Supplies & Syllabus for Online Portrait Drawing Master Class

November 28, 2018

Hello students,

For those of you who have signed up for my online portrait drawing master class which will start on December 10th 2018, (that’s right around the corner!) here is a brief outline of what you can expect to learn each week as well as a list of materials. For those of you who are interested in signing up for this class, you will find a link on my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com under my “art classes” page. I look forward to working with you soon!

Week 1. (Dec. 10th)

In this class we will observe and discuss the basic planar structure of the head. By examining the head as a “box-like” form, we can easily observe the front, side, top and bottom planes. This is what I refer to as the geometric conceptualization which will enable you to draw a head from any angle whether it is imagined or directly observed. This is also a way of introducing the basic proportions which make up the human skull.

Week 2. (Dec 17th)

Here is where we will take a closer look at the skull using a replica paired with a live model. In observing the dominant planes which make up the skull, we will be able to recognize the boney landmarks present on any person’s face. We will discuss the proportional differences of facial features which can largely be determined by age, gender and ethnic backgrounds. While discussing proportional differences, we will also begin to apply observational measuring techniques using a live model.

Note: there will be a break on the week of Dec. 24th for the holidays!

Week 3. (Dec. 31st)

We will continue to develop the construction of the model’s features, while paying close attention to the unique proportions of the skeletal and muscular forms. In my demo, I will begin to emphasize specific muscles which are most prevalent on the model, discussing their origin and insertion, as well as their function. Understanding the shapes and various movements of specific muscle groups, adds more clarity when rendering different facial expressions.

Week 4. (Jan 7th)

This is where we will begin to apply value tone to the drawing to add more depth and further define the three dimensional volumes of the face. In my demo I will discuss ways to layer and blend your drawing material to create a full range of value tones.

Week 5. (Jan 14th)

This is the final week where we will refine the subtleties of form and texture, giving the drawing a life-like quality.

I’m super excited about this class, are you!?

Below is my recommended materials list:

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1.)  Drawing pencils (I recommend the Faber-Castell brand) in the following hardnesses;

(4H, 2H, B, 2B, 4B)

2.)  Kneaded eraser

3.)  Double sided shaders as pictured above – in assorted sizes

4.).  A small, stiff bristled blending brush

5.)  Razor blades or x-acto knife

6.)  A sandpaper block as pictured above

7.)  Strathmore Bristol medium texture drawing paper (11 x 14 or larger)

If you have any questions about the materials or anything else, don’t hesitate to email me at riverafinearts@gmail.com.

 


Sight-size vs. Comparative Measuring

October 12, 2018

Hello all,

I wanted to post a couple of videos that I made where I’m using two different measuring techniques to gauge my proportions. The first one is a sightsize technique, where the subject is drawn in the exact scale that I see it. This technique was a very common practice in the 19th Century French Academy, and is still used today in many private ateliers.  It is often introduced to students as a means of copying other master drawings in the foundational stages of their academic art education. Barque plates, (a series of drawings produced by Charles Bargue of plaster casts with strong geometric lines and dramatic shadow shapes) are commonly used in the practice of sight-size drawing.  This method allows the student to carefully observe an image which has all ready been reduced to a series of lines and shapes. In the act of copying other drawings, paired with sight-size measuring techniques, one begins to slowly train their eye to see the big geometric shapes first, before even thinking about rendering the subtleties of form. In the French Academy a student had to master this skill first, and only then would he or she advance to working from an actual plaster cast, and eventually the live model.

I use this method quite a bit in my teaching as it is easy to make direct comparisons of my subject to my drawing, however it has some disadvantages. Unless a student is sitting within a foot or so of their subject, the information they see will appear very small when transferring their measurements to their drawing pad. This presents problems when working from life, especially if working from a live portrait model. In a larger classroom, one would have to limit the number of students positioned around the model.  If each student for example, was sitting within a foot of the model, any more than two would end up crowding the space. Therefore in a classroom, this method works very well for copies of other drawings, but not so much for a live model, unless the classroom has the luxury of having a separate model for every two students.

The second video demonstrates a method of measuring called comparative measuring, which is much more practical in a real classroom setting.  This method allows the student to draw or paint their subject at any scale, regardless of their position in relationship to the subject.  I still recommend that my students try out both methods to understand the pros and cons of each.

With all that explained, I just wanted to add that, although sight-size and comparative measuring are both helpful techniques for gauging the width to height ratios of a subject, they are not full proof. Subtle alterations occur when applying construction lines and even if a line is off by a few millimeters, it can change the proportions of the subject. At the end of the day, one needs to be able to rely on their eye. In my own work, I myself use measuring to check my initial  judgements after I apply my big shapes, and I continue to use it periodically throughout the process to refine my details.

As a student, I relied on measuring much more than I do now. Over the years, I have developed my eye to see my proportions more accurately, so measuring is simply a tool to double check my assessments rather than a necessity.

However, when learning how to draw, it can be extremely valuable especially if proportion is something that you struggle with. As you practice the methods, you too will develop your perceptions. Eventually you will learn to recognize accurate proportions and measuring will become just a way of verifying your judgements.

Sight-Size Demo

Comparative Measuring Demo


A Portrait with Many Details (step by step)

September 24, 2018

Hello all,

I am often asked to post progress photos of my work.  This is something which fascinates me when studying other artists, as it provides insight into how they think about creating their subjects from start to finish.  I’ve documented a few of my previous pieces in order to show a specific technique.  “Passages” is one such piece, where I used a monochromatic underpainting with Viridian Green.  If you scroll down, posts of that can be found in this blog.  However, I realize that I’ve never really shown my approach to creating a work of art from the very beginning.  Part of my process, often includes a value study, then a tracing and then a linear transfer to the painting surface.  These crucial steps allow me to make as many important decisions and corrections as needed before I even start applying actual paint.  I especially like to use this method for pieces where there are many details.  It is also very helpful for planning out a more involved composition.  Rather then continuously changing elements once I’ve begun the painting, the following technique allows for little if any changes past the transfer stage.  Below is a detailed documentation of a large commission which I did for a Bucks County judge.  I’ve done my best to describe each step along with my problem solving techniques throughout the course of the 11 month journey that I spent working on this.

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After I had my initial photo shoot with the judge, I narrowed down my references from over 100 photos to roughly a dozen and proceeded to create the large value study pictured above, using charcoal and white chalk on gray toned paper.  This study was done in the same proportional scale as the painting was to be. The objective here was to decide upon all of the main compositional elements. The details of each individual part are not as big of a concern for me at this stage as much as the overall picture.  My primary concern is the positioning and size of the figure in relationship to the surrounding parts, as well as the value emphasis, lighting and how it reads as a whole. Once the study was complete, I showed my client to figure out whether any adjustments or additions needed to be made.

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The linear tracing is where most of the major adjustments occur. The photo above shows exactly how I do this.  In this case, I actually re-drew the judges’ face on a separate piece of paper (completely changing his hair and expression) then cut that image out and taped it over the original face.  Upon showing him the original study, he wasn’t particularly pleased with his expression, as he thought it made him look too stern. I also slimed down his chin and neck-line a bit. It is much easier to make these adjustments early on, rather than waiting until I’ve invested a lot of time into the painting.  I also adjusted the size of his hands (they seemed too small to me in the first study) and parts of his robe. The background detail was simplified into just a few lines.  There’s no need to draw out every single book.  Now it is ready to be transferred to the prepared wooden panel!

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The lines have now been traced onto my pre-primed, pre-toned wooden panel with Raw Umber.  I do this by coating the back of my tracing paper with the paint (without medium) using a relatively stiff bristled brush. I rub it into the paper evenly so that there are no ridges or clumps in the paint.  I will usually only rub it over the lines, (rather than the entire surface of the tracing paper) allowing the area of paint to be slightly broader than the original line. I then tape it to the panel, with the paint coated side against the panel and retrace it with a pen.  This leaves the impression of each line on the panel.  I then proceeded to apply a wash of the Raw Umber into the areas where there was shadow in the face and hands only.  This allows me to begin thinking about how I will eventually model my form with mixtures of opaque paint.  It also provides a warm undertone which will add optical color effects to the next layer of paint.  I continued making minor corrections at this point, such as raising the line of the left shoulder.

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Underpainting I

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Underpainting II

I’ve used many terms to describe the type of underpainting pictured above.  It is simply an opaque layer of light and dark values with only a slight hint of color. This layer can be done in gray tones only, or with some warm and cool variation, or it can be done with one dominant color, such as green, or brown in order to provide an overall hue which will be evident even in the final image.  For this piece I mixed up a series of values using white and black which gave me cool grays.  I then mixed up additional values using white and Raw Umber which gave me warm grays.  I like to introduce the play of warm and cool grays in the underpainting, as this creates the illusion of form, and it also begins to mimic the effects of light.  In this case, his face is being illuminated by a window light, which is cool, in contrast to the warm shadows.  Because there is limited color in this layer, I refer to this as the Dead Color layer.

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Overpainting I

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Overpainting II

This next layer is one which gives the painting life!  I refer to it as the first color pass.  I use a full palette here, and work out all of my subtle detail, including pores, wrinkles, freckles, etc.  The first color pass closely adheres to the value structure of the underpainting, and simply adds that life-like appearance.  I consider the underpainting or Dead Color layer to be the one which molds the basic form, much the way a sculptor might create a clay model to establish general planes and proportions which he would then continue to refine.  The addition of color takes all of that wonderful simplified sculptural form and breathes life into it, embellishing upon the details, and adding those subtle organic variations of pigment that make humans look human.  I also created a halo of the background colors around his head in order to start making some basic decisions about my color relationships.

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Moving away from the face now, I begin massing in large areas of color. My goal is to block in these areas rather quickly, so that I can get back to refining my detail.  The large patches of dark orange to the left of the judge are applied semi-transparently, allowing for vertical brush strokes to show.  This is intentional as it simulates the appearance of wood grain. I’ve also drawn an outline in paint of a small figurative statue which the judge decided to include.

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Here is a detail of the statue, which I actually ended up moving over, as I didn’t like how the bottom of it was cropped out by the sleeve of the judges’ robe.  The original outline is where I decided to add the brown shadow pictured above.  I’m slowly working out my values for the statue now with opaque mixtures, using only white, blue, brown and black paint. I also am continuing to work out the detail of the wood grain around the statue using the effect of both transparent washes, combined with carefully painted light and dark strokes.

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Here I continue to add background details, including the individual books on the book shelf.

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Slowly but surely the detail work continues. I’m now starting to define the folds in the robe.  I’m also making some pretty significant color adjustments.  The blues in the robe are strengthened in order to describe the cooler color effect of the window light, which makes more sense when paired with the flesh tones of the judges’ face.  I’ve also blocked in the back of the chair and painted in the detail of the small photo of the judge and his wife (detail included below) to the left side of his face.

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(Detail)

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Now I’m switching my focus to the lower half of the painting.  Don’t ask me about this detail!  It was important to the judge, so I went with it. The texture of fur can often be challenging.  I decided it would be best to underpaint this in raw umber (as seen on the dog’s face above) in order to establish all of the detail, and then, once dry, section glaze it with a mixture of Raw Sienna and Transparent Red Oxide, then rework the details back into the wet glaze with opaque paint (as seen on the left ear). That method worked well!  Below is the finished detail.

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(Detail)

In addition to painting the dog’s fur and shirt, I began to work out the reflection in the glass table.  The reflection was painted with a wet in wet technique, which is really the best way to capture the blurry effect.  If colors need to be adjusted, they can always be glazed over, however, in this case I carefully mixed my color variations so that I wouldn’t have to add any additional layers.  I’ll admit, I was starting to get antsy at this point as I had all ready invested about 8 months into this project. Below are some additional details of the reflection in the table.  Adding this part gave a lot of depth to the painting.

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(Detail)

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(Detail)

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Above is the completed painting!  I continued to refine my details with a combination of glazes and direct painting techniques. Upon delivery, the judge was quite pleased!  It’s great to know that this will now be hanging in the Bucks County Court House for all the public to see.

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Above: me (left) standing with the honorable judge Mellon (right) next to the official portrait painting which will hang permanently in the Bucks County Court House upon Mellon’s retirement.

In closing, I’d just like to offer my expertise to anyone interested.  For information on classes that I teach which cover all of the techniques described here, please check out my website, http://www.riverafinearts.com. Happy painting everyone!


Indirect Painting (phase 2)

September 17, 2018

As promised, I’m sharing the progress of one of my very talented students. This painting continues to become more and more life-like as details are added. In phase 1 we see a good description of form, however the face still lacks that spark of life. She seems more like a statue. In phase 2 we begin to see that soulful expression emerging with the subtle addition of a highlight in the eye. Other details have been tweaked as well to bring out more contours in the face. The lips have also been touched with a few highlights making them appear moist. Each of these subtle touches gives this portrait a living, breathing presence.  Now it is about more than simply modeling form. This is where the painting slowly starts taking on a life of it’s own.

It’s pretty remarkable considering that this is the student’s first oil painting ever. Once the tonal layer is finished, colors will be added in opaque and transparent layers which will continue to refine and enhance the existing detail.

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Phase 1

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Phase 2


Indirect Painting

September 14, 2018

Hello all,

I wanted to post the work of one of my students who is developing her “dead color” layer for a portrait. This is her first oil painting ever! We worked for several sessions on the drawing using the sight-size method. Then we transferred the drawing to a pre-toned wood panel using the cartoon method. Now she is really starting to develop her sculptural form with carefully mixed variants of light and shadow. All of this will serve as a foundational layer for which to apply color over. She is doing great considering that this is her very first oil ever!

What works so well with developing a painting this way (especially for a beginner) is the attention which can be devoted to each step. If we take a look at each skill, we can break it down into the following order:

1. Linear Drawing – the ability to develop accurate shapes in line which relate to one another. This allows for one to make important decisions about their relative proportions, as well as emphasize shapes in their compositions before they even touch the paint brush. Artists who are academically trained spend a lot of time drawing. Drawing is a great tool for developing quick studies for paintings, making compositional decisions or it can be done with the intentions of transferring it to the surface in which the painting will be created. Linear drawing is a fundamental skill which anyone can develop. All you need is a sketchbook and a pencil!

2. Value Application – the ability to recognize relative values in order to establish a sense of light and shadow. The description of value as well as value transitions has many purposes. It is the easiest way to recognize form. The transition between the edge of a shadow and the light can describe the surface of a plane. A rounded plane for example will have a gradual transition from light to dark whereas a form where two flat planes come together will display a sharp contrast between the light and dark side without any transition. Value can be used as a compositional tool as well. Value Contrast or Value Emphasis is one way to create a focal point.

3. Color – the ability to observe and apply color in order to enhance the form, atmosphere, mood or composition of a particular subject. Color is perhaps the hardest skill of all to master. Color has so much nuance, boldness, harmony, etc. The way in which an artist uses color can reveal a lot about him or her. In observational painting, the main objective is to be able to recognize a color’s appropriate Value, Hue and Chroma. Once an artist is able to do that successfully, than he or she can make educated choices to enhance various aspects of the painting.

When painting indirectly, it is very helpful to limit the Chroma as seen in the study below. In so doing, this reduces the subject to gray tones, which helps in observing the play of light and shadow. This painting is in the Value Application stage. Colors will be applied next and will continue to enhance the illusion of form. I will post more photos as this painting develops.

If you’d like to learn about techniques like this, please visit http://www.riverafinearts.com and check out my classes.

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Portrait study in the “dead color” layer

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What Secret Tools Did the Old Masters Use

August 13, 2018

What makes the Old Masters work so impactful and timeless? What was their secret? Did they have a magic medium that infused their colors with light? Were their handmade brushes designed to produce the life-like texture of porcelain, flesh, foliage or any other subject which they painted? How could their drawings be so flawless? They HAD to have somehow traced their images, right!? These are all questions which many artists (including myself) have pondered at one time or another.

I’ve spent the past 25 years or so, studying the techniques of the Old Masters and have discovered that all of their skills combined is what makes their artwork so incredible. It is not the result of one thing. First they mastered drawing. Then they mastered creating the illusion of light and shadow with pencil or charcoal. Then they learned how to create the same illusion with paint. Then they explored color and color relationships, which resulted in creating the illusion of light, space and atmosphere. Each part was mastered at a specific stage within their pedagogy. As they began to develop their “artistic vocabulary” their work began to take on a realistic representation of whatever subject they were trying to portray. Therefore the portrayal of any subject, can only be realized as a direct result of the level of mastery of each skill which comprises an artist’s personal language.

The good news is that ANY of these skills can be learned. Mastery, however only comes with practice. I’ve spent many years learning about AND practicing each of these skills, and have developed exercises which will allow anyone else to learn them. I’ve researched the pedagogical systems which were used to train artists attending the ecole des beaux-arts in Paris during the turn of the 19th Century. This system produced some of the most successful realist artists in history.

My goal, as a teacher is to raise that veil that conceals those pedagogical systems. This is something that most art schools WILL NOT teach, and it leaves so many young, aspiring artists who are interested in improving their skills in the dark. I also want to destroy the idea that these techniques are a thing of the past. As a contemporary artist, it is important to understand that the history of art can teach us a great deal, as long as an artist maintains a fresh outlook. It is incredibly foolish to think that he or she can’t benefit by studying the techniques of our predecessors, in the fear that it will make his or her work less original. It isn’t the technique which makes a work of art original or unoriginal, it is the idea or lack thereof. What one chooses to do with their art language is what makes their art phenomenal!

I offer many classes, both privately and through non-profit organizations which can be found at http://www.riverafinearts.com. If you are interested in learning how to take your art to the next level, I know that I could help. Please feel free to visit my site http://www.riverafinearts.com, and take a look at what I offer.


How to Move Your Audience With Your Art

July 30, 2018

Hello all,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making art that is true to ones soul. What do I mean by that exactly? Not compromising the integrity of the work to please the masses. You see, I do a lot of portrait commissions, and have recently had a frustrating experience with a client. Without going into too much detail, I’ve had to make numerous changes to my rendition of her in order to appeal to her sense of vanity.

Now, I firmly believe that making art which moves others requires the ability to tell a compelling story. It also requires for an artist to know EXACTLY what story he or she is trying to tell. My style could be categorized as hyperrealism. My art language is one which focuses on replicating the details of my subjects with a sense of heightened clarity. I enjoy discovering the subtlest of nuances that are present in everything, however great or small. Some would say that my focus on such minute detail is somewhat obsessive, however, this is my style, and, in general, the trademark of the hyperrealist movement. The client I mentioned above, after having seen my work, commissioned me because she loved the “life-like detail” (her quote) portrayed in my work. Long story short, I ended up changing her portrait so many times, that I now feel it no longer resembles her, nor does it represent MY style.

I tell this story because I believe the first thing that an artist must have is the desire to express themselves honestly. The artistic alphabet must be learned in order for an artist to develop his or her unique voice. Music is another language which requires an alphabet. A musician speaks to his or her audience through an arrangement of harmonic sounds, whereas a visual artist speaks by using lines, shapes, edges and colors. Through these grammatical forms of visual expression, an artist’s style emerges. Although the personal choices may vary drastically, the means by which imagery is created requires a knowledge of the same basic alphabet. Only by mastering such an alphabet, can an artist than truly express his or her story on a canvas, or piece of paper. When this is done well, the idea becomes universal and transcends the language barrier.

I recognize that my experience, unfortunately is something which happens a lot with commissions (especially portrait commissions!). Knowing this, however, doesn’t diffuse the aggravation of having to change one’s style to please a client. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how I can avoid this. Be honest in the very beginning. Do preliminary studies for the client to approve. Send them frequent updates. None of these things however helped me in this instance. Because of of this, I am seriously questioning my future as a portrait painter. In the very least, I am going to have to write up a contract which specifies rules to help me avoid constantly reworking a painting in order to satisfy the whims of a finicky client.

A great work of art has soul. When we see a drawing or painting which stops us in our tracks, and we are compelled to stare at it for a moment or two, in that moment, it has grabbed a hold of OUR soul. We recognize something in it, which is powerful and we are lured into a world that speaks of something greater than the trivialities of every day life. It tells us something that we can’t put into words. Perhaps it reminds us of a moment, or experience within are own life where our emotions overpowered us. Any strong emotion that we’ve experienced, whether it be love, anger, joy, fear, sadness, etc., has a way of overshadowing us. Our most profound memories are embedded in our subconscious mind, and when we least expect it, they sneak up on us. A skillfully painted masterpiece has the ability to remind us of such a moment. When that happens we suddenly feel, standing in the middle of a museum or gallery, something deep in the wells of our soul. That my friends, is the alluring power of art at its best.

As an educator, I try to teach the “visual alphabet” to my students, so that they can imbue their artwork with powerful emotion, and, in so doing, touch others. However, if any artist should choose to do commissions, I would strongly advise that they be wary of their clients. Once the integrity of the work is compromised, one can easily loose sight of their expressive language. Don’t allow a client to censor your vocabulary. You will regret it if you do. Art should always come from the heart. When you are not being true to yourself, you run into the danger of creating mediocrity.