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Time Lapse Portrait Sketches

Alan Reed

Charcoal Pencil Sketch

There are no short cuts to achieving sound drawing skills. Regular practise at drawing from observation will pay off in most visual disciplines in art, whether it’s painting, sculpture, graphic design or even photography. Before working on a commission or a painting for exhibition I will often warm up for 10 to 20 minutes with a charcoal pencil sketch of a John Singer Sargent portrait. I’ve drawn dozens over the last few years, particularly as I’ve been receiving more portrait commissions.

I’ve recently started to make time lapse videos of my portrait sketches so that one can see the process on how I draw a face from the start. If you watch the video which is only 24 seconds long, you will see that I draw a faint outline for the shape of the face.

I then make a mark halfway down to indicate where the eyes are to go. I then make another mark in between the eye line and the chin for the tip of the nose. Finally I do one last guideline for the mouth, usually slightly higher than halfway between the tip of the nose and the chin.

Once these are in place, I then start to draw in with greater care the details for the eyes, working my way down the face for all the other features. After that, it’s simply a matter of shading in the hair and drawing in the neck and shoulders. You will see that I’m drawing with a charcoal pencil which gives you a lovely dark, rich tone. I’m  also a big fan of the Moleskine sketchbooks which come in a good range of sizes.

Time lapse videos are quite easy to do and it’s a great way to show folk the drawing process without it taking up too much time.

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Commission a Portrait Painting

I’m currently working on a number of portraits for various clients in oil paints and I thought it may be helpful to see the process developing over the sittings, each one over a period of three hours. The model has at least thirty minutes of breaks.

The first sitting is about getting the basic proportions and likeness using a limited palate of Lead White, Yellow Ochre Deep, Light Red and Ivory Black. After laying in the background I lightly skimmed the paint surface with a cloth to soften the colours and to provide a more gentle image to paint into the next day.

A more accurate rendition of the model’s features is needed for the next sitting, ensuring that measurements and distances between the eyes,nose and mouth are correct. Once established, I painted them in with some stronger tones and built up the flesh tones.

In the third sitting I could see that the background needed to be much stronger to make the hair stand out more, so using a touch of Indian Red with Ivory Black I intensified the background to match the same tonal values of the wooden panelling. I also used a glaze to richen the shadow areas on the model’s face.

The glaze from the third sitting was a little too warm, so the following day I toned it down using some cooler colours. Throughout each sitting I made small adjustments to various parts of the painting to help create a better characterisation.

On the fifth afternoon I concentrated on refining some of the brush marks that I had made the previous couple of sittings and added a touch of pink to Isabella’s cheeks.

The Portrait Painting will benefit from at least one more sitting to improve some of the shapes further but at this stage I’m happy with the progress that has been made so far.

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Painting of Florence

Firenze painting on location

Via Spirito Santo, Firenze on Drawing Board

To do a Painting of Florence is always a joy and delight. Last September I was working in Florence on a number of painting projects, one of which was painting several street scenes on the spot in my hand-made watercolour sketchbook. In the photograph of what’s on the drawing board you will see the sketchbook depicting my watercolour study of Via di Spirito Santo painted standing up with my small box of paints balanced in one hand with the sketchbook, the other holding my traveling paint brush.

I wanted to capture the dark, narrow street which had snatches of the early evening light catching the tops of some of the buildings and so I used a very limited palate of Raw Sienna, purple and Payne’s Grey for much of the sketch. I’m wanting to retain the freshness of this sketch in my studio production which I’m intending to work on over the next few days. Watch this space for the finished result.

 

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Painting of the Grand Canal, Venice

Last night Susan and I watched the  BBC 2 programme Shakespeare in Italy narrated by Francesco da Mosto. Part of the programme was set in Venice, a city which was Susan’s home for 5 years and a place which has been a content source of inspiration for my paintings of Italy collection. One of my favourite views is taken from the Accademia Bridge, looking at the Santa Marie della Salute. I’ve painted it several times on location and using the sketches, I have produced a number of studio watercolours which have included commissions. On one particular painting, I decided to photograph the painting of the Grand Canal, Venice in stages so that one can see the progression and development of the painting, from the initial pencil drawing through the sequence of washes, to the build up of detail.

After stretching a sheet of hand made Italian watercolour paper on to the drawing board, the first stage was to draw out the main elements of the composition with a B pencil. I like to paint a lot of the detail from observation with my brush, so there isn’t a huge amount of detail in the pencil drawing.

Next, I covered the whole sheet with a wash of clean water then ran in a gentle wash of Winsor and Newton Cadmium Lemon from about a third of the way from the top of the board. This helps to take away the starkness of the white and set the tone and mood for the rest of the painting.

One the yellow had dried I repeated the process of laying a wash of clean water except once it hit the architecture, I began to be more random with the wash leaving some of the paper untouched by water. I quickly ran in a wash of Rose Madder into the water but left some of the yellow showing through as pure yellow.

Before starting the sky, I masked off some of the detailed areas in the water like the poles and boats so that I wasn’t having to paint around them with the blue. I started off the sky with quite an intense wash of French Ultramarine and Manganese Blue, fading it out slightly as the sky came closer to the horizon and then painting around the architecture.

Once it had dried, I deepened the blue for the foreground part of the Grand Canal I then started on the buildings on the right hand side. The detailed photograph shows how some of the blue in the sky and water was used as shadow areas for the buildings.

I finished the right hand side before commencing on the left so that I could use slightly more stronger colours to give the impression of the left hand side being closer.

When I rubbed off the masking fluid, it meant that the colour underneath remained as a base for the poles and boats. Strong, dark refections on the left provided further depth to the painting and once I had added the smaller areas of detail to the architecture and boats, the painting was completed. I have two paintings of the Grand Canal, Venice available as limited edition prints available online or from my Studio and Gallery in Ponteland. I also have an original watercolour available of the Grand Canal, Venice which I painted using the same process described.

 

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Dhow, Reflections

Dhow, Reflections

Dhow, Reflections

A simple composition like this titled “Dhow, Reflections” is actually one of the most difficult subjects to paint successfully in watercolour. Over the last five years I’ve made many sketchbook studies of Arabian dhows whilst painting on location in the Gulf and find them a delight to paint. This particular painting was inspired by a dhow I saw coming in to harbour towards the end of the day. I decided to do a large studio watercolour 28″ x 20″ to capture the warm light and the solitary vessel.

The challenge is achieving the the graduation of the background colours. When you blend blue into yellow, it’s very easy to get it wrong and create a dirty green colour, so patience is the key. I drew out the basic shape of the dhow and masked off the white areas using masking fluid before tackling the background.

First I laid a wash of clean water over the entire sheet of hand-made watercolour paper. Whilst it was still wet, I ran in a wash of Cadmium Lemon about a third of the way from the top, fading it out slightly as it went towards the bottom of the paper. About two hours later when it was dry, I repeated the process with another wash of clean water, however, this time I laid a wash of Rose Madder about halfway down the paper and faded it out about a third of the way from the bottom.

Another two hours later and I applied another wash of clean water over the whole sheet, this time running in some French Ultramarine and Manganese Blue in the top third of the painting, making sure it faded out quickly as it hit the yellow. I ran a touch more of the blue into the bottom third to create a reflection of the sky. By painting the background in a series of washes, you create a depth and richness to the colours which would not be achieved if one tried to do it in one wash.

Once it was all dry, I rubbed out the masking fluid and began painting the dhow and it’s reflections. The result is a very restful painting that one can see at my Studio and Gallery in Ponteland.

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Dunstanburgh Castle

 

Dunstanburgh Castle

Sketchbook Study of Dunstanburgh Castle

I’ve made a couple of painting videos during my career as an artist which you can also see on YouTube. By following this link you can watch me paint Dunstanburgh Castle on location. The image above is the sketchbook watercolour which I painted on the video, together with a larger 14″ x 10″ watercolour. Both paintings can be seen at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland and were painted with a size 20 Stratford and York synthetic brush.

Most of the background music was specially composed by my friend Stu Kennedy. Check out his website for more information.

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Rosso e Nero (Rialto Fish Market) A painting in Stages

Rosso e Nero Finished Painting Stage 8

Rosso e Nero Finished Painting Stage 8

In February 2004 my wife and I spent several days in Venice with my parents. We booked an old Venetian apartment through a website called Venetian-Rentals that was lavishly furnished with old books and paintings. The plan for this trip was to get some fresh reference for me to do some new paintings of Italy.

On one particular day we checked out the fish market by the Rialto Bridge and I came across this amazing scene, full of life, movement and colour. After doing a 14” x 10” preparation study, I drew out the composition with a B pencil on some very rough Italian hand made paper from Fabriano, 28” x 20” which you can see in Stage 1.

For Stage 2, I applied a mix of yellow, cadmium yellow and lemon yellow to set the right base tones for the sheeting which protects the market from the elements. The brush used was a Stratford & York size 20.

Stage 3. Once the yellow areas had dried, I made a red mix of Vermillion Hue and Cadmium Red and began to apply it wet on wet on the floor area to re-create the effect of the red tarpaulin being reflected in the wet flooring. The heavily textured paper helped to keep this part of the painting loose and fresh. The tarpaulins were rendered wet on dry as I wanted to have their edges clearly defined.

Stage 4. This part of the painting is where I began to form the title in my mind, Rosso e Nero (red and black).

I made up three separate colours in saucers, Vandyke Brown, Payne’s Grey and Lamp Black and began to build up washes with these stronger colours for the floor areas. The background arches were picked out using the point of the number 20 Stratford and York brush.

Stage 5. Over the years I have spent hours observing and drawing people in urban settings. I have developed a style where it is possible to identify different individuals by their stance, gesture and movement.

I tend to draw with the brush for each figure rather than relying in lots of pencil work, but at the same time, I don’t get too involved in too much unnecessary detail. I want the figures to appear as though they are part of the painting and yet moving through the scene.

Stage 6. It was simply a matter of painting the figures that were going to bring the scene to life. The danger is to over work them and make them look too static, so it’s vital that the brush marks are kept simple and fresh.

Stage 7. The last few figures really helped to make this scene work. The older couple look typically Venetian, stolling around the various stalls, looking for the right piece of fish for their evening meal. Will it be risotto or pasta for their starter and how will they cook their main meal and with what vegetables? Building up the darker areas around the figures helps to add depth and substance to the overall scenario.

Stage 8. The final painting which was sold from my 20th anniversary exhibition in 2004 to some friends of ours which I’m pleased about, as I get to see the original every time we visit them.

I was so pleased with the finished result that we decided to publish it as a limited edition giclee print with only 20 in the edition. You can see a framed copy at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

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