Sometimes I start a portrait "as flat as a pancake." Here's a peek into my process.
This is my finished portrait of Annie (above). It is 16" x 20" - oil on linen and I'll bet that you cannot see the "pancake here."
One day I happened to come across a poster of Michaelangelo's "Manchester Madonna" (below) and the light bulb came on :
And suddenly, the "Pancake Method" began to make sense. Thanks Michaelangelo.
This is the "pancake" that is underneath my painting of Annie. I wanted to establish and fix the composition and account for all of the colors (red, yellow, blue, black and white). Needless to say I did a drawing before I started the "pancake."
Flat Color Notes:
"Black" is a color I mix from burnt umber + prussian blue.
The "blue" sky is a mixture of ivory black + titanium white.
The hair, skin and white sweater are a mixture of raw umber + white (all the same value in this portrait). Had Annie been a woman of color, I would have used the same colors - but made the skin and hair a darker value (i.e., less white).
The "red" (I'm going for pink on the scarf) is burnt sienna + a touch of alizarin crimson permanent + white (with enough raw umber to dull it all down).
"Yellow" is a a mixture of yellow ochre + raw umber.
I often use these basic earth colors to establish nearly all of my color in the first layers....no matter whose portrait it is.
Only if you are working on an acrylic primed canvas, you have the option to use "Liquitex's Opaque Acrylic Color Matt Basics." The oil paint must "grab" the acrylic layer beneath or the painting will not be archival. Sometimes I lightly sand the dry acrylic surface to help the oil paint "grab." Even in Acrylic paint, I stick to an earth palette.
However, I mixed oil paint for this painting and in places, it took a couple of layers to cover to make it as "flat as a pancake" - as shown above.
After the "pancake" stage, I begin work on a dry surface.
If the surface is acrylic, I will cover it with Liquin and let that dry before I begin with oil (to ensure a good bond).
No matter how I paint, I begin with the background.
I glazed over the "brown frame" with raw umber and then used a paper towel crumpled up and dipped into yellowish-brown paint. Then I "fuss around" with a brush for a minute or two and this part is done.
I match the paint in the sky and then paint clouds into the wet surface. (I use a touch of raw umber + white to make those clouds.)
Then I blend the gold into light and shadow on the oval and begin to build some light on the shoulder and scarf.
I draw on the dry surface with chalk and mix thick paint to establish light and shadow and then begin to define the shadow patterns....an important element of composition.
Although my finished work doesn't look like I've piled on the paint - I do.
I learned to "always paint with a quiet brush." If your brush makes noise - you haven't got enough paint on it. Seriously.
Here's a detail above before I begin to blend light into shadow. I paint right over my "chalk" guidelines. I used a soft white pastel and it just blends into the wet paint.
This is light and shadow blended. Where light and shadow meet is called the halftone. The light can turn quickly or slowly as it moves into shadow to define the form.
I pay a lot of attention to the halftone and try to keep my shadows light and luminous (even though it never looks this way in a photograph)...