Gwyneth Demo Part #1

There are a LOT of ways to paint a portrait.

I use several different methods (and sometimes combine them) depending on what I think is best at the time.

Sometimes I even remember to take pictures of the process.

This portrait of Gwyneth (20"x24", oil on linen) won the Certificate of Excellence at the Portrait Society of America's International Portrait Competition in Philadelphia this year (2008).

Here's how I did it:

This a drawing on Acetate. I use prepared acetate instead of tracing paper because I can see through it. Believe me, it comes in handy later in the painting if my lines begin to "wander" and I need to correct.

I use a "Sharpie" Permanent Marker as it makes a clean line and doesn't smear.

I use a sheet of graphite paper and a ballpoint pen to transfer the drawing to the canvas. Acrylic paint will cover graphite (pencil). Oil paint will not cover graphite so if I were painting in oil, I'd need to erase my original lines and replace them with a Sharpie line.

I used acrylic paint for my first layer. In order to do this, I needed to use an acrylic primed linen - acrylic paint will not stick to oil primed linen and will not be archival.

I use Golden Matte colors. I try to stick to the dull halftone, neutral earth colors.

For the color "white" I choose a dull warmish neutral - about the value of a brown paper bag. Nothing will be lighter in value than this.  

If my subject has light skin, I use the same paint and color for the skintones as my "white." If my subject has darker skin, I deepen the value accordingly.

I may need to put on more than one layer of paint in order to cover the canvas and make it flat - like a poster. It is a good way to lay down my basic composition and make a definite statement of shape.

Two thin layers are much better than one thick layer. And I try not to leave ridges.

Posterizing is a good way to see if a composition works. This layer could be in oil but acrylics are a faster way to saturate the canvas.

I chose a medium value paint for all the objects and was thinking "halftone" (the space between light and shadow). Once the white of the canvas is covered up - it doesn't look so dark.

I always establish black and white immediately in an underpainting. It will help all the other mid-range values fall into place.

Gwyneth Demo Part #2

After I'm done with the acrylic stage (and it is completely dry), I seal the entire canvas with Winsor-Newton's Liquin.

My first layer of oil on the background. I want to create an outdoor scene. As you can see it is messy and moody and neutral.

With a paper towel in one hand and a brush in the other, I begin to "push" the wet paint around.

I am only using transparent colors at this stage. If I begin to use opaque colors, it will turn into mud...ick.

I generally have something in mind but this is a good time to "play around" with color and value.

Background is done and I'll let it dry. Then I use soft chalk or charcoal to draw guidelines on the jacket. I keep it very light and it just melts into the paint when I cover it over.

To paint the color white, I use Raw Umber + Titanium white and this mixture is slightly cooler than what I can get with the acrylic colors. However I match the value exactly in my oils and paint over it. That "white" skirt, face doesn't look so dark now, eh?

In oil paint, I divide the jacket, skirt, etc. into general light and shadow. I cover up all the acrylic paint with oil.

I keep the light and shadow general so I can manipulate the patterns. I use a photographic reference as my guide but seldom feel bound by "reality" if I can think of something better (that looks believable).

I continue to work with just general light and shadow and start turning the background into "real paint." That is, I follow the underpainting as a guide and begin to add opaque colors.

Gwyneth Demo Part #3

I'm starting to paint "form" into the black vest. I usually deal with black by glazing color over the flat black acrylic paint to give it a jewel tone.

When that is dry I add a thin glaze of ivory black and use raw sienna to build light.

Inside the general light on the jacket, I begin to build more form. The narrow range of values are subtle and no dark inside the light is as dark as anyplace in the general shadow area.

Light is lighter and warmer (I add yellow ochre pale + titanium white to the red jacket color).

Adding form to the jacket's general shadow area - narrow range of values with nothing as light in value as what is found in the general light.

I'm beginning to build form in the skirt by establishing how the general light meets the general shadow. It can meet very quickly....or very slowly. The definition of this is the foundation of painting form.

I'm working the entire background as I build the form of the figure. I like to add touches of the colors from my foreground into the background.

Added details into the skirt. I'm still not adding dark into this painting - I'm just painting with light and the darks suddenly begin to appear "darker."

Gwyneth Demo Part #4

This layer can be scary because it looks so radical...but it basically what gives the skin its luminosity. Some people start with it but I wait until the surrounding areas are well established before I use any white paint.

I usually save the face until last because the skin tones are determined by what surrounds it.

First, I draw the face in with raw umber and let it dry. Then I begin to use pure zinc white - straight from the tube and build form. Later I begin to use the more opaque titanium white paint.

I don't usually paint over a color (as in the hair) but I realized that I needed to build the light on the face and hair all together.

The face underpainting is finished. It make several days and is a very slow process. It takes as long as it takes. It is necessary to get a likeness starting now.

Here are the finished hands. I always underpaint any skin that shows.

I think that this stage looks scary. It throws all the colors and values off and suddenly the painting looks dark and dreary.

But take heart, it is only a temporary condition.

Next step - glaze.

Gwyneth Demo Part #5

This is the time to really nail the likeness. Sometimes I tape my reference photo next to the area I'm painting.

However, you must be careful with tape on the surface of the painting. The surface must be dry. I stick the tape to material first before resticking it to the canvas in order to reduce the adhesion. I do not leave tape sticking to the surface of a painting when I leave the easel.

I begin by adding a glaze. I use raw umber, raw sienna, and burnt umber either alone or in combination - however I can to begin to create the sitter's skin tone. I may use a thin glaze of raw umber to draw details (like eyelids) and enhance the form (above).

I glaze in the skintones very slowly and thinly. I let each layer dry before beginning the next.

I brush color into the cheeks and begin to define eye and hair color.

Note that if this was a woman of color I would begin with a darker value of skintone in the underpainting - the rest is exactly the same.

I am adding color slowly in layers of glazes. Then I am painting tiny bits of Titanium White + Yellow Ochre Pale into the wet glazes to build light.

Light is thick and opaque.

Shadow is thin and transparent.

I am mindful of the Old Master's technique of color banding:

Yellow Ochre Pale is added to the forehead.

Reds (Indian Red and/or Alizarin Crimson Permanent) are added to the area from the eyebrow line to the chin.

A cool blue (French Ultramarine) is added to the neck and chest.

If you mix these up - the face will look really odd; i.e., red on the forehead will make the face look ill - like a boiled lobster.

A glaze is a lot of medium (I use Liquin) with a little bit of transparent color. It will look a lot like pale stained glass.

Sometimes I scumble a color on the face to even out the tones and add luminosity. A scumble is a whole lot of medium (Liquin) with a little bit of opaque color (like Titanium White). It often looks like watered down milk.

After the underpainting in white, all of my layers are transparent or translucent. I already had a likeness so I didn't want to lose it.

As I am doing the final glazes and scumbles on the face and hands, I am glazing other colors in the painting to enrich the colors.

Note that because of my earth palette, I don't use the color "blue."  Instead I use Ivory Black + Titanium White to make the color blue. If at the end I want to intensify that color I can add a blue glaze if necessary. 

All done.

Lilly Ledbetter Speaks Out

"Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." 
- Ann Richards

I would like to think that the time to give equal pay for equal work to women in the arts is right now...if not sooner.

Lilly Ledbetter, who pursued discriminatory pay against women all the way to the Supreme Court (Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.), and lost. She offers some blunt criticism of John McCain's opposition to equal pay for equal work for women. 

McCain dismissed the wage gap and opposed a bill that would have given women equal pay for equal work.

In April, the Senate Republicans killed the bill on a 56-42 vote that denied the measure the 60 votes needed to advance it to full debate and a vote.

At a time when American families are struggling to keep their homes and jobs while paying more for everything from gasoline to groceries, how on Earth would anyone who thinks they can lead our country also think it's acceptable to oppose equal pay for equal work for America's mothers, wives and daughters?

John McCain ought to be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Rest In Peace, Paul Newman

The summation scene from The Verdict, Paul Newman (1981) 

This is a riveting movie -- about the law, but mainly about the flawed nature of the human beings who are entrusted with it. Please hear Newman, as Frank Galvin, on his last, crippled, despairing leg, give the summation to the case. It needs to be carved in marble somewhere. 

David Mamet, who wrote the screenplay, deserves accolades for how he was able to hand Paul Newman such a moving summation. The summation is about life, not just the law. It is a masterpiece, worth seeing the entire movie for.

It was Newman's finest hour.

I remember when I had faith in justice. That was just so pre-Bush administration, wasn’t it? And I desperately want to believe that we’ll find it again.

Cambric Tea - Encaustic Still Life Painting

Cambric Tea
10" x 10" Encaustic and oil paint on wood panel, framed


An American term used to describe a hot drink of milk, water, sugar and, if desired, a dash of tea. It was a favorite of children and the elderly in the late 19th and early 20th century. The name is taken from a fabric called cambric, which is white and thin . . . Just like the "tea."

This is pure nostalgia for me. I remember having a delightful cup of Cambric Tea with my Grandmother. She used the fancy china and I felt verrrrry special and grown up.

The Unassuming Little Oil Sketch Saves The Day

I was sorting through the inevitable stack of annoying "studio stuff" that tends to collect in my corners. I found this oil sketch of my favorite model, Gwyneth. It is a "failed study" ** for a painting that I never got around to starting.

Oil Sketch for a Painting of Gwyneth
8" x 10" oil on paper with masking tape

Although I can easily fix this sketch, I'll have to put it on the back burner with the others until I have the time to give it some serious attention and make it work.

I always make an oil sketch prior to beginning a large portrait. It resolves issues of value, color, compositional elements, and background that would be a nightmare if I were to try to resolve them in the final painting.

Here's my best hard-earned advice for any inexperienced painter reading this: If an oil sketch doesn't look good - the final painting won't look good either.

An original oil sketch (however ratty around the edges) will sit on my easel as a guide to get me through the final (larger) painting.

It is an extra effort but well worth it.

This is an oil sketch that sits on my easel right now. It is only 8 1/3" x 10" but it is guiding me through a much larger historical portrait that is 25" x 30."  

The original photo reference I'm using is a faded 150 year old daguerrotype that did not show many clear details. The handbill, frock coat and background is made up...there is no way I could paint the finished piece without this little guide. 

The Oil Sketch is never meant to "nail a likeness"...that's my job for the final.

Sometimes I paint on paper, cardboard or even directly on my reference photo.

Sometimes I paint this quickie oil sketch if I have a red-hot visual idea and use it as a guide to set up and photograph the model.

** Be sure to check out the comments added below if you are wondering why I think that the Gwyneth Oil Sketch doesn't work as is.

Songbird - Encaustic Painting

8" x 10," Framed, Encaustic and oil paint on paper on board

Pear Still Life - Encaustic Painting

Pear Still Life 
5" x 7" Encaustic and Oil on Paper on Board

Sayings from China

This is me, standing in a silk factory somewhere in China.

 And for a little extra flavor, here are some of my pictures from this amazing and ancient land. 

My entire trip to China was so visually rich I want to go back - with a much better camera.

Here are some wise Chinese sayings that I like:

To be angry with a weak man is a proof that you are not very strong yourself.

To be of use in the world is the only way to be happy.

To forgive our enemies is a charming way of revenge.

To have money is a fear, not to have it a grief.

To know the disease is half the cure.

To make enemies, talk; to make friends, listen.

To marry a woman for her beauty is like buying a house for its paint.

To really understand a man we must judge him in misfortune.

To worry about tomorrow is to be unhappy today.

Two persons cannot long be friends if they cannot forgive each other's little failings.

Unkindness destroys love.

We soon believe what we desire.

When stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.

When guns speak it is too late to argue.

When the fox preaches, take care of your geese.

Dogwood Still Life - Encaustic

Dogwood Still Life
8" x 10" Encaustic on paper on board

Evans Encaustic Paints

Encaustics are an ancient medium of pigmented wax and are a nice break from my traditional oil paints. 

It loosens me up every time I paint with it.

I really like the high quality handmade encaustic paint I get from Evans Encaustics in Sonoma California. Their paint has no fillers or binders and contains a heavy pigment load.

These varied and delicious colors need to be mixed with medium because they are so concentrated. 

I am particularly enthusiastic because I can duplicate my Old Master's Oil Paint Earth Palette with these encaustic paint sticks.

Their medium is made of natural refined beeswax and a food-grade damar resin. I like the way it handles and I've become addicted to it.

Order from:

728 First Street West
Sonoma, California 95476

And contact Hylla Evans (hylla at if you have any questions about her wonderful paint - she hand makes every bit of it.

The Evans Encaustics website has a free newsletter and offers workshops for encaustic painters.

And Joanne Mattera has written my favorite book on the subject of encaustic painting - good enough to get me started using encaustics. It is available at Amazon.