Having finished the underpainting for the background, I start giving it a bit more solidity and detail.
One good trick to getting tiny detail, that works really good on a road or sidewalk, is to flick wet, dark paint specks onto the foreground with a cheap bristle brush. Get these a Home Depot for 50 cents and not at an art supply store for 5 dollars.
I keep working the pavement to get texture.
Now that the background it dry, it's time to go over it again with another glaze to get it dark and solid.
The sky needs another layer too. This canvas is small enough that I can rotate it and now that the background is dry, it's easy to get to the edges to sharpen them up.
Time to start on the trench coat. I make a pallet out of Yellow Ocher, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Cadmium Yellow, and White. I don't bother to keep the colors isolated. There's going to be a spectrum of tones on there. I just eyeball the color I want and adjust constantly. I do keep the Raw Umber largely away from the white, though, so I can separate my darks and highlights.
The first thing I do is lay in the midtones. Having the detailed drawing is invaluable. The folds in the coat are incredibly complicated.
I follow this with the darkest darks. I want as much contrast as possible between the dark areas of the coat and the light areas of the light in the background.
Next comes about 6 hours of careful rendering, using the same pallet. This takes a lot of careful observation of the reference material.
Now I go back over the edge against the background to emphasize the contrast.
With the coat largely worked out, I go ahead and put in the darks of the hair and tights. I also go back into the background with more darks and white where it's dry.
Now it's time to start the figure. My pallet is White, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ocher, some cheap "Fleshtone" (just for yucks), Payne's Gray and Viridian Green. Always, always, use Payne's Gray and/or Viridian Green in the shadows of a figure. Go look at any classical painting and you'll see this is the oldest trick in the book and makes a world of difference in making a painting look competent and professional.
This particular figure has a strong light source and chiaroscuro, so I mark that out first with the Veridian, Payne's Gray, and a little Sienna.
Now it's time to lay out the midtones using a combination of pretty much the entire pallet of colors. I put a bit more Crimson in the model's cheeks. This model has a golden skin tone, so I need to try to capture with that.
Next comes some blending, paying close attention to the reference material.
My method for painting the figure is to lay out blocks of color and blend them in. Do it again, and again, and agian, a few hundred times before it really comes together and becomes pointless to continue.
The blending loses the contrast and flattens the image out, so these steps need to be repeated until you have the blending and contrast. Each time this is done, the painting looks a little better.
The highlights are blocked in thick and worked in, over and over. Back and forth, light and dark. Make sure you block in the same color combinations over the entire figure each time, so it stays uniform.
It doesn't matter about covering the straps for the shoes. It's more important to get a uniformity of tone. There will be a little bit of the drawing showing through for placement, but even if not, that's not critical.
Again with the chiaroscuro.
Again with the highlights.
The outstretched leg is one of the focal points of the image. I outline it to really emphasize the contrast.
Back and forth, dark and light. Over and over again. I go back into the background too. When the dark dries I put in more white. I've decided to blend some of the lights in the background a bit to make them more realistic.
She's getting close. Still need to tighten everything up. I've probably put about 200 hours into this painting so far.
To be continued...
Several people have recently asked to watch my painting process. In the following posts I will document the execution of a painting from start to finish. My technique is hardly revolutionary, though it goes against many of the "rules" some artists swear by, and certainly doesn't involve what I learned in art school, which is basically nothing.
First off, as I continually emphasize, the most important part of a good painting is a good drawing. The drawing doesn't have to be completely rendered, as work of art in itself, but it does have to predict the painting process and solve most of the problems with composition and accuracy of the image.
Here is my finished drawing on a pre-streched, primed, linen canvas:
Note that some elements are tightly rendered, and some are left fairly rough. This is to anticipate the painting process. The figure and fabric issues are largely solved. The background is relatively loose, because, in this image, it will be hazy. I'm trying to capture a noir feel, so the background will be dark, with some high contrast light areas. I drew the bricks in, so their placement is also solved, and I use a ruler to get the few straight edges of the buildings secured.
This drawing took about 6 hours.
I'm working from images from a modeling session. Some artist don't like to work from photos, but I find it convenient. Also it allows me to zoom in on the more difficult areas like the portrait, hands and fabric. Feet are hard too, but, in this case, the model is wearing shoes so they are relatively easy.
Unfortunately, if you haven't put in the 10,000 hours it takes to learn to draw from life, getting to this point may be impossible. There are no [well a few] tricks or shortcuts. It takes time, dedication, and hard work to master drawing.
Because the model is wearing a classic trench coat, I wanted to go all out and put her in a noir setting. I just did a google image search for "noir city" and found some reference material I could borrow elements from to create my background.
I want to get the background largely finished before I touch the figure. Because the bulk of her image is the trench coat, which is an ocher color, I want to do the background in its complement, aqua. Because it's noir, it's going to be dark, so I'm using ultramarine, viridian, black, and white. To get a natural look, you want to mix almost all color combinations with black and white to gray them out.
I use cheap, disposable styrofoam plates for palettes and don't waste a lot of time lining my colors up in any specific way. Since the traditional technique of painting is rarely taught anymore, most of us have learned to paint "by ear." Methods that obsess on rules might help some people a bit, but they are no replacement for the years of practice it takes to master the craft.
For a medium, I'm using grapeseed oil because I got a lot of it on sale at Walmart. It stays shiny and a little tacky, so it's not really the best, though you can cook with it and it's good for your hair. Almond oil is the best. That's what Caravaggio used. Linseed oil is a ripoff. Basically any plant-based oil will work as a medium. Don't use corn oil, though, it never dries.
I never mix in turpentine. Turpentine is for cleaning brushes. No varnish either. That's for clear coat protection later down the line.
I start with the sky. In this case, it will be lighter than the buildings, so I use more white. I paint in layers with glazing. The first layer will have unsightly brushstrokes, that I won't worry about now. Subsequent layers will be easier on top of paint, rather than raw, primed, canvas. I still want to brush it as smooth as possible. The more light color is in the mix the easier it is to get smooth. The darker areas will have more rough brush strokes, but that will be resolved with later layers and glazes.
I mix my paints instinctively and on the fly, so there's nothing I can tell you about that. It's an art, not a science.
With a smaller canvas like this, 18 by 24 inches, don't be afraid to turn it sideways to get your edges and keep paint off your hands. Also, learn to use a mahl stick. The detailed drawing makes it a lot easier.
I like hard edges and strong contrast. The harder the edge and stronger the contrast the better. This is just a style choice, but it works for me. I tend to exaggerate the contrast on focal points, typically, an almost pure black against an almost pure white. But that's only with certain elements. I'll do that later with the figure. The noir background in this painting will be low contrast within the darks, but very high contrast against the light areas.
I continued to put in all the darks in the background trying to have a little distinction in color between the different elements, though basically they are the same hue. You can see below that it will take a couple more layers of paint to get the dark areas smooth and eliminate the brushstrokes.
Later I come in with more white with that same simple palette to get the midtones. The white areas remain untouched until the dark parts are dry. That way I can make sure to get the high contrast of the fantasy noir setting.
My method is very methodical. Many of the decisions were worked out during the drawing. No part of this painting is near completion. This is basically only the underpainting for the background. This part took about 5 hours. At this point I will let it dry for a couple of days and go back over everything and tighten it up.
to be continued...
March 9, 2018 - April 22, 2018
British painter brings angels and magicians to Birmingham
Opens Nov. 3 2017, 5:00-8:00
Artist Michael Pearce’s “The Secret Paintings” will be on view at Stephen Smith Fine Art in Fairfield from November 3rd until January 6th.
Enormous paintings by Michael Pearce tour the United States, from California to Birmingham. Gallery owner Stephen Smith says, "Pearce’s paintings highlight the resurgence of representational art that has been transforming the art world for the past 2 decades."
Pearce grew up in the countryside of Wiltshire, England and has a deep interest in the old traditions and ancient sites of Britain, like Stonehenge. He frequently uses ancient Celtic monuments and settings in his art, including Sillbury Hill and the Ridgeway.
Stephen Smith Fine Art will witness the breathtaking scenes of Michael Pearce’s The Secret Paintings, a series of twenty-six large canvases, recalling Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite masters in their ambitiousness, complexity, and scale, and in their theatrical grandeur. In Pearce’s latest spectacular four-panel painting, Chariot, which spans thirty-two feet, a circle of beautiful girls parade in a jubilant celebration of the sun. The ambitious show also includes spectacular paintings of the baptism of Christ, brilliant angels appearing at a scene of transfiguration, and a Masonic traveler at the beginning of his initiatory journey.
Pearce uses the ancient imagery and traditions of his British ancestors, introducing them into magical settings starring beautiful women and handsome men. The paintings pay homage to diverse cultural landmarks including the Bible, the Da Vinci Code and medieval symbolism.
He is a popular and influential leader of the international representational art community. Pearce co-founded TRAC (The Representational Art Conference), bringing artistic heavy-hitters such as Odd Nerdrum and Roger Scruton to California to meet their American peers.
Pearce has been featured in Juxtapoz, Fine Art Connoisseur, art ltd., Beautiful Bizarre, and KCET Artbound. Fine Art Connoisseur describes his work as “magnificent” and “outstanding.” Juxtapoz calls it “beautiful,” while Beautiful Bizarre describes the, “magical worlds revealed within his impeccable, mysterious paintings.” KCET says the paintings are “…massive, mythical, and brimming with allegorical subtext…” The Oklahoman says the show is “forceful,” “ambitious,” and “highly recommended,” “…an almost alchemical mixture of hidden meanings, modern yet archaic symbolism, and meticulous, in some cases masterful technique, the exhibit offers us both visual stimulation and food for thought.”