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.
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.
: 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
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 DVDs—Pastel 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!