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Moon over Germany - Painting a Portrait

It has taken me a long time to finally get comfortable with painting figures. You have to go through so many failures to finally get to the good stuff. Every artist has to find their own style and I think I have finally found mine. I am not a fan of realism or realistic figures with fine lines and smooth edges. It would take too many years of discipline to get there and I don't think it would be fun once I got there. The alla prima method (a painting completed in one sitting) is what I love because who has the time to spend all day painting? I have like the impressionistic approach to each of my paintings as I want my viewer to do most of the work with their minds. Our brains are so sophisticated that when viewed up close the painting looks a mess or not completed, or even better - doesn't even look like the real photo. But when the viewer steps back, your brain takes over and formulates all the values and simplistic brush strokes together to form a picture. This is power. Who knew that just a flick of the paint brush can suggest the most enteric detail.

My Grandfather, Papa, in Germany in late 1980. His friend called him Moon. Comes from an old comic strip "Moon Mullins".

It is always best to view paintings from at least 5 to 6 feet away as this is the expectation by any artist of the viewer. You, however, can always tell who the artists are if you are in a gallery because we are the ones with our noses almost to the canvas to assess the method behind the composition of the painting. I can learn a lot about an artist if I study their brush strokes.

This painting (Moon over Germany) was completed using a photograph that I sketched onto the gessoed panel. This was done using the photo negativity method of putting the photo up to block the view of my gesso board and then taking it away again with my hand. Put the photo back and then take it away again, each time I take it away I draw a line of of the shape I am copying from the photo. It helps to breakdown any photo into basic shapes which makes it way easier. Moving slowly assessing composition all the time, you realize that everything is done.

I would offer the advice to any new artist to use only a small photo, rather than a larger photo. Having a larger photo would increase complications in painting too much detail. Having a smaller photo eliminates some of the detail, even more so when you squint at it. Squinting is also a powerful tool that helps me focus on color values.

Before I add any paint, I just look at my sketch and make sure everything is proportional and makes sense. I do this because it is so much easier to adjust a line drawn than it is a line painted. I thought about the background of the picture but then decided that anything too busy would take away from the focus, which is my Grandfather, Papa.

I started adding color to the painting from darkness to light. Starting with the darkest dark I mix Ultra-marine blue and Alizarin Crimson. Always try to remember you can't make white whiter so getting your values (the darkness or lightness of a color) correct is very important (I say this, and every book you read on how to paint says this - so it must be very important). I never add pure white to a painting until I am completely done. I was recently taught at a workshop back in September that the best way to test for value is to dim the lights a little in your studio every now and then to see if it makes sense. While also stepping back a lot and viewing your painting from 5 to 6 feet away also helps in determining if you should take away, adjust, or start all over.

Adding paint little by little, focusing on one value at a time, and a shape at a time, makes for a quick painting. Though I call this painting complete, I will put it away for about a month and then bring it back out and assess the values. I may end up adding more highlights along the jacket and face/hands but doing that now would be very pre-mature and might possibly ruin the finished painting.

I really do miss Papa, he taught me a lot. If only I could have asked him questions when I was younger. He sure could sport a coat!


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