Oil Portrait Demo




Photos were made and we collaborate on the design of the portrait in all details of the composition and content. The images are left with him to review more carefully with family members. At a second meeting the favorites are discussed and specific details are decided.  The first sitting is scheduled shortly after. 
 The client works in an executive park nearby and will come a fixed evening per week unless travels hinder the sitting. Sittings will be about 2 hours.



Because of the evening sittings, the portrait podium is lit with simulation daylight to facilitates the mixing of skintones in particular. I find out he likes opera and make arrangements to play this genre during future sittings. Most of the 2 hours is spent getting the set up right, taping the position of the chair and light sources and anything else that is helpful to keep in the same place including his elbow position, feet, the artificial light source–everything..’The Rules’ are mentioned: (1) he needs to wear the same thing for each sitting and (2) just keep each other informed if sitting is cancelled. 


drawing  DRAWING 

The basic composition is drawn freehand in a precise contour directly onto the canvas using charcoal, chamois and kneaded rubber. The sitter has no time constraints for completion and the atmosphere is relaxed. The drawing takes a couple sittings and is approved before the next step. to set the charcoal drawing to retain the image and be able to apply pigment. 




A dilution of an earth pigment with turpentine is applied over the charcoal to set the charcoal and prevent contamination with it when painting begins. Any excess charcoal is dusted off with a light swishing motion of the chamois.  The line in the middle of the neck area marks the light turns. Shading is not necessary as everything will be lost when the painting begins. After refining is finished and the drawing is felt to be as accurate as possible.  



A ‘prism’ or natural palette is used  meaning basically  any color in the spectrum seen by the naked eye.  In the beginning all colors are applied.  Later when I  work in particular area where less chroma are needed, and I reduce the number of pigments on the palette.  At the end of each  painting session, pigments are removed to a  tempered glass, kitchen cutting board that perfectly fits into the Masterson palette (with tight-fitting lid).  All are placed in the fridge or freezer overnight to slow drying of the pigments. I use several brands  but all of professional grade pigments.  This is my indoor palette for this particular painting.   



Working from inside to the outer area, pigment is applied over the facial area starting with shadow areas. The  imprimatura  is thin and can be in colors or not. It establishes  the overall light/shadow patterns and allows subsequent layering to grip the canvas and to dry in a way that prevents the paint layers from cracking as the painting ages.
The drawing is constantly lost and found in the painting process.  The eyeglasses will be recovered in the last stage for example.  


There are many brush strokes in any painting,  and  a lot of mental, unseen ‘work’  takes place besides what is applied on the canvas. This image represesnts the stage I call ugly duckling one,  where it i find it important to paint fast and get through it.   I start to fill in background to facilitate accurate judging of values during the rest of the painting process.   Things could only get better, so I painted fast to get to next stage and on to the fun homestretch. Wouldn’t you know, this is the day his wife dropped by to see the progress , which must have been mortifying for her, but I knew what was ahead thankfully and it was ”tally ho”.


 An underlayer is added to  create more form at the hairline above the forehead. The head begins to look more sculptural and move out of the ugly duckling stage.  \o/ I hedge until I know which side I want to make dark — exactly  how I want to procee.  My goal is to achieve a Rembrandt-like quality in the end which will mean light gradation, but I ‘m not sure of the direction I want to light to travel. left to right or right ot left.   I work this ont on the computer to save time.



I consult ‘theme files’ kept in my studio of various topics archived in many visits to the Louvre and other great museums.showing  ‘backgrounds’.  I  create hypothetical backgrounds with Photoshop by altering one basic digital image.with the paintbrush, opacity and poster tools, I  am quickly able to select the one for the effect I desire.After imagining the mental roadmap and bringing it into rough view, the background can be laid in with more confidence.  



The background is further developed first using  pigment, diluted with turpentine of colors that will harmonize or be the same as those in the foreground. I keep in mind colors that will be used in the sweater. During the rest of the painting process any unwanted ‘texture’ is scraped down with a painting knife and transitional edges are kept soft.  I need to fill in the sweater , again to get basis from which subsequent values can be judged for the total composition.



With the background filled in completely, and good start on the sweater, I find artistic license may be in order. The sweater seems to have too many folds, and leads eye out of the painting. It buckles at the sitter’s left  neck.and shoulder area, rather than follow the underlying form and I don’t see this in keeping with his character so I opt to  discuss this with him and we agree to correct this during a future  sitting. It’s faster to correct in drawing stage, but not impossible during painting stage.



This is an aesthetic judgement moreso than a drawing error. The change is totslly not mandatory,  but. I ask myself if it were mine to keep,  would I take the time to modify it?  It will not alter the expected finish date for the client if I change the shouuler contour, so I easily opt to make the correction and just continue on to create the lovely heathered effect in the sweater until the white cover layear dries suffieiently to return ot this area.  



I check values  by taking a snapshot and printing it out in black and white.   The sweater with its multi-colored fine knit texture took longer to paint than any other part of the artwork. Now it lays on the form properly with a more natural contour. The remaining folds and light pattern suggests concentric circles that keep the eye hovering around the central subject.The eye moves slowly and stays in the picture plane as it should.


When the white paint dried, the shoulder area is repainted taking care to retain soft edges. The heathering of the sweater is taking longer than the skin tone, but i’m loving every brush stroke and scanning the total surface mentally each day as I approach the finish and a point I can show the client.   





Careful not to overwork certain areas I brighten the already lit shoulder just a bit more and darken the bottom right corner to deliver a more Rembrandt-like contrast. With the success of the  ”hunchack” correction, artistic license changes, hours of heathering and final touches accomplished, it’s ready for the final touch.  The glasses are added in the final sitting. He has ample time to decide which pair of his two faves will be the winner.



The client chooses not to look a the painting until it is finished. After the painting is dry to the touch, Gertjan takes it for a weekend to give immediate family members a chance to comment out of the earshot from the artist, who mentally prepares for a few last minute touches based on final comments.  One can only expect and hope for a candid response and looks forward to these comments and adding nuances aimed to please.

After the weekend , his wife returns the painting and we discuss findings over coffee.She started to explain,  “Well …everyone looked at the painting closely. We all thought it looked like him, but yet some of  the facial features seemed a little crooked”.  I  grab a notepad prepared to make a laundry list. She continued, “Like a good wife, I finally, after all these years, take a good look at my dear husband’s face and found… [artist takes big gulp] … it indeed looked just like the painting! We both laughed so hard and when the laughter settled, I invited them for dinner for a proper unveiling when schedules permitted.    


Paintings have histories and my commission package  includes a basic description about the painting , a short artist bio and care and framing instructions of the new artwork.  At the dinner the painting is unveiled and the sitter is surprised with a complete photo  album  showing the painting in progress from start to finish, similar to what is shown here.



My husband and I own an art and antiques business and we love to entertain. Since the client and my husband are both Dutch, I leave it to the chief cook of the evening to come up with the perfect menu  to close off all official activity on the commission — I invite the client and his wife to what I call the…


Guests are greeted and after cocktails, the sitter and his wife find their names in calligraphic script in small frames on the antique dining table — a shuffleboard table dating from17th century Dutch origin.  Soft, adequate light just like in Rembrandt’s time falls onto it from an overhead, solid bronze,  3-tiered, 17th century  (non-electric) chandelier with 18 arms of candles. Amazing light! The napkins rings mimic our logo, a jeweled crown and the silverware hints at the five-course dinner lined up  my husband has lined up with appropriate wines, palet pleasers, even a smoking course (as my client prefers cigars), dessert and finally Kona coffee (also made at table, non-electrically).   

All are casually dressed and the atmosphere is relaxed. Between courses, the painting is unveiled and the client is presented with the photo album that marks the beginning of their painting’s historical record. 


Six months after the portrait is finished, it is returned for varnishing. As the client plans to move, the framing and hanging has been delayed.  As I was formerly a gallerist and professional framemaker, I give  a good address for framing, and accompany his wife  to suggest proper profile. The framer has quality materials and generous staff and facilty. Afterward, we discuss the hang space and illumination in general.  The portrait is varnished and the client is fully satisfied.  This completes the thrid commission for the same family. They moved to Germany and all three portraits have a new pride of place. I hope you enjoyed this photo  journey from ugly duckling day to the celebration dinner as much as I  enjoy this marvelous process!   


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