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11 Mar 2012

Portraiture is, in my humble opinion, the domain of artistic masters. All the greats, such as Velazquez, Rembrandt, Goya, and Sargent, can be counted as incredibly skilled and innovative portrait artists in addition to being pretty brilliant at everything else they chose to paint.

The Milkmaid of Bordeaux by Francisco de Goya, 1825, oil painting.
The Milkmaid of Bordeaux by Francisco de Goya,
1825, oil painting.

Their portrait art was so great because they were great—they took their vision and unique perspectives and applied it to their compositions no matter what they were painting. For example, I have always been in love with the way Sargent would put together a composition—and that goes especially for his portrait paintings. His ability to capture a person's personality in the way that they sprawl on a chaise or simply stand at the base of a staircase—how does he do it? And it's the same with Velazquez's paint treatment, or Goya's subtle, muted tones.

Contemporary artist and portraitist Daniel Greene has been teaching the same master practices of the artistic greats, and his insights can put your portrait painting practice a head above the rest, no pun intended. Greene treats every step of a painting as a building block, coalescing the parts into a unified whole that is individualized and memorable. To give further insight into how he does what he does so well, he's offered his step-by-step painting process to us.

Step 1: Create several studies from life. When working on a large canvas, Greene usually begins with pastel studies before moving on to working with oil.

Step 2: Initially, Greene uses fast-drying earth tones and lean mediums containing little to no slow-drying oils. With the successive layers, he increases the oil content in his medium. He starts with a diluted raw umber base coat, applying the paint slightly darker than the tone he wants as he wipes down the canvas surface and removes some of the pigment.

Danielle - Spring St. by Daniel Greene, oil painting 24 x 22.
Danielle - Spring St. by Daniel Greene,
oil painting 24 x 22.
Step 3: On the semidry surface, Greene uses raw sienna mixed with black to rough in the composition, and then refines the painted sketch using burnt umber. He attests to "beginning with a broom and finishing with a needle," indicating how he migrates from painting loosely and leaves details for last.

Step 4: Greene works from dark to light, painting in layers. Throughout the process he checks himself by evaluating the painting with mirrors and keeps his initial studies on hand for reference. Once he moves on to full color, his aim is to create visually interesting cool-warm relationships within his colors.

Step 5: Oftentimes, Green will oil out—a process of laying down a layer of medium and allowing it to dry, so that the painting is ready for final detail work.

Greene is certainly an expert when it comes to painted portraits, and what I respect most about him is that he is willing to share that expertise with others. His DVDsPastel Portrait: Jim, Oil Portrait: Erin, and Portrait Drawing—are the ones that I pop into my computer again and again to revisit how to paint people and just watch a natural painter at work. Enjoy!


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on 12 Mar 2012 9:42 AM

Always love to ready your Artist Daily. I would like to point out however, that factually, not "every" painting the Masters painted were "brilliant." I think the "un-brilliant" ones were destroyed and lost to time. I remember recently reading in Sargent's biography that he had many unsuccessful paintings. This is almost impossible to believe with the volume he left us, but true. ;-)

shasta737 wrote
on 13 Mar 2012 11:32 AM

thats nice to know Lori about the Master Artist having failed paintings too. All I ever hear about are the masterpieces, and it can be very intimidating for a young artist like myself who is just starting out. Its refreshing to know that they messed up too, and that there paintings didn't always turn out the way they had hoped. Lets me know that if i mess up its ok, trash it so that when i am a famous artist no one can find them like the masters did  lol!