Those of us who paint are always in awe of painters in the past century. They had to work under much tougher conditions. They could not go down to the local art store and buy a canvas pre-stretched. When I decide what size canvas I need, it is a simple trip to the art supply store and I can purchase canvas of any size or type. On the other hand, many of the old masters’ paintings were painted on wooden boards. In addition, frequently the canvases were of varied sizes due to the non-standard hand work of making and stretching canvas.
Recently I visited the Houston Museum of Art where they had a Edgar Degas exhibit. The museum had a large showing of many of his early works. He is well known for painting groups, mostly famously dancers. One of his frequent group subjects was also race horses.
While at the exhibit, I learned one of the techniques that he used to save time and add variety. I always thought of these artist as purists. I did not realize that they were always thinking of ways to make a painting better without adding a large amount of time to the process.
What Degas did was so simple that I wonder why I did not think of it before. He would use tracing paper and draw a dancer on it and then reverse the paper and trace it. What he would have then is two dancers that did not look alike but were in effect the same. They were being viewed from a different angle. Of course, I cannot do this, as I am never painting duplicates. Each animal I paint has a distinct look and personality that I need to capture. But it is interesting nonetheless!
Now have discovered this, I wonder what other labor-saving techniques were used by the great masters. I feel fairly certain that other painters have used tracing paper to reverse an image for repetition. It will be interesting for me and maybe you to try to look at paintings with repetition of images and see if it is an example of the techniques of using tracing paper.
Drama on Canvas
In this blog post, I am sharing with you the step-by-step process as I painted a portrait of Kodos the cat, capturing drama on canvas. The owner and I selected a photograph (on the left above) with a unique pose full of drama that would translate well to canvas. In the middle above is the sketch I made to begin the process. On the right is the wash which defines the areas of dark and light for the final painting.
This photograph and the resulting painting is a perfect example of the artistic device called foreshortening. During the Renaissance in Florence in the 1400’s a new technique of painting called foreshortening was first used to present dramatic perspective. Up to this time painters were not concerned with realism in art. Painting did not have the depth that we have now grown accustomed to.
As a pet portrait painter I am constantly using techniques to represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface in a way that looks natural and realistic. Foreshortening occurs when an object appears compressed when seen from a particular viewpoint. The effect of this perspective causes distortion. Foreshortening is a particularly effective artistic device used to give the impression of three-dimensional volume and create drama in a painting.
What do you think of the final portrait of Kodos?
Not this kind of oil and water!
Painting with acrylics requires water. Painting with oil does not. Now, mixed media is a whole other story!
As a professional painter, I have been asked several times why I use oil and not acrylic paint. Acrylics, created in the 1940’s, are faster to paint with since they dry very quickly. In fact, a spray bottle of water is a must if you are painting with acrylics. Depending on the environment, you spray water on the painting and the palette to keep the paint from drying while you are in the process of painting. Acrylics are less expensive to buy and easy to clean up – no ruined clothes!
On the other hand, oil paint used for centuries, has its own advantages and disadvantages. The famous masters of painting had to create their own colors from ground-up stone such as lapis mottled with white calcite and brassy pyrite to create blue. Their palette was dictated by availability. As a modern painter I am fortunate that I am able to buy pre-made colors in many shades and blend oils on the palette in such a way that I can create the exact shade of color that I want. This gives me much more flexibility and the expanded palette that I desire. Oil takes longer to dry than acrylic paint, but it gives me the chance to continually “edit” my painting because it takes so much longer to completely dry, and i can touch it up for a long time.
When i first started painting, I used acrylics for the obvious reasons listed above. With acrylics I could produce a painting quickly. Next, I branched out into combining acrylic and oil. This is called mixed media. With mixed media, I would use acrylics for the base and wait a few hours for it to dry. After the painting dried, I would apply oil paint over the acrylic. It is not possible to paint acrylics over oil. After experimenting with the three processes, I settled on oil painting which gives me the opportunity to create the best possible product.
What Other Painters Use
The next time you are in a gallery, take note of what medium is used in the painting. All three are popular. I venture to say that paintings which are very thick are generally mixed media or acrylic. I find it interested to try to figure out what medium the artist used and then guess why they used it.
I wanted to paint a picture that was out of the ordinary. I really like this look. The lighting and the perspective are unique.
What do you think?
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