This article on Casey Baugh and his tips and techniques for painting portraits in oil is excerpted from the article “Practice Makes Perfect” by Louise B. Hafesh in the April 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.
“I pretty much grew up with a pencil in my hand,” says Casey Baugh, who until the ninth grade was home-schooled in an environment that placed emphasis on drawing and the arts. “It seemed to me that drawing was just as effective a form of communication as writing and speaking,” continues the young artist, whose drawing skills were accomplished enough by age 11 to attract a consistent flow of paid portrait commissions.
“A relative requested a portrait of his terrier,” he says, remembering his first order. “That led to a trickling of work from other family members and friends, who in turn showed my charcoal sketches to local townsfolk. Eventually, through word of mouth, I began making a little money from my art.” And as that modicum of success fueled his confidence, it also motivated him to enter art competitions, through which he accumulated numerous awards and local notoriety.
Throughout high school, still without the benefit of formal art classes, Baugh took it upon himself to learn everything he could about his craft to perfect his skills.
“I began to collect images,” says Baugh, “by artists I admired, like Jean-Léon Gérôme, Alphonse Maria Mucha and Ramon Casas i Carbó, among others, and then to compile them as an inspiration book. I’d spend hours studying each piece, attempting to figure out common denominators, applying similar techniques, even copying entire paintings. My book was a great study guide; not only did my work improve, but I also learned a good deal about myself in the process.”
For eight years Baugh methodically honed his skills. Working monochromatically, using charcoal and Conté crayon, he addressed the basics of value, composition and various light effects, intentionally transitioning to color at age 20, only when he felt comfortable enough in his ability to tackle its complexities.
A Meaningful Mentorship
Not long after his passage from drawing to painting, Baugh set out on a sort of pilgrimage in search of a favorite hero, Richard Schmid. “I’d been studying his work for many years,” says Baugh, who made the trip from Georgia to Vermont to meet his mentor. “I showed Richard my portfolio, and he invited me to join his weekly study-painting group, the Putney Painters.” Schmid also offered to tutor Baugh in oil painting techniques if he was willing to relocate. “Of course, I took a leap of faith and moved to the Boston area,” he says.
They worked together for three years, studying both the business of art and life. “Richard gave me the vocabulary,” says Baugh, “but not what to say; he showed me how to mix paint, but not what to paint, and taught me a better way to express what I was already trying to say.
For more specifics on Baugh’s process, see these two demonstrations:
• Casey Baugh Portrait Demo
• Painting Demo by Casey Baugh: Fine-Tuning a Portrait in Oil
Combining Tradition and Technology
In another daring move, this year Baugh returned to his roots and is in the process of setting up his dream studio, a 2,000-square-foot space near his home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Modern and efficient, with five large north-facing windows, a huge skylight and track lights, and incorporating the latest advances in computer and lighting technologies, the studio is designed to control and re-create every possible light effect—from cold to warm and from sharp to diffused at the flip of a switch.
“I think it’s foolish to adopt only the traditions of yesterday,” he says in explanation of his penchant for melding state-of-the-art, hi-tech equipment—such as cameras, special lighting, computers and software—with traditional and classical techniques (scroll down to read Traditional Tools and High-Tech Tools). “I embrace any technology or method that frees me to explore new approaches to my art. For example,” says Baugh, “along with my life studies, I reference several photographs of the scene and model that help me determine the movement and stability of the composition. I view these images on my computer monitor, which has been color-balanced to match my actual scene.”
Oil Painting Tip: Practice Studies
Asked about the direction his work is taking now that he’s flying solo in a new environment—with the equipment, space and freedom to paint whatever, whenever and however he likes—Baugh humbly admits to still garnering much from other peoples’ work and feels his routine of doing small to medium-size practice studies as part of his oil painting techniques has brought him closer to understanding the visual world.
“Presently what captivates me is to incorporate a mixture of my favorite styles from all periods of art,” Baugh says, “embracing everything from realism to abstract principles, even taking the best qualities of modern photography—the strategic use of light, a well-composed scene and strong emotion conveyed through the model’s attitude—while adding painterly elements like surface, color, texture and edge.”
“As I get older, the things that intrigue me change. I’ve become more interested in what I’m trying to say with paint in my portraits—and less in the fact that I’m using colored mud to say it. Flashy brushwork and speed of application aren’t as compelling for me as the power of emotionally charged content expressed through the voice of paint.”
Oil Painting Techniques: Color, Composition, Counterbalance
One of the Baugh’s recent portraits, Yellow (below), is a mesmerizing example of his disciplined process. This composition features a close-cropped view of the model, whose intense head-on gaze, pose and attitude command attention. Baugh’s rich color harmonies, while masterfully congruent, contrast with the edginess of a slightly off-balance tilt of the model’s body and the triangular scheme of the painting.
“This painting was born from my desire to use more intense color,” explains Baugh, who rates it as one of his favorites. “My first step was to shop around and find the right wardrobe. I chose a highly chromatic, warm yellow top. Then I experimented with various types of lighting on the model and shirt to see what looked best. In the end, I chose a light at 6500K and placed it above the model so as to create deep shadows under her eye sockets and nose.”
Working for several days to perfect the composition and placement of the figure, Baugh’s motivation was to counterbalance symmetry with tension. “Everything from the angles of the arms to the angles of the hair helps guide the eye around the scene to various focal points,” he explains. He completed several preliminary color and value studies from life before approaching the final painting, which took about a week to complete.
Paints (preferred artist’s colors): Winsor & Newton; Rembrandt; Holbein; Williamsburg; Lefranc & Bourgeois
Medium: one part stand oil, one part damar varnish and five parts triple-rectified turpentine
Brushes: Royal & Langnickel Series 5590 flats and Robert Simmons Signet filberts and flats; Winsor & Newton Series 9 small round watercolor sables
Canvas: Art Warehouse (www.artwarehouse.biz) and New York Central Art Supply’s double-white, lead-primed smooth linen canvas
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II with battery grip and plenty of high-speed CF (compact flash) memory cards; Canon L Series lenses: 50, 85, 100 and 135 mm lenses, plus the 24-105 mm zoom lens
Computer: Apple 24-inch LED computer monitors; Mac Pro, MacBook Pro and Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended software; lots of high-speed hard drive space for images
Lighting: Arri 1000-, 650- and 350-watt constant lights with soft-boxes (to light scenes without natural light)
Other: Sekonic light and color meter (to measure the brightness and temperature of the light)
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