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.


Peggi Habets said...

When I look at the Gwyneth study, I see a nice composition, beautiful, soft light, an atmospheric feel to it. I'm curious, how is Gwyneth's painting failed? Am I missing something?

My Painting Studio said...

Thanks for asking - this is a tough one to see.

The problem is with the light on the skirt - it has the shape of a large flattened marshmallow. It doesn't go anywhere and it does's an eyestopper.

In order to make this work composition-wise, I'll need to find a believable way to trail the light down the front of the skirt to create a more interesting sub-pattern of light/shadow.

I'll also need to pick up that light and figure a way to integrate it into the background - like maybe some white flowers at her feet without drawing the eye away from the face and into an unimportant part of this picture.

If you want to see composition in a photo or sketch, you can change it into greyscale and look at it that way. Sometimes color can distract.

Or you can turn it upside down. Maybe you can blur it (squint) and see it as an abstract.

It is so easy to get distracted from a poor composition by pretty subject matter....but with some effort and timeI can certainly make this painting work.

If/when I do "fix" this, I'll repost it so you can see what I mean.

In fact - maybe I can do a series of "fixes" - it would be a good lesson.

Peggi Habets said...

Oh, yes, I see what you are saying. I would love to see when/if you decide to work on it further. Thanks!

Tali said...

I would LOVE to see a series of "fixes"! You have taught me so much. I can't thank you enough for this wonderful blog!