Limited-Palette Portrait Demonstration With Nicholas Raynolds

Limited-Palette Portrait
By Nicholas Raynolds

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Attempting to complete a portrait while teaching a workshop isn’t practical, so I created this step-by-step demonstration of Portrait of Morgan after the workshop, while working in the studio. I used a six-color palette plus black and white (see Raynolds’s Studio Palette on page 60 in the magazine).

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1. Drawing: I drew this piece in pencil over a couple of sessions. I always work from the general to the specific; from the flat/graphic shapes to dimensional forms. Accuracy of proportion and anatomical forms serves as the groundwork for the subtler, interesting problems associated with the sitter’s character and expression.

 

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2. Transfer: Before I transferred my drawing, I primed the surface with gesso, then with titanium white. After this, I toned the surface with a thin coat of chromatic gray. To transfer the drawing, I used charcoal on the back of a photocopy of the original drawing. Once the photocopy was positioned on the painting support with masking tape, I traced over the image with the objective of stating the most essential information. I was left with a faint charcoal outline, which I then drew over in India ink to secure the drawing to the canvas.

 

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3. Underpainting: Once the drawing was established on the canvas, I blocked in the general color scheme of the entire picture. At this stage I worked relatively quickly, going from dark to light and using fairly thin paint—you could also call this an “underwash.” My goal was to make a first statement in value, temperature/hue, and intensity while maintaining the integrity of the drawing. I tend to prioritize value and then temperature. Note, for example, the darks and lights and the cools and warms in the passage from the lower jaw, across the cheek, to the corner of the eye. When the underpainting was complete, I had the foundation upon which to begin painting the form.

 

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4. Facial Form: Here you see that I had nearly finished the face. I’d worked at a thoughtful pace, rounding each form, establishing the relationship of one form to the next. I thought about the direction of the light, specific shape, location, and color (value, temperature/hue, and intensity) of each form. I allowed my brushstrokes to maintain their individuality while helping to unify the overall effect. I paid attention to edge quality, allowing for the variety of crisp and soft edges, as found in nature. I was open to making changes if I found them to be important; the shoulder, for example, seemed too large, so I carved it back. At this stage, too, I prioritize value and then temperature/hue. Again, note the transition from the underside of the zygomatic (cheek) bone to its high point, through to the corner of the orbit of the eye. Value and hue are readily expressed with a limited palette.

 

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5. “Oiling Out”: In returning to the piece from session to session, I sometimes found that the paint, in drying, had “sunk in” or lost the vibrancy it had when wet; this was especially true of the darkest darks. When this was the case, I “oiled out” the surface in order to bring the colors back to their original lustre. To do this, I used a little of my medium, brushed on thinly and only up to where I planned on continuing my work from the day before. I use caution when doing this because I risk reactivating the paint, causing colors to bleed and smear. Here I’ve completed the model’s back, adding a dress strap for compositional effect, and thus finishing Portrait of Morgan (oil, 12×11).

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Nicholas Raynolds studied art in Düsseldorf, Germany; Vancouver and Halifax, Canada; Seattle; and in New York City at the Water Street Atelier. He holds regular workshops around the country, including at the Art Students League of New York, the National Academy School of Fine Arts (New York City), and the Penland School of Crafts (Mitchell County, North Carolina). He has exhibited nationally at John Pence Gallery (San Francisco), Eleanor Ettinger Gallery (New York City) and Haynes Galleries (Nashville, Tennessee, and Thomaston, Maine), and his work can be found in collections around the world, Including the Forbes Galleries. For more information on Raynolds’s artwork plus his class and workshop schedule, go to www.nicholasraynolds.com.