Oil Painting: Leonid Gervits Process

In the July/August issue of American Artist, we explored how portrait artist Leonid Gervits takes a stand for the legitimacy of the fine draftsmanship and multilayered technique 400 years after Velázquez. Here, we offer an excerpt from the feature.

To read the feature article on this artist, check out the July/August 2007 issue of American Artist.

by Molly Siple

1. Gervits begins by painting a 4"-x-6" oil sketch with a soft brush, taking about 20 minutes to decide on the composition, place the outline of the figure and the primary large shadows, and determine the soft and hard edges. He starts by painting the dominant local color of each large shape, which may later be lightened or darkened, or warmed or cooled. Gervits’ first concern is fitting the model, the hair, and the rest of the composition comfortably onto the canvas, because such placement can tell the viewer a lot about the personality of the sitter. A faulty composition in the beginning can cause design problems later on.

Artist Vassily Zvontzov
1978, oil, 31 x 28. Collection the artist.

2. Next, to paint the actual portrait, Gervits follows the time-honored procedure of multilayered, indirect painting, which consists of toning the primed canvas with a color appropriate to the color scheme—such as raw umber—to create a mid-to-light-toned ground, or imprimatura.

3. He then draws the figure in charcoal, sketching roughly to place the composition on the surface.

4. After fixing the charcoal with fixative or hair spray, he continues drawing the figure—but now in a dark color with a brush—to create a one-color tonal rendition of the model over the charcoal drawing. As he tells students, switching from charcoal to a brush should feel like a natural transition, with accurate drawing continuing to be the focus.

5. This step is followed by a two-color underpainting in full tonal scale. He sometimes also suggests temperature by adding an additional color to show warm or cool areas in preparation for the final glazing.

6. Finally comes glazing with transparent paints to add warmth, and scumbling with opaque pigment to add cool notes. Gervits advises students to keep glazes thin, to apply darker tones over lighter, and to apply several thin coats rather than one heavy glaze.

To read the feature article on this artist, check out the July/August 2007 issue of American Artist.

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One thought on “Oil Painting: Leonid Gervits Process

  1. Prof. Gervits is my painting instructor at the Art Student’s League of New York and his teaching is as inspirational as his works are! I’ve been trying to get a re-print of the article about him in your July/August 2007 issue but I haven’t been able to do so. Are any available? Thank you. Diane M. Baiano