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!