Paul W. McCormack: Sheer Realism


A Portrait (watercolor 28×21)

Although I work in both watercolor and oil, I began my career nearly 20 years ago by painting the figure in watercolor, a medium that lends itself beautifully to re-creating the translucent quality of flesh. By working transparently and using three basic techniques?wet-into-wet, glazing and drybrush–I?ve developed a method that gives my portraits a look unlike conventional watercolors.


Carl Family (detail; oil, 74×102)

After indicating all of my large areas of color, I begin to work on the features. As I paint the eyes and mouth, I once again pay particular attention to the edges. I paint the eyes wet-into-wet to ensure that the iris has a soft look, then use the same approach to create paint the upper lash, softening the bottom edge into the eye, which creates the illusion that the lid and the lash are moving up and over the eye. Then I move to the mouth using the same approach that I use for flesh, with one important exception–I wet the mouth well beyond it?s outer edges to give the lips a soft appearance. Finally, I use a warm reddish color to define the line of the eyelid, the nostrils and the separation of the lips. This is important: Using a cool color in these areas deadens the look of the flesh.

The drybrush technique gives my fleshtones their soft, smooth look. I use small, delicate, transparent strokes of almost-pure color to create a rich, vibrant appearance. I?m very particular in my brush choice for this technique–I use a Winsor & Newton series 7, round No. 2 sable. I load my brush with color, pat the moisture out with a paper towel, and begin to hatch very delicate lines. Although these lines tend to try to blend, once you become familiar with this technique, you can control it almost as if you were working with a pencil.

My approach for creating oil portraits shares many similarites with my watercolor work. For example, I use the same palette for both?-yellow ochre, cerulean blue and rose madder geniue, to which I may add cadmium red and ivory black. However, there are four important differences: In oil, I deal more with shapes than lines, I work dark to light, my colors are completely opaque rather than transparent and I don?t use the progression of three key techniques that I use for watercolor.

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