I feel I have finally found a way to bring all the elements of my practice together at the same time and from now will be embarking on a new series of work in pen. As a sculptor by training I have always love drawing first and foremost and specifically drawing from the figure. Figure drawing in itself is more like a technical exercise for me and so for inspiration I have looked to dance in various forms.
I have also made a lot of abstract (strictly non-figurative) work in the past and investigated making some large images with pen over 10 years ago. I like the way I can build up colour and tone in an image by repeated scribbling, creating richer and deeper colours the more I work. The image comes into focus slowly, the line is built up by many other smaller lines. To me this parallels the process of stone carving which I suppose is my first love in art. I also like the fact that wherever you look the process is revealed and is exactly the same: single lines of pen that interweave in a tapestry of lines. But I’ll share more of what I think about this in further posts.
This is the first of a number of Velazquez paintings I would like to try and copy. You can see the video in real time on my patreon channel, see the link here on my website.
I was interested in what palette he used and also in his use of the imprimatura and how that was left for some of the middle tones and her clothes.
He may have painted this in 1 or 2 sittings and I show that it is possible to achieve it in 1 sitting, although how he did it in a single sitting with such breathtaking technique is anybody’s guess.
The point of the video is to gain an understanding of the technique so that I or anybody else will be able to use it in their own paintings. There are a number of things that I feel could be worked on a little more but due to the fact I was filming it I stopped working here after 1hr 10 minutes. The technique comes with practice and I think something anyone can do, but of course I mean A LOT of practice. Personally it was very enlightening to make this copy. One thing I did struggle with was not being able to see it all properly, for example the area around her left eye is very dark and difficult to make out. Because of this I think I’ll leave it here, because I don’t know how I can improve it so that it looks more like the original.
I love Velazquez because I think he was a great human being as well as a great artist, as well as being obsessed by status! When he painted various ‘outsiders’ like his bonded slave (who’s freedom he later bought) or peasants, or the jesters and dwarves in the royal court, obviously some would have been the result of royal patronage as well as his own interest. But he painted these people with what I would describe as empathy because he still respected them for their humanity. I wonder about the girl in this portrait, and differences in their ‘status’ notwithstanding, Velazquez does paint her with a sensitivity and tenderness that make this an outstanding portrait painting. She is not sentimentalised like Bouguereau would have painted her, and you can see in this portrait a precursor to Manet’s modernist portraits of people in his everyday world. For this project my main interest is the technique he used, but I still find this a touching portrait that also demonstrates Velazquez’s profound empathy.
The colours I used, and I am pretty sure Velazquez also used, were:
Hi there, I’ve just posted this on youtube. Its going to be one of 2 videos there but 6 in total on patreon where they are also unedited and in real time. This video is cobbled together from 3 real time films, about 3 hours painting in all. I loved copying this painting and learned so much. Looking forward to the next one! I still have to finish the Rubens copy I’m doing as well. And the glazing for this painting. After that Velasquez and Van Dyck.. all the Baroque greats. Thank you for looking!
I’ve been finishing the grisaille for this portrait painting copy off camera, which is relaxing! I worked on it for another 2 hours roughly, mainly adding pure black here and there and adjusting the shadows. There were a few areas where I sharpened the drawing, but its a fine balance between trying to work in a way that is possibly similar to Rubens and also precise in the copying. I have used fairly loose brushwork around the painting, particularly on her collar and black dress, because it doesn’t feel right copying a fluid spontaneous brushmark exactly.
Better I feel to approach it with some of the spontaneity of the artist. Even though it might not be an exact copy, its an interpretation of the artists work and at the same time an attempt to understand aspects his process. There are many many factors involved in this though. Things like size of brushes, mediums, painting surface etc., all create the impression of the painting, and here I am perhaps guilty of a lack of rigour. It is still possible just to approach something that may resemble Rubens’ working method even though in this painting my brushes mediums and painting surface are different.
I have honestly loved painting this copy so far, and have gained a much deeper appreciation of Rubens the artist. I have always loved painting with grisaille, and Raw Umber and Titanium White is very beautiful together. Painting the black today has finished this stage, and I can now make it available as a print so that anyone who may want to try and glaze it themselves can have a go.
Here is the grisaille next to the reference. Its difficult to pinpoint what isn’t quite working here, but things usually get resolved with the colour glazes. I wanted to put some darker shadows around her mouth because you can see this underpainting showing through in the original. Hopefully then I will be able to create the same effect. Looking at the glazing on the original I think he’s used a mix of Vermilion and probably Yellow Ochre, and you can see the almost patchy way he has applied various combinations of these pigments around her face: her temple, cheeks, forhead etc. He has also used something more like Vermilion and white to create a pink which can also be seen here and there. I hope to be able to show that process or something like it when I film myself painting the glazes soon. I will only really know when I have tried it. You can see all the highs and lows of the glazing in real time on my patreon page, patreon.com/mattharveyart.
I’ve started making a copy of this beautiful portrait painting by Rubens, with a view to learning about his underpainting and glazing technique. I realised its quite similar in subject to the first portrait I added to my youTube channel, so it feels fitting that its also the first on my new Patreon channel. All my real- time videos will be there from now on so please have a look patreon.com/mattharveyart
I will try and get a bit more information about this painting when I have time, but for now here are some images of the work in progress.
The video of the second hour of the first pass is available on youtube:
And this is how it compares at the moment. Glazing next!
This is a painting I completed a while back. I was sent a photo and worked from that. Khaleesi is an amputee! Glazing really lends itself to painting fur, and this was completed in 3 passes. I didn’t work up from a grisaille but blocked in the colour areas, deepening and enriching the layers with glazes. Below are some of the process photos.
This is another painting of a dancer I finished recently. I am combining my love of glazing with drawing, here starting to draw the line with the brush in a bistre. This has a translucency I like. Then I glaze over in thin layers of paint in the same way I would paint my portraits. Glazing really has an unrivalled luminosity! I’m not sure where these are heading but I was pleased with the more liquid effect in the paint and I think this is something I will be exploring further. I have painted some other ones but mixed the colours to start with, but these don’t seem to have the quality of translucency like this painting.
I think I like to strip an activity down to its absolute essentials; here the original drawing is done in a single translucent colour, and then 3 other colours were used in the later glazing. There is no modelling apart from the drawing, and really its nothing more than a line.
In a 3rd arabesque the dancer stands on their right leg, with their left leg extended behind. The right arm is extended forwards at roughly eye height, and the left arm is extended parallel to it at shoulder height.
Painted in Raw Umber and white. Raw Umber bistre to start with, and then worked into with some white. I am trying to paint like a drawing, and sculpt a painting! I would like to make something reminiscent of sculpture on the painted surface. When I paint the line I am carving it, modelling the paint and then refining by taking it away. This is also how I initially do the underpainting for portraits, or any painting. As a sculptor who likes to carve stone, in my mind I am always ‘carving’, whatever I am working on.
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.
This was a commissioned portrait of a young girl and here are before and after images to show how I developed the underpainting. Grisaille underpainting was completed first and then I added some layers of colour glazes. With this method, rather than mixing the colours on the palette the colours are ‘mixed’ optically through progressive glazes – very thin layers – of oil paint with a little medium.
Someone asked me the other day how much medium I use when painting in oils. Firstly I should explain that I always ‘oil out’ the painting surface before each painting session. Some people call it ‘oiling in’ by the way, but essentially it just means taking a little of the medium you are using and applying it to the painting surface. You can apply it any way you want, but I prefer to brush it on (any brush will do but I use a short wide sable brush) and when the surface I am working on is covered I rub the medium off very gently so there should be a very thin layer of medium left. I use M. Graham’s Walnut Alkyd Medium because it has an alkyd resin in it so it will dry in 48 hours. You could use plain linseed oil, it just takes longer to dry. There are quick drying oil paints out there and also siccatives but they are usually made using mineral spirits which I don’t like.
You can see me demonstrate this on one of the videos I put on youtube:
Oiling out is something you just get the hang of with practice. Sometimes I have left too much medium on and sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough. I do it between every glaze, so when a glaze is dry to the touch and I am starting the next I just repeat the process. Once all this is done the paint flows on the surface more easily, but I still add some medium to the glaze as I mix it on the pallet, being careful not to add too much otherwise it gets sloppy and ugly. Having said that I can always pull it off an area of the canvas by using a dry brush. It really depends on what kind of result you are after as a painter, everyone is different and is seeking a different quality in the paint they use.
In the portrait of the girl with a cello I used Raw Umber and Titanium white to do the underpainting, which has a nice warmth to it. Looking at this painting again has inspired me to rethink how I produce portrait paintings. I have found myself pulling against the overly finished and polished style of some of my work, so I want to revisit this way of working with a Raw Umber grisaille. I’m looking for something cruder, looser and freer from the constrains of technique. Sometimes too much knowledge and technique can get in the way of painting. My goal is to be able to paint with more naivety, as well as with good technique.
I was interested in this painting again because I have been struggling with how to complete backgrounds, and finding myself overworking them. I like the simplicity of this background, completed at the underpainting stage. Raw Umber and white has a warm neutrality which works well. I painted this without really worrying too much about it, without technique or overthinking it. I’m presently trying to return to this simpler process, where the focus is on the drawing, the underpainting.