Sunday, January 1, 2012

Working on 'The Red Hat'

 Since 2011 has now come to a close I will share my progress on the last painting I worked on in 2011, a self portrait. I wanted to try out a combination of an indirect/direct method, taking advantage of wet into wet painting and glazing over heavier paint application (see Rembrandt). I used acrylic so that I could experiment without having to wait hours for layers to dry. Since acrylic tends to level out after it dries, I used Liquitex's Super Heavy Body Titanium White so that some texture would be retained in the light, opaque areas. The colors used are Titanium White, Raw Sienna, Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide, Red Iron Oxide, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Red, & Blue Black(Ivory Black with some Indanthrene Blue mixed in).

1. I started off with a charcoal drawing to establish the placement of the head in the space and to delineate the light/shadow areas. The surface is Canson Canva-Paper taped to a board. In retrospect I wish I had spent more time on this stage. I was in a hurry so I didn't realize how much the head narrows as it goes up from the mouth and chin. As you will see, this poor foundation creates some problems later on.

2. I covered the whole surface with a wash of Burnt Sienna mixed with some Red Iron Oxide to lock down my charcoal drawing. I then used  diluted mixes of Raw Umber, Red Iron Oxide, & Blue Black mixed with Burnt Sienna to refine the drawing and lay in the shadow areas. Red Iron Oxide was used for the light areas of the hat. 

3. I started to add the more opaque passages in the figure as well as the background to further establish the distribution of values. The play between the transparent shadows and opaque lights at this point gives a unique illusion of depth that I like. At this point I am happy with what the paint is doing but I am beginning to notice that the drawing is still askew...

4. Yikes. The red in the hat is much more punchy thanks to a mixture of Quinacridone Red and Red Iron Oxide. The faults in the drawing are now glaringly obvious; the face from the nose up is proportionately smaller than the mouth and jaw area. Years ago I would have been content to leave it as it is, but I remember the words of a great master that I can't seem to shake: NEVER KNOWINGLY LEAVE ANYTHING WRONG ON YOUR CANVAS. Thankfully the fast drying properties of acrylic allow for quick and extreme overpainting. I will have to make some drastic changes. I am a bit worried at this point.  

5. I have re-established the outer contour of the face and restated the jaw area. I am simplifying the light and dark areas and removing traces of delineation where I can. Sometimes you've got to 'ugly up' a painting before it can start looking better.

6. I am still re-establishing large shapes and correcting the drawing. I cut down the jaw for a more accurate likeness (the chin in the last stage was much too strong). The background has been laid in more evenly with softer transitions. This will emphasize the higher contrast in the face. 

7. More drastic changes, altering the shape of the nose and restating the eye and the eye sockets. The hat has been enlarged. A reddish wash has been applied to the nose and background in anticipation of future layers and a light brown wash has been used to reshape the neck without actually restating the shirt. I applied more paint on the light areas with a palette knife and scraped away areas for a broken color effect. In this way I can give the opaque passages a richness similar to the transparent areas by allowing bits of underlying layers to show through. This is key because I have lost most of my initial transparent areas due to multiple repaintings.

8. The painting is starting to come together now. Within my value structure I am using color to emphasize the redder, yellower and greyer areas of the flesh. The paint is applied then partly removed, blended and softened with a palette knife or my fingers. I am going for subtle transitions within the larger light and dark shapes. Dark red washes have been pushed into the shadow areas. The shirt has been reestablished so the transition of neck into the shoulder structure makes more sense.

9. The painting as it now stands. The transition between the head and neck has been clarified and the eye in shadow has been more clearly stated. The outer edge of the face has been redrawn but subdued with the lost edges between it and the background. I redrew the shoulder and laid a dark red wash over the shirt area to simplify it; the contrast between its light and shadow areas were drawing attention away from the face. The shadow area of the hat has been redrawn to reshape the head and the light areas of the hat have been repainted. The mouth area has been restated, the contour of the lips is only clearly stated where its edge sharply meets the light area of the muzzle. The bottom lip is almost completely lost except for the light area on the left side. Red washes have been applied to the nose which helps to describe the translucent nature of the skin. The red on the nose and the mouth also provides a counterpoint to the intense red of the hat.

I have brought this painting to a place where I am satisfied with many of the areas (although there are many things that could still be refined). I definitely learned about the importance of tenacity and the willingness to achieve the desired effect by any means necessary. There were many times in the process when I thought the whole thing was going to fall apart. I have to keep reminding myself that I am the one in control and that no problem is too big to fix. The real question is 'what do I want?'

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