Sunday, July 31, 2011

Painting a Self Portrait in Oils

A lot of people don't know this, but I paint. Well, comparing my painting to a seasoned artist is like comparing a kids drawing to a Picasso, but I do paint none-the-less. I have painted with watercolor, but I prefer oils.

In any case, I have always loved self-portraits of the Regency and Victorian eras. I wanted to do one of my niece, wearing a Victorian gown, but I didn't have a large canvas on hand so I decided on a head to shoulders shot. Deciding to go with the Flemish style of portraiture, I drew out my figure which resembled my niece (at least at first) and covered the whole canvas in an sheer burnt umber.

I left it sitting there to dry for a few days since the oil had to be thinned and I used seed oil to do that. Then the next step is to outline and shade with burnt umber. Which I did, but I noticed that with color the portrait started to look more like me than my niece. So, I just decided it would be a self-portrait rather than fixing it to look like my niece.

That step of the painting process took two weeks to dry, but everyone who saw it thought it looked like me and thought I had it painted for me. I laughed, because no one ever guessed that I painted it myself. The next step in the Flemish process is the moonlit layer. In this step, you completely cover your umber layer with shades of gray.

The painting appeared completely transformed. I shaded the face severely and the neck area which didn't matter, because I knew in later steps I could brighten it. The shades of gray gave it a creepy feel. I was going to paint color on that layer which was the next step, but there was still burnt umber undertones in some areas. So I decided it called for another moonlit layer and some more shading.

The end product was more realistic and looks so much like me it was like I intended to do a self portrait to start off with. My dilemma is whether I should leave it as is or do the final color layer over it. I am having a hard time deciding, because I love the way it looks and I would hate to ruin it. I am still debating it. What if the color makes it look more realistic, but then again, the gray tones match my decor. Decisions... Decisions...

My favorite youtube video on the Flemish technique is Portrait of Anna by Artpapacom
For more on the Flemish technique visit Explore Drawing and Painting and Oil Painting Techniques

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