I wanted to paint some more using Raw Umber and Titanium White to paint the underpainting for portraits. Looking back over some earlier work from a couple of years ago inspired me to start using them together again. This is a detail from a recent portrait before the glazing. I wanted to approach it with a more fluid, perhaps bolder (for me) style. The underpainting took a couple of hours and when painting it I wanted to allow the brushwork to show a bit more as you get more of a sense of the process of painting it. I also started the painting on a ‘ground’ which was a middle tone of the 2 colours. You can see I left it in the space on the left side of the painting by the chair. Soon I hope to do a video on my youtube channel exploring how Caravaggio used grounds in his oil paintings.
I will also post a video of me doing the glazing for this portrait in the near future.
My hope is to paint freely, without really worrying too much about it, without being a slave to technique or overthinking it. I’m presently attempting to return to a simpler process, where the focus is on the drawing, the underpainting. Working in the grisaille holds and extends the moment when I feel I am most deeply connected to pure painting, whatever that is. It helps in sustaining the emotion I feel when pushing paint around, drawing with paint and attempting to conjure a likeness. It removes any other distractions to painting, like choosing the right colour! At the moment I enjoy breaking this process into the two stages, drawing and colour, hence grisaille and glazing. As a sculptor my first love was always drawing, and grisaille fuses the two, becoming like a bridge between drawing and painting.
When starting to paint portraits seriously a few years ago I looked hard for a way of working that suits my disposition and the need to paint as efficiently as possible so as to make it a viable career. I wanted to work with technique, without becoming its slave. To be able to work efficiently so as not to waste time, but to paint with feeling. There’s a certain emotion I get from a painting when it is going well, and I have felt that emotion disappearing by degree the more I have focussed on technique. I think this is something I can correct easily but I need to work through it a bit to maintain the pure pleasure of painting portraits. Its a fine line because I still believe technique is important. If there is a way to do it I want to somehow get lost in the emotion of painting. I see this after finishing a successful portrait, but then the ‘how’ disappears and I can’t recall what happened exactly to make the painting work.
I was happy with this Umber grisaille, but when I tried to recreate the same quality it has in the next painting, I couldn’t do it. There are a thousand, an infinite number of variables and I think I am narrowing in on what I want to do. Hopefully work will reveal it slowly and I can record that on this blog and youtube.
Incidentally, speaking of emotion or feeling in a work, a famous quote from Van Gogh goes: “I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say ‘he feels deeply, he feels tenderly’.”
I landed on the technique, or method, of painting with grisaille as I thought it covered all bases. The magic of painting a portrait is found in the way brush marks can transform inert paint into something that can conjure a likeness, even a character or personality on a canvas. I don’t want to fixate on recreating reality, or paint in a photorealist style. I love paint, making a mess with paint, and to leave a painting as a record of this experience.