I’ve always wanted to try oil painting, and one of my goals for this year was learning to paint. Last October I saw Marc Chatov had a couple of spots left in his winter painting class and decided to sign up right before it started. I frantically bought everything I needed for the supply list and watched a few videos on YouTube about alla prima portraits.
In the first class, we worked on an alla prima figure painting. I was happy to see the model was familiar to me from life drawing groups. I was used to trying to draw her proportions, but in color. Overall, that painting was frustrating due to my ignorance of the medium, but I learned enough to get started.
The second week of class was the beginning of a longer oil painting. There were four weeks scheduled, but I had to miss the third session to fly to Clojure/Conj 2018.
I prepared my canvas with acrylic gesso and a brownish neutral wash around value 5. I didn’t write it down, but I probably used Raw Umber, Transparent Red Oxide, and Titanium White. I don’t want to use an oil based wash again because it was frustrating to work on my sketch with paint thinned with Gamsol and have the base color come off the canvas. I’m going to ask how to improve this process in my next painting since I liked starting with a toned base.
One of the stressful parts of the class was choosing a view of the model. I didn’t worry about selecting a spot when we did the alla prima practice, but I wanted to make sure I had a view I liked for the longer painting. Most of the artists in the room preferred a side view showing the model’s face, but the views with extreme foreshortening were less popular.
I thought this angle from the back of her head was perfect for me. I’ve practiced similar angles in life drawing sessions, and the stacked diagonal forms made a very interesting composition. Also, as an inexperienced painter, I didn’t have to worry about making a perfect portrait of her face.
The main goals of the first session were establishing a drawing with correct proportions, indicating areas of shadow, and starting to plan where warm, cool, and intense colors will be added. All of this information will provide a guide for painting the right thing in the right place. I used Transparent Red Oxide for most of the drawing and Raw Umber for most of the shadows.
On the following week, my sketch was completely dry, and I was ready to start applying color. I’m used to only focusing on value while drawing, but with difficulty, I was able to observe warm and cool hues and variations in skin tone. Actually mixing paint that matched what I saw was another big challenge.
Marc advised me to start to add color by visually selecting one area at a time and trying to mix and paint a small swatch of the observed color, starting with the shadows and brightest hues. After doing this for a while, the painting started to fill in! Each color added more context to figure out the next step, and I worked from sections with obvious differences towards the places with the least contrast.
For me, this was a big change from filling in areas with base coats of paint or simply adding more strokes of similar colors until I got the effect I wanted. Each color and stroke was very deliberate.
I missed the third week but continued where I left off when I returned for the fourth and final session. I was pretty satisfied with the torso, but I needed to work more on every other section. I redrew the arms and some of the pillows after seeing some changes in placement.
It took some time to get back into the mode of observing and predicting how different colors would look when mixed. I definitely need more practice, but I tried to be patient and keep mixing until I got the exact color I wanted. I’ve been doing some other painting outside of class, but not enough.
I’m not used to simplifying hair (or drawing it in general) so I forced myself to not overwork it by giving myself very little time to finish it. I was pretty worried about the hair, but it ended up being easier than I expected since I didn’t try to paint every strand.
I intentionally left the foreground less detailed to draw attention to the torso, so I didn’t have to worry too much about all the curls in the model’s hair besides on the top of her head.
I’m very happy with the final results! Marc is a great teacher, and I’m looking forward to starting my next painting with his supervision.