  Colors were vibrant and highlights turned their forms.

The easy part was over.  Now for the real work.  A similar surface had to be located and prepared.  The original board is masonite.  It wasn't a problem finding some, as I too keep much of it on hand for painting. Though not perfect, it was a good match.  After three layers of Winsor & Newton oil priming, it was ready for painting.  Matching the color was a challenge, but with a little raw umber and ivory black added to the titanium white, a color with the proper "time stamp" appeared.  

The lettering was pretty straightforward too.  I was able to use tracing paper to trace/transfer most of the letters, while the "s" and "r" (in Budweiser) were free-handed/cobbled together respectively.  As was mentioned earlier, the type is watercolor/gouache, which was likely done by another artist.  Often, the illustrator did the main image and technical artists would paint type and/or other mechanical objects. Thankfully, I'd just finished teaching a watercolor class last semester and was up to speed.  Phthalo green (watercolor) paint was mixed with some raw umber and a very small amount of titanium white to touch up "Those who know enjoy Bud."  There were many cracks in the letters which were laid back down with some subtle touches.  Since the new lettering appeared on the new surface, I thought it would be more permanent to paint the remaining letters in oil.  It worked well.  

The last stage was painting the bottle.  This would be the most critical execution in order to give the proper "feel" of the piece, thus bringing it back to its original state.  If this was not convincingly recreated, all would be lost.  Thankfully I discovered early in my freelance career that I had a knack for painting bottles (Coca-Cola in one such case).  The product must, of course, look cold and refreshing. High contrast and clean, sharp edges are needed to give the illusion of metal (bottle cap) and water droplets on a glass surface. I was once again indebted to internet research.  Fortunately, a vintage Budweiser advertisement from the 1950's was located.  It featured a hi-resolution photo of the specific beer bottle in question.  I decided to paint it on Arches oil paper.  By doing this, the original surface would not be disturbed with new paint.  The main logo/lettering was carefully rendered, while the smallest type was merely suggested or "gooned" (as it was known in the business).  The rest was just a matter of light logic on a transparent cylinder.  Strong core shadows, hot highlights, and rich transmitted light all contributed to its solidity.  Zots acid free/archival dots were then placed on the back of the Arches paper (generously) for good adhesion.  Pressed into place, the illustration was complete.  It measures 21" x 46".


At this point, a connection was made.  Such is my appreciation for these artists - Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, Michael Dolas, and so many more, that to have the honor of sharing this restored piece with future generations gives a deep sense of fulfillment.  Thank you and I hope you enjoyed this process.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Illustration Portfolio of Jason Dowd

Jason Dowd Illustration
949 856 2502 studio
314 518 7642 mobile

Client:  Self-promotion

Project Title:  "American Heritage"

Medium:  Oil

Client:  Budweiser

Project Title:  "Bevo Fox" (promo poster)

Medium:  Charcoal

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mel Blanc

This is an 8" x 10" oil portrait of Mel Blanc.  I'm going to have some fun painting a new series of vintage personalities, by whom I am greatly inspired.  Another "new" facet to these works will be that they are painted on Arches oil paper.  Please scroll down for a step-by-step process of this demonstration and comments accordingly.

Final Portrait

Step 1

First, I mounted the paper down on a 1/8" piece of birch panel using hide glue.  Be sure to spread the glue evenly (I use my finger) over the panel surface to avoid puddling.  Next, a clean flat board (no surface imperfections) is laid on the paper/panel and a heavy book is centered on the board, offering pressure.  This will remain in place overnight.  After 12 hours, the panel is removed and inspected to make sure the bond between paper and panel is firm.  This stage is crucial as you want to avoid poor adhesion.  This could lead to buckling during the painting process.

The panel is now ready for the first layer, which is the drawing.  A contour drawing is carefully laid in using raw umber, drying linseed oil (very little), and a synthetic sable brush.  (Note: I really don't go out of my way to buy expensive brushes.  I'm kind of hard on them when I work, so I don't want to repetitively ruin costly brushes)

Step 2

This stage tells me a lot about the surface.  Upon laying in a tone of raw umber with a bit of transparent red oxide (Rembrandt brand) and drying linseed oil, I find that there is too much drag for my taste.  It is more laborious to apply than on an acrylic gessoed or oil primed panel/canvas.  Also, the paint is not easily removed, even with the use of a kneaded eraser.  (Note: You can use a kneaded eraser to remove oil paint - try it, but do not use the same one for drawing)

I am still optimistic though and decide to try a solution.  Once this layer is dry (overnight), a coat of retouch varnish is added with a brush.  Since the paper has been a bit absorbent, it is important to penetrate the paper fibers with something that will more easily allow the paint sit on the surface.  It works.  Unlike a regular panel (which can take days for the varnish to become glass-like), the retouch varnish soaks in, and thus, is not tacky to the touch.  It is ready for the next step.  (Verdict: Though I made my own modifications in the process, ultimately, I give a "thumbs up" for Arches oil paper)

Step 3

Since this is to be a vintage series, I thought it would be fun to paint these works in black and white. However, a straight gray painting seemed boring, so a contrast of a warm base (raw umber/trans. red oxide) with a cool top layer of raw umber/ivory black/white, offered some nice subtleties and variety.

Here, the background is blocked in keeping the strongest darks on the right side of the face, slowly gradating to a cooler, lighter transition on the left.  Some initial grays are also introduced into the shadows of the face. 

Step 4

This stage is the rough block-in.  It offers some nice color contrast (as mentioned in Step 3), however, it feels plastic and artificial.  The heart of a successful painting is achieving interesting paint qualities (brushwork, surface textures, etc.), while adhering to proper drawing.  At all stages, the drawing must be observed, lest you fall into "technique-land."  Good brushwork tends to come out on its own when a strong understanding of the laws of light and shape relationships are equally maintained.  After some years of practice and experience, this becomes a familiar concept.

Step 5

Better!  The next layer of paint in this indirect demonstration ("indirect" painting meaning wet layers over previously dried layers), begins to show Mr. Blanc's character.  Subtleties of the smaller planes are now being expressed, though I am careful not to polish or overwork the strokes.  (Note: The French used to refer to achieving a smooth surface as "licking the paint") 

All that really needs to be done is some final highlights and details (forehead creases, etc.).  These sorts of touches can be nerve-racking since none of us wants to kill the freshness of a 95% completed piece. It is just these last bits of information though, that can give a portrait that spark of life!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Artprize and American Heritage

Here is the final painting/illustration entitled "American Heritage."  As I stated in my previous post, this was my official 2013 entry for Artprizehttp://www.artprize.org/jason-dowd/2013/american-heritage ).

Limited edition prints of this painting are available.  These giclee prints of "American Heritage" are pencil signed by the artist/myself and are offered printed on paper or canvas.  Currently, an 18" x 18" paper or canvas image (edition of 250) is $395.00 (unframed).  A 27" x 27" (original painting's size) paper or canvas size (edition of 250) is $575.00 (unframed).  Please contact me at jason@jasondowd.com if you wish to place an order.

This piece took approximately two and a half months to complete.  The first step, after initial thumbnail sketches, was to proceed to finding models, costumes, and getting photo reference.  Per my previous post description, I mostly used friends to pose as models.  They were all happy to oblige and I knew it was going to be be an exciting experience.  Next, I needed just the right costumes.  As I had been using models for illustrating book covers already, a local (and extraordinary) costume shop, Robert Schmidt Costumes ( http://www.robertschmidtcostumes.com/ ) had everything I needed.  Their assortment of choices was staggering as the warehouse is some 15,000 square feet!  It was fun sifting through the all of the possibilities, even finding some clothes dating back to the 1880's.  After a few hours, all theatrical attire had been found and it was time to move onto the stage.
Since this is a multi-figural composition with complex lighting, special attention was needed for the arrangement of characters.  At that time, before digital photography, I did not trust my skills as a photographer, so again I took my cue from Mr. Rockwell and hired a professional.  His studio accommodated all of our needs for space, lighting, and special equipment.  We experimented with groups shots, warm/cool gels, and expressions, finally realizing that we would need to photograph everyone individually.  Now that each character's position had been established within the composition, we focused on photographing as much detail as possible.  It would be my job later to assemble their images into a cohesive picture.  I thanked all of my models for their contribution and it was off to work!
The preliminary drawing (see Figure Drawings, September 12, 2013 post) solved all issues concerning drawing, value, and detail.  It was a lot of work, which paid off in the end.  I was determined to follow Rockwell's procedure and he expressed the importance of this step in his book "Rockwell on Rockwell - How I Make a Picture by Norman Rockwell" (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, in cooperation with Famous Artists School, Westport, Connecticut, ISBN 0-8320-2380-X).  I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone interested in picture making.  Its principles have not changed, and if dutifully followed, can yield artistically fulfilling results.
The final painting began with a contour/line drawing onto double thick cold-press illustration board.  I gessoed this board, keeping areas with face and hand details smooth, while modeling/texturing others for visual interest.  This next part was my own creation, having experimented with other works and achieving desired effects - I freely applied pure (out of the tube) acrylic paints to the background.  It looked like a circus at this point, but I knew where it was going.  Once dry, the whole surface was sealed with workable fixative.  My favorite oil color of the time was Brown Madder Alizarin and it was going to be the unifying layer of all these presently gaudy acrylic colors.  A thin glaze of BMA was all that was needed to create a jewel-like glow for the shadowy air of the background.  This would serve as a nice contrast to the light emitting from the book.  As this paint dried rather quickly, it was necessary to work in sections (background first, faces next, then figures. etc.).  Building the layers of paint, known as Indirect Painting, allowed for moderate impasto touches (it is a relatively thinly painted work), and many glazes of transparent colors.  Small brushes, attention to light on form (chiaroscuro), and much patience then allowed for a proud finish.
After its completion, it was published as a promotional piece in American Showcase.  Thankfully, it generated much interest and brought in many illustration jobs over the course of my ten year illustration career.
Thank you Mr. Rockwell, Mr. Leyendecker, and so many other wonderful illustrators that inspired this work!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Figure Drawings

"American Heritage" - preliminary drawing (1991)

This drawing was created in order to fully develop a concept I had to inspire children to read.  It also served as an homage to Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker, as it was they (and my father Ken Dowd), who inspired my desire to become an illustrator.  It is a 30" x 30" charcoal on buff paper.

Here is a detail of the drawing.  It was a real treat to follow Rockwell's process, using friends and even strangers to pose for the characters.  The fellow, for example, posing as the WWl dough boy maintained our studio copier.  He walked in one day and had just the right look for an American youth of that period.  He resonated a sense of fragile innocence, adding depth to his role in the picture.  Others seen are Trey Willis (boy), Richard Bernal (pirate), Lee Brubaker (civil war soldier), Clair Bellows (gangster), Tom Casey (pilgrim), and Paul Chilton (mountain man).
Mainly, I worked from reference photos (something Mr. Leyendecker would have scoffed at), but it was the most efficient method in capturing the details of costumes, nuances of light, etc.  Also, the expressions of each individual had to be captured, contributing to the overall sense of wonder.  Many decisions were made in regard to these aspects of storytelling.  Familiar personalities communicating universal ideas is what I have learned most from Norman Rockwell and Joseph Leyendecker.  
In my next post, I will be showing the final, framed painting of "American Heritage" as my official 2013 entry for Artprize.  

My illustration career lasted the decade spanning 1990-2000.  With the advent of the computer, it was time to decide whether to go digital or stay traditional.  Though I have come to embrace the digital age, I, like many artists, was weary of it when it first came on the scene.  The traditional path held my fascination and I turned my sights on fine art.  

Here we see a figure drawing done in charcoal (8" x 10"), demonstrating the process I use to finish an informal work.  First, I lay in the contour (freehand), making sure all of the proportions and shapes create the desired effects.  Stretching the figure a bit can add elegance to the pose.  In this case, the head is slightly smaller and the legs are lengthened, giving a statuesque appearance. 

After sealing the initial layer with workable fixative (two light coats), a thin dry "wash" of charcoal dust is applied with a chamois.  The surface has a Bristol, or smooth finish.  Next, a kneaded eraser is used to pull out the lights and mid-tone values.  This is a widely used, time-honored technique among artists.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus

I am going to use my painting The Comedy of Life, the Death of Caesar Augustus to discuss the source of inspiration and the processes involved in creating a complex historical work.  This piece took about four years to complete and I now have a much better understanding of what artists of the past had to go through to solve such issues.  

My first source of inspiration was the well known historical painter, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  His excellent skills combined with a love of Ancient Rome spoke to me.  His passion and attention to detail made me want to learn more about the subject he portrayed.

This is one of Tadema’s paintings (Tibullus at Delia’s) that I photographed last summer at the Boston Museum of Fine arts.  Again, as you can see, his flair for creating believable scenes with impressive architectural elements, characters draped in proper attire, lively expressions, and all are completed with a soft, yet dramatic sense of light.  We know as artists, even a relatively simple setting such as this one, is difficult to portray so convincingly.

One of the books I read while researching Roman history, chronicled the Roman Emperors (Chronicles of the Roman Emperors by Chris Scarre).  However, it was the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, that caught my attention.  A moral man, he by and large served the needs of the people during his 50 year reign as emperor.  His final acts poetically summed up his life as ruler of Rome.  Here is the quote from the book:  “At the end, on his death-bed, Augustus joked about the play-acting which had been involved.  He called for a mirror, had his hair combed and his jaw set straight, then asked his friends to applaud as he departed the comedy of life; he had played his role well.”  Remarkably, the last thing he is known to have said is “Did you enjoy my performance?  Then applaud as I exit.”

After researching my subject and imagining what the picture should look like, it was time to contact models, or in this case, reenactors.  As luck would have it, an LCAD student at the time knew of many such groups and introduced me to Gil Whitley and Linda Satorius (Gil is seen at left).  LCAD President Jonathan Burke (at right in photo), also graciously agreed to play the part of a Senator (seen just above Augustus in the painting).  Between them, they posed as Tiberius, Livia, Senators, Roman guards, and even Death herself.  

This is Clayton Garrison.  One day, I was sitting in my car getting ready to leave school for the day and desperately thinking how I would find the right person to pose for Augustus?  At that very moment, I looked up and there was an older gentleman walking right in front of me, just the right age and the right look.  I couldn’t believe it, he was perfect!  Things were falling into place. 

Props, of course, are another important issue.  Fortunately, the reenactors I met had many props that they brought along to the photo shoot.  In addition to helmets, armour, and shields, they had an assortment of scrolls, cups, chairs, and many other things that would lend an air of authenticity. 

Not all the needs were met, however, and it was necessary to continue searching different sources.  

Museums are wonderful to visit and if you are able to find what you’re looking for, you can photograph an object from multiple angles.  This at least helps give a sense of accurate color and structure.

Another interesting coincidence was a conversation with my friend and fellow artist Erik Tiemens http://watersketch.com/#home.  I was considering possibilities for the villa design and he suggested using a program called Sketchup http://www.sketchup.com/ (created by Google).  After some practice, it was pretty easy to manage the shapes and create a unique piece of Roman architecture.  One of the things I especially liked was using Google Earth http://www.google.com/earth/index.html to light the structure from Nola, Italy (where Augustus died), August 19th at 3pm, the precise time of death.  It was particularly gratifying to know that this was the correct lighting.  Once again, things were moving forward.

This shows the stretching of the linen.  It is double oil primed portrait linen stretched over heavy duty Upper Canada stretcher bars.  Cross supports and keys are necessary to keep the linen taut.

Here we see the finished canvas.  Stretching linen is much more challenging than regular canvas.  The weave is much tighter (and more durable), so there is little “give” when stapling it to the back of the stretchers.  Once the keys are tapped in with a hammer, the linen tightens up.  I’ve also left a fair amount of extra linen on the back.  This is for the benefit of possible future restoration.  Sometimes it is necessary to patch a damaged area of paint and having the same linen to recreate the pattern in the paint faithfully (by lightly pressing it) is helpful.  It might also be useful in repairing a hole.  

Composition is likely the most vital part when considering a painting.  The more complex the scene, the harder it becomes to balance the elements.  Like Vermeer and Velasquez, I chose to use harmonic proportions.  There are a multitude of formulas you can use to create harmony and here we see an armature of the rectangle.  Augustus’ head is strategically placed at the 2/3 intersection, bringing the viewer’s eye to the primary focal point.  These sections, based on 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 intervals is a natural and pleasing placement for more important information.  Notice how many figures are aligned with cross junctures and even angles of lines are followed to unify visual flow.  An excellent resource I use for teaching Composition and Color is Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides.

The approach I used for the underpainting is that of Anthony Van Dyke.  He would block-in large dark shadow masses, leaving the white of the canvas to represent initial areas of light.  By following this method, a solid value pattern becomes the chiaroscuro design.  If these simple shapes “read” well, it will be much easier to follow through with the rendering of the light and half tone areas. 

Here is an overall view, continuing to add basic architectural shapes.  Details of the columns can now be seen, as well as further wall and ceiling decoration.  

Detail of figures in rough block-in stage.  The standard held by the guard shows the letters “SPQR” which stands for “The Senate and People of Rome.”  An image of the Sacred Bull is also referenced.  The guard at the left is igniting a Turibulum, or incense burner, which is used to create sacred scents pleasing to the gods.  Also, it symbolizes change from solid form into an ethereal form by consuming it with fire.

The next step is to work in sections, adding a thin layer or tone of Raw Umber over the dry contour of the background.  Any modeling of light, such as on the columns, is simply wiped away with a rag. 

Subtleties of form are indicated through shadows (seen on wall to the left), then facial and drapery details are added.  I am careful to continue working all around the painting, not getting bogged down in any particular area.  Too much attention to finish early on can throw off the balance or “feel” of a work.  It is better to work steadily, bringing up levels of interest while leaving some spaces subordinate.  This gives the viewer’s eye a rest, not overwhelming them with information.  Being sensitive and working at a slower pace requires patience, but if well handled can pay off in the end.  Even considering textures that will contrast the overpainting later must be considered.  For example, a rough bit of underpainting scrubbed in with a bristle brush might show through a translucent glaze of overpainting.  The effect of light and shadow can be depicted in a very rich way, giving depth to an otherwise flat surface.

This is the completed underpainting.  Establishing underpainting values that are a bit lighter than the final overpainting values is recommended.  If the values become too darkened, it can be difficult to lighten them again when color is added.  Another crucial practice is to make sure that you are continually stepping back from a painting, getting a view from as much as 10-15 feet away.  This should be done often.  A painting should have an impact from across a large room.  Strength of design, value, and color will command a viewer’s attention if proper care has been taken.  Details of drawing may be enjoyed once the viewer’s interest has been piqued.  Days are spent looking back and forth at the “feel” of the picture.  It has a soft sense of air and space.  None of the darkest darks are added yet.  I decide that all of the major goals have been achieved.  The composition holds together well.  The light focuses on the main figures, allowing all other areas to be subordinate.  The dark foreground figures contrast or “stage” the light of the focal point and there are enough details to create a plausible historical scene.  It is finally time to add color.

Color is the easiest part of the painting process.  Many students give color too much credit while short changing the more important factors like drawing, composition, value, and edges.  While it is ultimately responsible for helping to express the mood of a picture, it is most effective when laid over a strong drawing and value structure.  I begin the color phase much like the other parts.  Keeping the larger relationships in mind, thinking broadly, will establish a proper overtone.  This is achieved by glazing in thin layers of transparent and translucent pigments with the help of drying linseed oil.  Warm and cool temperature shifts are arranged, with the idea of capturing the lively qualities of light.  Also, look to the landscape at left.  In the next slide, you will notice that the perspective has been changed.  It made much more sense to put the villa higher on the hill side.  Like today, everybody enjoys as much of a view as they can afford.

Defining the large planes keeps order while observing warm light, cool shadows, and warm reflected light.  This builds a convincing sense of perspective and atmosphere.  If color temperatures do not rigorously follow the laws of light, a painting will almost certainly fail.  Observing and understanding the effects of a given light source is an ongoing test of the artist’s abilities.  The best example in recent memory is when I visited the Getty Center.  Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter was on display.  I looked at it for at least 20 minutes, overwhelmed by the intricate and subtle color/value transitions in this small work.  He spoke volumes about the soft, cool light coming in the window, bathing everything it touched in perfect harmony.  I mentioned earlier about the underpainting showing through a milky glaze of overpainting.  This can especially be seen in the ceiling in the upper left corner and in the center moulding.  The close value warm/cool relation vibrates the eye, creating more visual interest than a simple flat tone.  

Here is a detailed progression of the focal point.  The soldiers’ uniforms, shields, and other clothing follow the color schemes of Roman apparel.  Cloth was bright (and often gaudy), so I was careful to show that contrast.  A purple hue, representing royalty, is added to the cape over the bust of Augustus.

Flesh tones soften the palette.  Added facial details heighten the sense of drama.  There is a richness emerging as thin glazes are added to the darks.  Livia’s cool crimson and viridian garments will contrast the warmer reds and ochres found in the guards’ uniforms.  Visiting the Getty Villa was a tremendous help.  Since it is a 1st century AD replica of a Roman villa, several wall decorations were borrowed and utilized in the painting.  The central mosaic, an Augustan era work is an allegory of the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures and of the leveling power of death.  Below the skull, a butterfly and a wheel evoke the soul and its fate, while on the right and left, in a perfectly mirrored balance assured by the scale held up by the skull, are the figurative symbols of wealth (the sceptre and purple toga) and poverty (the beggar’s crook and knapsack).