As I work at my easel this month, I’m trying some new techniques with silver and gold leaf before painting over top with oils. This piece is called ‘Daughter of Eve’ and is a self portrait I’m working on. There’s a subtle message underlying it, about how we all have so much in common as women, from the beginning of time until now, across all cultures.
Step 1, Daughter of Eve, Jessica Libor 2012
I started out the painting by sketching it out on the canvas mounted on board. Next, I went over the entire canvas with a sepia tone (mixed with turpenoid) to get rid of the white. After that layer dried, I applied silver leaf over specific places in the painting that I wanted to shine, such as the sky between the branches, and the necklace on the figure.
Next I began painting the figure and sky, going over the colors in blocks and laying in the correct tones.
Step 2, Daughter of Eve (unfinished), oil on canvas with silver leaf, Jessica Libor 2012
From there, I really concentrated on the skin tones, thinking of the classical way of painting flesh, and painting what I saw, not what I thought looked right. A lot of times our eyes deceive us, and we have to trust our minds instead.
I’ve been working on this piece and a few others nonstop for the past week, trying to wrap up a portfolio for a scholarship from New York Academy of Art. There have been some late nights (or rather, mornings!) painting in the studio this week! Next post, I’ll share another painting I’ve been working on. Until then!
Step 3, "Daughter of Eve" unfinished, oil and silver leaf on canvas board, Jessica Libor 2012
While I was taking this workshop at GCA, I was ready to be done with drawing at this point. I wanted to get to the fun part…painting! There’s something so freeing and satisfying about the brush tip making marks on your canvas, and the ability to manipulate it. However, I disciplined myself to stay on task one more day, and was surprised at how much my drawing developed in just one day of adding details.
As you work on rendering the correct values for the shadow shapes, remember that there should never be a harsh line.
At this point, you’re allowed to think about reflected light, like the kind you may see underneath the chin, or on the side of the nose, or above the eyes right below the eyebrows. Reflected light helps support the volume you already created with your lights and darks. Once you pass the terminator (the point where the form turns away completely from the light), all light in the shadow comes from reflected light. This is particularly helpful to know if painting, when the reflected light may be a different color tint than the direct form light (for instance, the form light may be coming from a lamp, and the reflected light is a natural light from a window. In that case the reflected light would be blueish, and the form light more yellow. But I’m getting ahead of myself 🙂 ) Back to drawing!
"Maria" Final stage drawing, graphite on paper, by Jessica Libor 2011
You shouldn’t have as much information such as details and variation in value in the shadows as you do in the light. Put in LESS reflected light than you want to. You have to make sacrifices as an artist. Model twenty percent of what you want to in the shadows! It’s all about self control. Resist the urge to exaggerate favorite details such as eyelashes.
Layer from softer pencils to harder. The harder the pencil, the more light and precise you will be. Compare every value. Ask yourself, should this plane be lighter than this plane?
When rendering hair, think of it as a shining object, a single thing, not the millions of hair strands that it is. When seen in light, it functions like a satin ribbon. The hightlight actually runs in perpendicular to the way hair grows. Notice the hair in the piece below.
To continue our journey towards a beautiful painting, we begin where we left off, while still rendering a drawing and getting the values correct. Again, remember that with every finished drawing, painting in the correct value scale becomes easier. Before we dive in again, I wanted to share with you some of the most inspiring drawings in a classical manner that I’ve seen. Let these motivate you to continue! Skill comes through correct instruction, desire, and a little bit of natural inclination.
Serena, by Jacob Collins, 2004
Inbal, by Joshua LaRock, 12"x14", 2007
As you are looking back and forth from the model to your paper, don’t worry about the midtones right now, they will figure themselves out. Look at the shapes that the dark and light create. Remember that you can’t create form by COPYING values, because our value range as artists is more limited than in real life. You must compress the values to create something with sculptural integrity–like a block of marble. Think about making it an experience of volume on the page. Take big swaths with the chisel of your pencil. When you do start to think about midtones, tread lightly! The dark light is turning with the form until it kisses the shadow. Every form goes through the same gradation of lights and darks. It’s just how fast it goes through all the gradations. In the light, the value changes are less than you think they should be. Hairlines are a soft transition from skin tones. If by the end of this drawing session, the form isn’t round enough, then the shadows need to be darker and the form light lighter.
In this post, we’ll make the leap from just drawing in contours and lines to actually rendering. At this stage, you should have a very technically correct line drawing of the model in front of you. It may be a bit smudged and messy from erasing multiple times and retracing over lines, so you may want to enlarge your sketch onto another sheet of more high quality drawing paper.
The teacher transferring his drawing, 2011
The rendering stage of the drawing is completely optional in the painting process, although it was very helpful to me in learning more about value and contrast, something I’ve always struggled with. This post may get a little technical. If you have trouble following, read over it again, or feel free to send me a message if you’re having trouble understanding. I’ll explain it as best I can.
If you’d like to do the finished drawing, now is the time to make a photocopy enlargement of your drawing. Once you have it the size you’d like, turn the photocopy over, and sprinkle or rub graphite onto the back of the photocopy. Place the photocopy face up on the sheet of nice drawing paper, and trace over the lines you worked so hard for. Remove the photocopy, and hooray! A perfect, clean line drawing on pristine paper.
While you are transferring, now would be a good time to also transfer the line drawing onto your canvas. For best results, use oil primed linen, either stretched on stretcher bars or mounted on board. Artboard, a wonderful brand of archival artist boards, is based out of New York and sells from the Art Students League of New York supply shop. You can also order their oil primed belgian linen mounted on boards online, at Artboards.com. These are the supplies I use for my own work, and it makes painting so much simpler and easier, with a beautiful, professional finish. Also, I find the board mounted canvas much more durable than canvas mounted on stretcher bars. I’ve ruined more than one painting by accidentally poking through the delicate canvas!
It’s important to use oil primed linen rather than acrylic primed canvas for your paintings, if you want them to be of archival quality. Acrylic and oil don’t mix, so it’s not wise to build a whole oil painting on an acrylic base.
Natural Fiber Linen Panel mounted with Oil Primed Belgian Linen from ArtBoards
But back to drawing. Once you have your newly clean fresh line drawing in front of you, look at the lines you’ve drawn, and back at the model. The important thing is that the shadows are separate from the light. Completely flatten the shadow as an excersise…leave out the details of anything in the shadow. The details within the shadow are much more subtle than you think. Ignore reflected light within shadows (such as in the neck area) for now.
We have as humans a limited range in painting and drawing as compared to real life values. Therefore, your “scale” of light and dark will be more compressed and narrow than what you see in real life. Because we are limited in scale values, DIMINISH the contrast that you see.
The more perpendicular a surface is to a light source, the brighter it is. Form is all about the location of the object in perpendicularity.
Now, what about the tip of the nose, the light in her eye, the shine on her lip, the sheen to her hair? That is called “Specular light”, or highlight. The specular light moves with you as you move around the model, unlike form light, which stays static. Try it. As you move around the model, the highlights change, but the actual light on the model remains the same.
As you pick a value for your shadow, pick a dark value, but not the darkest dark.
Fill in the shadows you see, and ignore detail.
Unfinished sketch of Maria done by Joshua LaRock, 2011
As you are shading, keep this idea in mind that will try to decieve you. Simultaneous contrast: it’s when a light object (your model, if against a dark background) is contrasted against a dark object, your brain wants to exaggerate the contrast. Think I’m lying? Check out this shadow illusion.
Ask yourself these two questions again and again as your draw and shade:
1. Which plane is most facing the light? The form light is peaking at the place most facing the light, NOT the highlight.
2. Where is the highlight in relation to the lightest form light? They may be in very different places.
Caravaggio, a famous Baroque painter from Italy, was a master at using subtle contrast to bring out the fullness of the flesh on human form. Look at the exquisite subtlety in the changes in skin tone and value in the painting of his below.
Baccus by Caravaggio, 1597
Don’t think about copying the exact values–it’s impossible. Think about creating an object with the same scultpural integrity as the object you are representing. It may help you to make a mental hierarchy of the brights, and a mental hierarchy of the darkest lights. Again, keep the actual shadow all one shade for now.
Keep in mind that the larger forms are more important than the smaller forms. And don’t give up! The results are worth the work, I promise!
Hello fellow artists! I’m back on my second post on how to paint like the masters, sharing with you all the notes that took from a particularly helpful workshop at Grand Central Academy of Art that I took this past summer. Let’s pick up where we left off, at the drawing stage.
In the previous post, we had all the major shapes blocked in and were starting to work from the inside out.
Continue to check your drawing against the model in front of you. Make sure all the shapes are correct. Continue in cycles from the inside out. Give youself a rule–no rendering (shading with your pencil) yet! Rendering will only look good and correct as long as you are drawing the shapes correctly.
As you are drawing, keep in mind that there are four basic lines:
1. Contour lines: the outside edge, sillouhette of an object.
2. Form shadow: the shadow cast by the form as it turns away from the light.
3. Cast shadow: the shadow cast by the form (like your shadow on the wall). A cast shadow will be crisper and more definite than the form shadow.
4. Plane change: the subtle shifts in the topography of a form, such as in the cheekbones. Plane changes are best suggested with a lighter line.
My first stage of sketching "Maria", by Jessica Libor 2011
In this stage, begin to work towards an organic quality rather than geometric. Adjust your harsher lines with a new sensibility. Every organic form is a bunch of fulnesses rather than concavities. Again, thinking of form this way, particularly the figure, will give you that lovely sculptural feel that Michelangelo achieved in his drawings. He naturally thought of figures as full and solid because he worked primarily as a sculptor. Your job, as a painter, is to think more three dimensionally. This will bring your work to life!
"Erythrean Sibyl" by Michelangelo, 1508
Study by Michelangelo
Think volume and commitment to a line.
"Drawing of Maria" by Jessica Libor, graphite on paper, 2011
Portrait Study by Joshua LaRock, oil on linen, 2007
In this post I just wanted to share my extensive notes from a very helpful workshop that I took this summer at the Grand Central Academy of Art. Joshua LaRock was the instructor, and it was one of the most thorough and helpful classes I’ve ever taken. Joshua studied for four years at the GCA and now teaches there in addition to painting. If you’d like to visit his website and see his work, visit www.joshualarock.com. I would highly recommend any of his classes to artists who want to learn more about traditional ways of painting and add extra dimension to their work.
It was a two week workshop, and I’ll break down the instruction into a few posts, day by day: the drawing first, then the painting. First, came the drawing, something that many of us want to skip through because it’s not quite as fun and instant-gratification as painting. He made us slow down and take and entire week to draw the model, with only the next week to paint a complete painting. Through that, I learned a lot about value. “Value makes the painting,” he told us. After thinking about it, I came to agree. I couldn’t think of any major painting I didn’t have carefully chosen, subtle values. My hope is that you’ll be able to utilize these notes and use the information in your own work!
Drawing Demo by Joshua LaRock 2011
Note: All these instructions are made with the assumption that you have a live model in front of you posing.
Blocking in. A messy, sketchy, but important step. Focus on LINE and FORM. Classically, the picture frame is supposed for be vertically tipped (window shaped), not horizontal (landscape shaped).
Notice where you are drawing the model from. (At this point Joshua put a piece of glass up on the easel and did a line drawing on the glass, tracing only as a demonstration)
Find a horizontal and vertical reference point on the model.
To begin blocking in, hold the pencil loosely. If it’s a portrait you are doing, imagine it’s not a head–take yourself away from the psychological attention of features. Establish a scale. Some tools to do this are:
1. Find points on the face/model and mark them on your paper.
2. Notice the tilt of the head.
3. Notice how the shapes interlock
4. Use comparative measuring.
See what’s actually in front of you, and draw on medium to fine tooth paper. Block out the larger masses. In comparative measuring, use your left eye with the left arm to measure, or right with the right. When you do comparative measuring, lock your arm, so that it’s the same distance each time you measure.
Take a central point between the face. Check distances to/from everything. Start with the VOLUME in the shapes, not the contour. This will give your drawing a feeling of sculpture and fullness, like Michaelangelo’s drawings.
Archers by Michelangelo, 1533
Seated Male Nude by Michelangelo, 1511
Choose one part of the face and make it fact–build around it. Use halves and quarters. And most importantly, don’t get too detailed to fast! Work on all the proportions at the same time and it will come together.
After blocking in, start getting more into the shapes. Start inside the face and work outwards, slowly raising the 2-D drawing to 3-D.
Watch the terminators–they’ll help you find the right shapes and fullnesses in the form. Terminator is the edge of form where light no longer can pass over a form–it turns and curves away from light.
Know your bad tendencies and guard against them (For me, this means guarding against overemphasis on contrast). Move from the center of the face and build out. Move forward from your easel when needed to investigate the shapes, especially around the eyes.