Jennifer (oil, 21×16)
It was 19th-century Austrian painter Friedrich von Amerling’s Portrait of a Girl that gave Adrian Gottlieb the idea for his winning portrait—the soulful, delicately illumined Jennifer. “I really enjoyed the grace and simplicity of the pose, as well as the way the light washed across her from just slightly behind her,” he says. It’s no surprise that he derives his main inspiration from the works of the old masters, such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyke and Friedrich von Amerling.
Gottlieb (www.adriangottlieb.com) begins his process by first taking photographs to determine which kind of lighting, cropping and composition will be most effective for the setting he wishes to create, then does several sketches and color studies to turn the camera’s impression into his own. Although he uses photographs for reference, he doesn’t work directly from them since he feels that the camera can’t see nature the way he does. “Once I feel confident about my design,” he says, “I work on the rest of the painting exclusively from life. I paint with two different palettes, one primarily what often now is called the Zorn palette (after 19th-century Swedish painter Anders Zorn), which is simply made up of lead white, yellow ochre, vermilion and black, usually with only cobalt or ultramarine blue, and pyrol ruby red to hit the accents. However, for this painting, I used the verdaccio approach (from Italian Renaissance frescoes), which requires an underpainting made up of lead white, sinopia, chrome oxide green and ivory black. Then I glazed over this layer with the various warm tones that were missing from the underpainting.”
The Los Angeles artist continues to refine his techniques. “There is definitely an aesthetic that I’m striving for,” he says, “and my techniques only change in ways I believe will help me attain that aesthetic. When I was 12 years old, I saw my first Rembrandt portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The overpowering sense of soul, luminosity and color was—and continues to be—almost overwhelming to me. My techniques evolve to capture those qualities as best I can.”
Self-Portrait with Brush (oil, 24×20)
International student Hsin-Yao Tseng has come a long way—from drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the age of 10 to being an accomplished artist—even though he’s still a student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Tseng’s winning painting, Self-Portrait with Brush, was an assignment in his portraiture class.
Tseng (hsinyaotseng.mosaicglobe.com) works from photographs, using three adjusted versions of the same photo reference. The first is a high-contrast black-and-white print, used to determine the simple dark and light patterns and the details in the shadow areas. The second is a low-contrast black-and-white print, used to see the highlights more clearly, and the third version is the original color copy.
Tseng’s technique begins with a grisaille (monochromatic, gray) painting, using transparent oxide red. “This grisaille sketch serves as a value study to assist me in blocking in the values,” he says. “Next, I slowly begin to add color to the painting. Basically I work from dark to light in a full-color palette, using many layers and glazing techniques to achieve depth and richness. I make sure to add more color in the shadow areas and intense color in the transitional areas. In the end I refer to the low-contrast print to pull out the highlights and emphasize my focal point, the facial area in my self-portrait. In order to create a smooth path for the viewer’s eye in this work, I reduced the intensity of the surrounding elements.”
This young artist has been recognized as an up-and-coming talent, and he intends to enter as many competitions as he can before he graduates next year. “Later on, I wish to stay in the States,” he says, “and become an established artist.”
Nick’s Gaze (watercolor, 16×20)
About 20 years ago, Stan Miller was in his booth at an art fair when a man with an intriguing face walked by. The man agreed to let Miller take some photos. All the artist knew at the time was that the man’s name was Nick. Over the years Miller used Nick’s photographs as reference for several paintings and only found out later, from people who knew Nick, that he was a kind, well-liked gentleman—qualities which confirmed Miller’s first impression. Once again Nick has become his inspiration—this time in his arresting portrait Nick’s Gaze.
There is no set procedure Miller (www.stanmiller.net) follows to create his paintings. Sometimes he uses photographic references, as well as his imagination, and then does a drawing of the subject. “In certain cases I paint from life,” he says. “At other times I don’t do a drawing but just start painting. Once I did a painting of a Native American by combining different features from different faces in black-and-white photos, and using my face as well, to put together a composite image of a face. Sometimes I make up the color on my portraits, and other times I try to capture accurately the color I see. In the case of Nick’s Gaze, I kind of made up the color as I went along and have no recollection of the palette I used. As far as technique, I never think about technique or color when I paint. I do think about design and what emotional message I want to convey. Technique and color will fall into place if I have the design and emotion figured out. What I want out of my work is the same thing I want out of life and our world: to be the best it can be.”
Self-Portrait: Tied (oil, 28×22)
The radiant face of the woman in fiery red is defined against the dark, opaque background of Self-Portrait: Tied. As an admirer of Rembrandt, Shin-Young An (www.anyoungart.com) attempted to link the old master’s painting style with historic Korean culture. “I styled myself to look like a serious person wearing a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress,” she says.
Working quickly, the artist begins drawing directly on canvas with one oil color, usually burnt sienna. Her palette is limited to alizarin crimson, phthalo green, yellow ochre and white, although she added cadmium scarlet for Tied. An used a mirror to paint her self-portrait, but her husband posed for the hands portion of the piece. “I love to paint portraits because dealing with skin tones, while very difficult, is also interesting to me,” An says. “Skin tones can reflect the subject’s inner character if they’re painted successfully.”
Planning a shift from doing strict portraiture to more conceptual work that reflects her observations of current society, An explains, “I want my work to inspire others.”
Fleeting Moment (oil, 36×30)
The inspiration for David Mueller’s evocative piece, Fleeting Moment, came from his baby son. “I became a first-time father at age 43,” Mueller says. “I can’t imagine a stage of my son’s life that I won’t want to capture.” The part of the piece he enjoyed painting most was the child’s head. “It was all about the look on his face—that expression set the whole composition right away.” Mueller (www.davidmuellerfineart.com) prefers a warm palette; he refines the more figurative elements, which are the focus, and only suggests the peripheral areas with more impressionistic brushwork. The California, Kentucky, artist works from life as much as possible but uses photographs to remember a scene. He also uses the camera’s viewfinder as a compositional tool.
What is his dream if he could have it? “I’d like never to have to paint to make a living,” he says. “I’d like to strip away all the business aspects and see where the art takes me.”
The Northern Girl (graphite, 24×18)
Finding which medium best suits his goals for a painting is important to Julio Reyes. He works mainly with oil paint and graphite but, when the situation demands, he will transition to another medium such as charcoal or watercolor. About The Northern Girl, Reyes says: “I wanted to evoke a sense of vastness and beauty, isolation and human frailty. The warmth of a single person set against an infinite sprawl of technology, tangled power lines and steel towers seemed poetic and dramatic. There’s an arid, silvery quality to that air, and it’s woven into every building, face and freeway. I suppose that’s what led me to use graphite the way I did.”
Reyes (www.julio-reyes.com) usually starts a piece by studying the focal area intensely and then produces studies in graphite and watercolor. He rendered most of the darkest values in The Northern Girl with a mechanical pencil through a painstaking, meticulous process of layering. Reyes’s commitment to art is quite simple: “I want to create art for the rest of my life according to my highest calling and fullest abilities.”
Paula Theotocatos is a freelance writer who lives and works in Anthem, Arizona.
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