The Classic Portrait Approach - Andrew

About a year ago I felt the urge to really dive into portrait painting in oil again. So many references to the great painters I had admired my entire life ran through my mind. I started by getting really good image reference on my subjects. I had always noticed a place in our home that creates a great lighting situation. I set up the tri-pod and began to photograph the members of my family. I shot my son Andrew looking away from the window light source. I simply used the available light on this softly lit day. I have been trained to work from reference photos and the image created in my head. Many of the greatest realist painters, and even impressionists, finished their work in the studio away from the moment of inspiration. Or should I say with the inspiration that is locked in their mind.

From these photo images the spirit and character of Andrew that I had in mind were reveled even before I even took the pictures with a digital camera. I edited through all the images, played with the contrast and tonal balance in Photoshop, and printed out the ones that I felt strongly about. I built up a drawing on a canvas surface in pencil. I drew and redrew his image until I began to feel the painting evolve in my mind, a little different from my first intentions. I had this idea that Andrew was this Italian young man from the streets of Venice who wandered into our home. I would call this a portrait of an Italian man.

I start a painting laying down several layers of turpentine wash using Burt Sienna and Burt Umber along with Lamp Black to get the kind of warmth and glow baked into the grisaille I intended. Then, I selectively and carefully began to render parts of the portrait pulling the form from the flat surface to create volume and depth. I always strive to reveal the process in each painting with very selective areas being completely finished. I love the balance between the finished area of the picture that draws the eye, to the more abstract or unfinished areas that set up the drama of the light and form revealed. I think this approach creates a level of interest and engagement to the viewer different from completely rendering the entire image with the same focus. It creates a change of pace that makes the surface alive and active rather than passive and, possibly highly skilled, yet a little boring.

Shown at the start of the article is the finished painting my portrait of an Italian young man — Andrew, my son.