PART 1, CLASSICAL ACADEMIC APPROACH–GET ARTSERIOUS

Artserious–a linguistic invention–so, it’s time to get artserious, begin at the beginning, and learn the classical academic painting process alluded to in this prior post.

As the Dalai Lama says, “Know the rules well so you can learn to break them effectively.” This is probably one of the most important reasons to have classical training and, although it is best received in person, teacher-student, I hope to help you through some of the same processes online that I teach my private students.  (If you are in the Phoenix Metro and want one-on-one lessons, contact me through this blog.)

In coming weeks, I will discuss the following: materials, design, compositional unity, applying the Golden Mean, Munsell’s color system and hue, value, and intensity, seven basic color schemes, aerial perspective, the cartoon, accurate enlargement/graphing and transferring to panel, gessoing masonite board, inking the drawing, sculpting with gesso for bas relief, the charcoal study, underpainting, mixing a flesh palette, and colored oil glazes.

It is a lengthy syllabus, but I hope you will profit from the instruction in some way.

Creating fine art is very much a science; therefore, you should come to this training with an open mind and put your previous painting experience on hold for awhile so that you can see with fresh eyes.  This is not quick art, but I promise you that with proper instruction and following the process outlined, along with self-discipline, persistence, and  patience, you can achieve the high degree of quality in your painting you have hoped for.  It is better to spend weeks on one excellent painting that can be considered significant art, than to spend a couple of hurried days on a piece that will end up in the trash.

Keep in mind there are preliminaries we will skip for now and come back to later, as I am sure you want to get to the actual creation of a portrait.  Beginning with how to get an accurate drawing, our ultimate purpose here is to get an excellent likeness and end up with a high quality, Renaissance-style classical academic painting that will never find itself in a garage sale.  You will be copying an Old Master oil portrait of your choice–you can paint family AFTER you have learned the basics and “mastered the Masters.”

Your first assignment:  Choose an Old Master portrait that you love.  Keep the goal in mind; you are learning the process here, so you will want to choose a picture that is not too complex, has clearly delineated eyes, nose, mouth, hair, clothing, and a simpler background.

I will be using Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Make sure your reference is very high resolution, and high quality.  Two superb online sources are the Getty Museum or Art Renewal Center.  You should never undermine your efforts by beginning with inferior reference, as I have seen students who, despite admonition, try this and give up in frustration.

Print the reference on glossy photo paper, as it shows detail much better than other surfaces.  Print one in grayscale and one in color, ledger size if possible, otherwise 8 1/2″ x 11″.  You can put them on a flash drive or CD and have it printed at FedX or any print shop.  It is helpful to save the references on your computer desktop as well, for quick access.  I use my computer to enlarge certain small areas as I go along and need to get a closer look.  The computer, however, will not replace your printouts in this process.

Some Masters to consider for our purposes are (in no particular order):  Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez, David, Vermeer, Gerome, Godward, Leighton, Alma-Tadema, and Bouguereau are all excellent artists from which to learn, although there are so many more.

GeromeBlackBashi-Bazouk1869-26x32
Jean Leon Gerome, Black Bashi-bazouk, 1869, 26×32″

TitianFlora1515-22x31
Titian, Flora, 1515

Here are the materials you will need for the process:

Oil Painting Materials:
references
pens/pencils
extra-fine permanent markers(Sharpies), black, blue, green, red
acetate
General’s charcoal pencils
vine charcoal
blending stumps (tortillions)
metal yardstick
metal 18” ruler
transparent triangle, 18”
kneaded eraser
India ink and liner sable brush
spray workable fixative
Exacto knife
clear tape
artist’s white tape
Golden acrylic matte medium
Masonite or hardwood board
sandpaper very rough #40-60, very smooth #100-200
natural sponge
Knox Gelatin
paint roller for application of gesso
retouch varnish
Liquin
turpentine for brush cleaning
olive oil for brushes, cleaning hands, oiling palette
leak proof turpentine container
easel
plastic wrap
blue paper towels
mahl stick
notebook
palette knives

Brushes:
bright sable #2, 4, 10
flat bristle #2, 4, 10
round sable #1, 8
round bristle #0, 8
mongoose flat #6
mongoose round #0
mongoose filbert #4, 8

Paint:
*titanium white
*flake white
ivory black
mars black
chromium oxide green
pthalo blue
cadmium yellow light
yellow ochre
raw sienna
raw umber
cadmium orange
burnt sienna
burnt umber
cadmium red light
alizarin crimson permanent
cobalt violet
ultramarine violet
French ultramarine blue
cobalt blue
cerulean blue
viridian green
Shiva cadmium green
Grumbacher pthalo yellow green
Winsor and Newton Winsor orange
Indian yellow
napthol red light

*Avoid zinc white (PW4) whenever possible. It is often added to paint colors one would not suspect, such as in titanium white, lead white, and to various other colors to render them more transparent. It is also used as a filler to make them less expensive to manufacture.  Zinc white can make your paintings crack, according to extensive, lengthy studies done with conservators at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Also, buy the best quality paint you can afford, as student grade and many professional grades contain excessive aluminum stearate that causes darkening of the paint film over time.  Good commercial brands include professional grades of Utrecht, Williamsburg (both made in the U.S.), Old Holland (Netherlands), and Sennelier (France).  I like the unique textures of handmade paints as well, and buy from colormen like Robert Doak, Michael Harding, and Natural Pigments.

*marble-inclusive gesso
*values palette
*homemade medium

In the next post, we’ll discuss supports, marble-inclusive gesso, and the 9-value (+black and white) palette you will need.

FRANK COVINO WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT!

I know how ridiculously short notice this is, as I didn’t think to use my blog venue to get the word out, but Maestro Frank Covino, my long-time teacher and mentor, is flying to Phoenix from Vermont to teach our one-week workshop. The cost is $675 for five days of the most intense, informative hard work you will ever LOVE! I wrote  about him in earlier posts (See March 5, 8, and 9).

If you are in the Phoenix Metro area and would like to join our small group (the Arizona Renaissance Art Guild) for this workshop, contact me ASAP to reserve your space. As I have said in earlier posts, you will learn more from Frank in one week than in probably all the other workshops you have ever had, put together. Also, our group of artists are extremely friendly and helpful to newcomers–no shyness here–and we do it all with good heart and encouragement. We are all in varying degrees of progress, so don’t feel intimidated and know that none of us will ever try to make you feel that way. Come to the workshop with an open mind, leave your preconceptions at the door, and you will be amazed at what you will accomplish!

Following is our materials list that presumes you are new to painting.

Materials for board preparation and graphing:

Masonite board

renaissance gesso

Golden acrylic matte medium

metal yardstick and ruler

clear 18” triangle

acetate

extra fine and fine Sharpies

General’s charcoal pencils

photo of Old Master painting to work from, 8”x10” one color, one grayscale, glossy photo paper

Materials for sketching and charcoal:

grayscale 8”x10” photo

General’s charcoal pencils

vine charcoal

blending stumps (tortillions)

Exacto knife

India ink and liner sable brush

Drawing and Painting Materials:

pens/pencils

ultra-fine permanent markers, black, blue, green, red

acetate pad

charcoal pencils

vine charcoal

blending stumps

metal yardstick

metal 18” ruler

transparent triangle, 18”

kneaded eraser

India ink

spray workable fixative

Exacto knife

clear tape

artist’s white tape

Golden acrylic matte medium

Masonite or hardwood board

sandpaper very rough #40-60, very smooth #100-200

natural sponge

Knox Gelatin

paint roller for application of gesso

retouch varnish

Liquin

turpentine for brush cleaning

olive oil for brushes, cleaning hands, oiling palette

leak proof turpentine container

easel

plastic wrap

blue paper towels

mahl stick

notebook

palette knives

**Renaissance Gesso

**Covino Controlled Palette

**Covino Medium

Brushes:

bright sable #2, 4, 10

flat bristle #2, 4, 10

round sable #1, 8

round bristle #0, 8

mongoose flat #6

mongoose round #0

mongoose filbert #4, 8

Paint:

*titanium white

*flake white

ivory black

mars black

chromium oxide green

pthalo blue

cadmium yellow light

yellow ochre

raw sienna

raw umber

cadmium orange

burnt sienna

burnt umber

cadmium red light

alizarin crimson permanent

cobalt violet

ultramarine violet

French ultramarine blue

cobalt blue

cerulean blue

viridian green

Shiva cadmium green

Grumbacher pthalo yellow green

Winsor and Newton Winsor orange

Indian yellow

napthol red light

That’s all–enough, right? We hold the workshop in a museum so, once we get set up, we don’t have to pick up our stuff all week–we just lock it up and leave it all there until the next morning.  Also, everyone has their own large 6′ table and the space of a dance hall, so you can dance, or go back 30 feet and walk up on your painting to check your progress.

Needless to say, I will not be posting next week, but I’ll be back ASAP after the workshop.

HOMAGE TO MY TEACHER AND MENTOR, FRANK COVINO

There is a difference between instructors and teachers–instructors show you how, but teachers provide the “who, what, where, why,” and “how” of a subject.  A teacher teaches you the theoretical aspects of the subject, helps you understand where you are going, why you’re going, and what to do when you get there. To me, that makes a tremendous difference.

All too often, I read articles by painters that parrot my teacher, Frank Covino, but fail to thank him for all they learned.  Since I have been taught by him, I recognize his phraseology instantly. Well, to quote Frank, “It’s never too late to ameliorate,” so, as not to become one of those painters who forgets where they came from, I want to say that Frank’s giving, unselfish nature has truly been a gift I will forever cherish. I learned more about painting in my first week’s study with Frank Covino than I learned in all past workshops (that shall remain nameless), put together. What I learned from him way back then (and continue to learn) led me to see art and painting as truly a process and not a haphazard accident, with logic and a systematic method that removes the guesswork. This allows me to concentrate on creating and making fine-tuned judgments on value and color in my paintings. I will be always grateful to Frank for starting me on this path, as his dedication and striving for perfection in all aspects are inspirational and a great model to emulate. I wonder if he realizes how much so many of his students hold him in awe, and love and respect him for all the lives he has affected in such profound ways.

Covino Portrait1

Photo of Frank Covino

Is there some kind of knowledge transference at birth? Perhaps there is, given that Frank Covino has been painting portraits since he was six years old. His mission: “To pass on the classical academic system of painting to the young so it doesn’t get lost.” This craft has been in the Covino family for centuries and, with over fifty years of teaching experience, Frank has made it his life’s work to impart the secrets of the Old Masters.

He reflects, “I teach because I was given an extraordinary, innate gift which revealed itself very early in my life.  History has proven that the most extraordinary artists and musicians were also the best teachers and I like to think that I stand on the shoulders of those giants. Therefore, to exploit that gift would be a sacrilege. Thus, I will continue to teach as long as there are students who seek my guidance as it is my obligation to preserve this ancient tradition of my Italian ancestors.”

In this blog I’m writing, A Pigment of Your Imagination, I hope to pass on some of what I have learned as well.

WHAT’S THE VALUE OF THIS?

You must have a thorough understanding of the critical role values play in order to create significant paintings.  I think back to the days when the concept of values was enigmatic to me.  I read about it in books and heard teachers refer to it, but somehow the true “value” of this eluded me, partly because I didn’t want to stop and take the time to learn it–I would rather play with all the beautiful colors.  So at first, the idea that values of gray would make up much of most of my paintings did not excite my visual sense—boring is the word springing to mind.

But once my thorough, process-oriented teacher, Frank Covino, explained it, the light came on in my head and I understood–then I was able to do it, kind of like riding a bike. This may seem to be an odd comparison, but this was how it felt to me. Once I understand something, many related things make more sense, thus giving me that aha moment when I can finally experience the ride, rather than falling off the bike because I’m still searching to find my balance.

Anyway, it was when the “aha” happened that values became real to me then, and I started actually seeing instead of just looking.  I went around squinting at everything, internalizing and honing my newfound ability.  My husband told me that people were staring at me.  He used to tease me and say, “your eyes will get wrinkly doing that.”  And then he started doing it himself just to see what the fuss was all about.

People all learn in different ways, and I am one of those who needs a process—I have a hard time with things when people put something in front of me and say, “Do this,” without explaining how. That’s what a process provides for me. You can make an entire painting a monochromatic green or even pink and, as long as those pinks have correct values, your painting will “read” and make sense to the viewer no matter what color you make it.

And that’s why I say you must know your values because value analysis and then value duplication is the basis of all perception.  It is the common denominator for the replication of all things, whether landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.

Yes, but so what? Where’s the “how?” Well, first you have to learn to squint enough at something until the color disappears and you are left with a percentage of light. What amount do you see? Keep your eyes squinted and go look at the world in a new way, and we will talk about values more in-depth in later posts.

Here is a value scale showing values 1-9 with the addition of black (the absence of light) and white.  The lowest value is 1, or 10 % light; the next is 2, or 20% light and so on, up to value 9 at 90%, with white being 100% light:

value scale

PART 2–OTHER INFO I PROVIDE TO BUYERS

Here is the second page of information (referred to in yesterday’s post) that I provide to patrons so they can become more acquainted with the process that goes into creating their classical-style painting. Its title is “On The Process and Materials Used in Your Painting” and here is the link and the text:

Painting-ProcessMaterialsUsedinYourPainting

I hope you find it helpful.

On The Process and Materials

Used in Your Painting

 

This painting was created with the finest professional materials,

following the procedures of the Old Masters of the Renaissance. 

The process begins with a carefully selected piece of marine-grade

plywood from fine-grained hardwood or masonite.  The Old Masters

would have used this if it had been available since it does not split

or crack like wood panel, and is highly resistant to warping.

 

Six to ten coats of Renaissance Bonded Marble are applied to create

a highly reflective white surface.  The ground needs to be as white as

possible because the oil binding in the paint becomes more

translucent with age, thus more light from the white ground is

refracted through it.  This is why the Old Master paintings seem to

have so much depth and luminosity.

 

Preparatory sketches are used to make a complete, highly-detailed

charcoal drawing directly onto the surface.

 

Following that, a precise underpainting is executed in verdaccio,

azuraccio, grisaille, or bistre, depending upon the subject.

 

The medium used is made from these ingredients:

a.  the finest purified, cold-pressed, clear golden linseed oil;

b.  stand oil, used extensively by the Old Masters;

c.  triple-rectified turpentine, the most important of the painter’s

essential oils;

d.  and, dammar varnish is included in the medium, as well as

being the final protective (and removable) coat.

 

I believe it is the professional painter’s responsibility to warrant

their patron’s trust by ensuring that their purchase will endure the

ages.  I use as few mass-market art materials as possible.  I make

my own dammar varnish and stand oil and trust two or three cottage

colormen for mulling and preparing my tubes of oil paint, thereby allowing

me more personal control over the quality of pigment and grinding oils used.

~~Marsha Rhodes Gilliam

© Marsha Gilliam 2005