I began giving Aleksandra, a GCSE student, portrait painting lessons in September 2015. I think it is important for the younger generation to learn the oil painting techniques of the old masters, such techniques are not widely used in the art world anymore and I think it shows in the quality of work out there – I certainly saw an improvement in my own work on discovering and using these painting techniques. Aleksandra can draw fantastically well so she and her parents felt learning how to paint portraits using oils was the next step.
We started with a simple shading exercise (see image to your right), painting a sphere, I used this to introduce the ‘wipe-off’ painting technique to Aleksandra.
Wipe-Off: put a thin layer of brown (I use Sienna) over the entire canvas and then wipe away (I use turpentine and kitchen roll) the highlights – the areas where the light is hitting the object/person you are painting [the brightest white].
Aleksandra, quickly got the hang of this so we moved straight onto the portrait. I gave her a my self portrait painting to copy (bit weird for me as I don’t like painting self portraits so having someone painting from it is a strange experience) because this is the first portrait I did in the style of Rembrandt from start to finish and it is these techniques that I wish to teach Aleksandra.
After a few layers of Sienna and the wipe-off technique, we began to build up the highlights using white oil paint mixed with Medium 5 (an impasto/thickening dryer). This is only added to the whitest areas (those previously wiped away) of the painting and creates a 3D-like depth to the painting – a key factor in Rembrandt’s stunning art work.
It’s then time for the underpainting – blocking in the colours using thin glazes (I use Liquin Original as a glazing medium as it speeds drying and does not cause the painting to yellow).
We have now moved on to adding the final details to the portrait, Aleksandra completed the right eye today (31/01/16), she will work over the entire painting adding more and more details over the coming weeks until we feel the portrait is finished. Do check back for the final update on Aleksandra’s progress and to see the finished piece!