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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gracie: WIP #4 - A Book Review - Top Five Art Books List

Okay, here's the fourth WIP of Gracie. Making progress on the face, but since posting this WIP I see some changes necessary in the shape of the eyes. Wonder why it is that when you post your work onscreen, errors jump out with wild screaming abandon? While working on this portrait I'm trying to keep in mind things that I've learned from previous portraits, tips and techniques generously shared by other bloggers and valuable pointers gleaned from art books.... that's a lot to keep in mind! I've also been mulling over the background while working. This was a night time shot so I'm considering a medium to dark blue sky... but not a heavy, saturated blue. I'd like something that is light in saturation... something almost dreamy (like a watercolor effect)? As always, comments and constructive criticism welcome! (I'm also posting the original reference photo for comparison).

The biggest thing I'm trying to do with this portrait is to not re-do! I'm squinting a lot to check the masses and basic shapes and help keep me away from details. I want a fresher look - a touch of alla prima if you will. So, I'm working and spending time figuring out... how to be spontaneous! :-) I have a feeling it takes a lot of knowledge and many hours of practice to achieve that kind of spontaneity and still turn out a great portrait..... so I know I have many hours of studying, drawing and painting ahead of me... which is not a bad thing at all... in fact, it sounds very satisfying.

Over breakfast (Honey Nut Cheerios and 1% milk!) I read back over part of a book I bought a year or two ago. When I first read it, I read it thoroughly, highlighting the things I felt were important. I was amazed this morning to re-read over some of the text and it was as if I'd never read the book! Some things that didn't click the first time did click this time. There were things I'd read that I knew were important, but at that point it was theory, not practical knowledge. After struggling with that very thing and then reading some timely advice on how to correct it, the knowledge moved from theoretical to practical..... where I could use it.

I then realized that, by no means, did I fully appreciate the value of this book until I had struggled for some time by myself. The book is
"Portraits from Life" by John Howard Sanden. I noticed before I bought the book that a couple of reviewers on Amazon had taken issue with the fact that Sanden promotes his own line of portrait oil paints in the book - but he does so tastefully and offers equivalents for those working with other brands of oils. The fact that he uses his own line of paints does not in any way detract from the wonderful advice written for the portrait painter. I'm using colored pencils for my portraits. His advice transcends medium; the basics are still the basics regardless of what type of binder you choose to carry your pigment.

In the section on drawing he begins by saying,

"I don't differentiate between drawing and painting. To me, these are part of the same process. Each time I place a brushstroke I am in fact painting and drawing. The preliminary marks I use to begin a painting of the head are like a map rather than a full-scale drawing. I advise against a full-scale drawing in preparing a portrait not only because it's quickly obliterated, but also because it's too confining." (page 22)

I like that. I guess everybody has to find their own way, but I never understood the need for a detailed drawing showing every shape of every shadow on the face when it will all be covered by the first couple of layers of color that I put down for the skin. All that careful drawing and now it's covered up and of no use to me whatsoever! I like idea of starting with a basic outline and going from there.

For the portrait painter, this book is a treasure trove of wisdom. The book is arranged as follows:

Part One: Studio Essentials and Supplies
Part Two: The Elements of Painting (Drawing, Values and Color)
Part Three: Premier Coup Techniques (Premier Coup is the same as Alla Prima) and his Nine Principles of Premier Coup are:
1. Start with a white, untoned canvas
2. Establish Your Goal
3. Make Every Stroke Count
4. Be Deliberate and Decisive
5. Focus on the Larger Masses
6. Maintain the Drawing
7. Work with Speed
8.Treat Your Edges Softly
9. Overcome the Fear of Failure
Part Four: Two full step by step demos accompanied by lots of photos of the work in progress to illustrate the particular technique he's explaining.
Part Five: A Gallery of Commissioned Portraits

For me, Parts Two and Three are especially helpful.

While writing this review I thought of another must-have, can't-do-without book.... "Eternal Truths for Every Artist" by Harley Brown. Then I thought of a couple of others that are becoming dog-eared and have Post-It notes on various pages to denote important info; the books that don't seem to make it back to the bookshelf because I regularly refer to them and keep them handy. So I thought I'd list my Top Five Most Helpful Art Books, and I'd love it if you would do the same. Would be fun to compare lists and see what everybody's reading that's impacting their art. Do join in!

Here's my Top Five Art Books (in random order)

1. Eternal Truths for Every Artist by Harley Brown
2. Drawing People by Barbara Bradley
3. Drawing with Your Artist's Brain by Carl Purcell
4. Colored Pencil Portraits by Ann Kullberg
5. Portraits from Life by John Howard Sanden

There are lots more books I have that I love, but these are the ones that have the most influence on my art.

Tomorrow morning I'll be back into Portraits from Life to glean more advice - over a bowl of Cheerios of course!
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