Spending 4 days focused on a version of the atelier method for painting portraits gave me an opportunity to work in a way I don’t normally. It was hard to follow the method and not revert to my more intuitive and less organised approach. I felt that I needed a more systematic approach to painting figures to help speed up my process and give it some anchor points (from which deviation is possible).
To summarise the approach: 1. Oil turpsy ground in ivory black, umber of umber/blue2 – wipe off excess. 2. Drawing stage: Pointed brush in pure paint to sketch in proportions using sight-size or consonant process, wipe out highlights; mark in main shadow shapes. 3. Block in stage: two tones for each area – light side and dark side, using relevant colours. Keep hard lines in and use a good amount of paint to cover ground. 4. Refine stage: correct, check and put in relevant details., can add in shadow within shadow and highlight in light areas.
I found the block in hard work and had to stay disciplined; I’d need more practice to make it more natural; the sight-size method was confusing and I elected to go with dividers for proportion marking out and then checking. That way is it was easier to scale up than with the step back and forth method. I noticed that the tutor’s portraits are all the same size and small in frame due to the nature of the sight-size method, which to me seemed a bit limiting in terms of composition.
What I liked best here was the wipeout version of the image (see bottom left). It seems more atmospheric and intriguing. I think it’s more subtle in terms of form too. Somehow the block in approach lingers in the final portrait and it feels all too definite, the subject as individuated, discrete and differentiated, an entity that is not visually contingent on and in the environment, something more apparent in the mists of the wipe-out sfumato. Folk horror’s pessimism sets the agenda here: a less assured human occupation of space. I am now starting to think of Francis Bacon in terms of this approach (have to see that show!).
So this leads to the next set of experiments where I will play with different colours and approaches to developing a ‘wipeout’ not as a stage but as an endpoint. I hope to get something more fragile, flickering and less confidently ’embodied’.