Friday, November 25, 2011

Technique: Scott E. Bartner (b. 1960)

Scott E. Bartner
Portrait of Eva (2010)
44 X 31 cm.
oil on panel-mounted linen

Scott Bartner (b. 1960) is an American expatriate living and painting in the culturally important city of Maastricht in The Netherlands.  Since 1993, when he moved to Maastricht and was finally able to fully devote his time to art, he has done commissioned portraits for society members throughout Europe and the United States.  On Bartner's website, not only can examples of these portraits be found, but also step-by-step examples of the traditional painting method he uses to create his detailed works.  Please visit his site to learn more about this artist, and to see more of his paintings.


The following demonstration and descriptions are directly from Scott Bartner's website.


Painting Technique 

Writing about one's technique is a tricky business.  No one portrait follows a standard formula, and to suggest that a successful painting can be created in a rigid step-by-step manner is quite ludicrous. Whatever individual method is adopted though, it is wise to have some sort of system.  The following description is my system, described in the most general of terms: 

Ground Preparation and Underdrawing 

A panel or canvas is prepared with several thin layers of gesso, sanded between layers.  The structure of the gesso, whether applied with a brush or by some other means, plays an important role in determining whether the portrait is painterly, or refined in appearance. A thin layer of burnt umber is laid down evenly as a ground and allowed to dry thoroughly.  Working from a suitable photo, the head is modeled in thin layers of burnt umber with a fair amount of detail giving the illusion of light moving across the form from a single light source.  Each layer is kept transparent even in the darkest shadowed areas.


Once the drawing is completely dry, the head is built up in combinations of transparent zinc white and opaque titanium white. The thickest areas of white are where the light strikes the figure directly. Conversely, the shadows are painted with transparent white over the brown underdrawing producing, bluish shadows.  Varying the thickness of the white paint creates the form of the head as the light strikes it.  The hair and the clothing are also painted in a similar way with emphasis on texture and light fall. 


When the underpainting is complete, transparent color is applied in thin layers first in the shadowed areas and then gradually to the lightest areas. Several layers of transparent color are applied to suggest the transparent nature of skin. If the shadows become too brown, then a thin layer of zinc white is re-applied, creating a bluish-area which is re-glazed when dry. In cases where the underpainting is not strong enough, the entire head will have to be repainted in white or "highed-up," and later re-glazed. A neutral background is laid in loosely, revealing the brownish-orange underpainting in places, giving more depth to the picture. The background is also glazed to strengthen the shadows, bring out the figure and soften contours.

This technique is not a forgiving one. It entails making a long series of correct decisions. Making corrections after glazing is difficult indeed. Considerable patience is required to work with layers that must completely dry before continuing. It is therefore understandable why few artists employ this exacting and time-consuming method.


The Reference Photos

I work from photos taken myself.  In this case I've made one enlargement of the subject's head, and a second overexposed image to better see her hair and the folds in her dark clothing.  I already see a distortion problem with her left eye and (hopefully) will be able to correct it in my under-drawing.  The shadow cast by her nose also bothers me--it's too triangular.  Time to break out the art books for inspiration.


The Panel

For this portrait I am using a "Mus" panel purchased from Peter van Ginkel in The Netherlands.  I also use Max Howard "Realgesso" panels from Athens, Georgia.  What I use depends on how rough the surface is and how loose I want the brush work to look.  In this case I wanted a rougher surface to drag the brush on.  The ground color is Pozzuoli Earth from Williamsburg Paints mixed with a little Old Holland Titanium white.  I will make good use of this ground color as the portrait progresses.


Under-drawing 1

I create my drawing using Old Holland Warm Sepia Extra.  It allows me to get my half tones and shadows dark enough to support the paint that will go over it.  I'm constantly looking in the mirror to check my drawing.  If I can only get that eye in the right place!


Under-drawing 2

Having created a strong under drawing, I'm ready for the most time intensive phase of this portrait--"highing-up" the under drawing in white paint. The purpose of an under-painting is to provide a solid structure, addressing tonal values without letting color get in the way.  I've begun on the shadow side of her face because I wanted to deal with the distorted eye issue early on.  I'm painting with a mixture of Titanium and Zinc white.  More Zinc is added as I cover the darkest shadows.


Under-painting 1

Highing-up the face gives me the opportunity to plan where I wish to direct the viewer's attention.  I'll leave a hard edge above her right eye where her hair line meets the forehead.  That part of the forehead will be built up thickly with visible brush work.  I’ll also widen her right eye a bit in contrast to the photo where her left eye is wider.  I’ve changed the shape of the shadow cast by her nose and will play with that area further.  It's interesting to show lit form submerging into the shadow area.  I’m using three whites at this stage: an opaque white (Titanium), a 50-50 mix (Zinc & Titanium), and a transparent white (Zinc).


Under-painting 2

I'm continuing to build up the face to acquire a strong plasticity.  I've also added color to the her eyes and touches of red in the cheeks and the lips.  I'm toying with the idea of having her glance just past the viewer like Titian often did with his subjects.


Under-painting 3

Today I blocked in the background.  It is necessary to do this early on since the flesh tone will be influenced by what is next to it.  I've attempted to leave the reddish-colored ground visible in places (see detail #1-A). Tonally speaking the background will darken moving from left to right, in contrast to the head going from light to shadow.  This may be something of an artistic cliché but it is also an effective way to bring about form and space to the picture.  The face has been further developed with attention to edges and paint thickness (detail #1-C).  The contour of her face along the shadow side was softened to help her face turn the corner (detail #1-D).  The nose shadow was re-shaped to run more parallel to the bridge of her nose as opposed to the more photographic-looking triangular shape found in the photo.  The shadow fades as it reaches the tip of her nose (see detail #1-B). Her hair has been highed-up in a semi-transparent white.  When I paint her hair, I want a little substance underneath to support the blackish paint especially in the lighter areas as indicated by the over-exposed reference photo above.

Under-painting 3 (detail #1)

Under-painting 3 (detail #2)


Under-painting 4

Before I add color to her face, I try as a rule to get as much done with the head as possible.  A first layer of warmish-black paint was applied over the under painting which did it’s job well;  I was able to remove with a dry brush black paint in certain places creating believable highlights.  When dry, I’ll apply a few more layers to develop the color and modeling a little more.  The red hair band was also painted in using brushes and the edge of a palette knife.  The trim of her dark sweater was blocked in quickly.  It will eventually have a purplish-black appearance in contrast to the charcoal black color of her sweater.

Under-painting 4 (detail)


Under-painting 5

At this point I’m focusing on the large masses.  With regard to her sweater, an under-painting was first created.  I’m now applying transparent black (warmed with rose madder), trying to capture the form and structure of the material.  Her hair was further modeled the same way.  Once these large masses have been completed, I’ll begin adding color to her face.



Instead of the black sweater she wore, I opted for a more purplish color which hopefully will compliment the flesh tone.  I also brought the value of the background down a notch to emphasize the light on her face.  Thus the colors/values around her face have been more-or-less established and I can begin to think about adding color to her face.  Layers of transparent color consisting of burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and permanent rose, are applied to the under-painting, and, while wet, I worked back into it re-establishing the lightest values with white paint.  At this stage she’s still a little pale but I will wait until the paint has dried before continuing.

Glazing (detail)


Finishing Up

As this portrait was developing, I realized the importance light played in creating a certain attractive plasticity.  To accentuate this I added a shadow to her left.  Also critical to the illusion of form were the shadows along her nose, her cheek, around the front of her neck, and on her blouse, cast by the tooth-like fringe of the sweater.  I began the blouse by outlining the fringe with the transparent white or zinc white.  I’ll build up the lighter areas with titanium white and perhaps a touch of yellow ochre to warm it up.  (The blouse offset by her sweater will be the highest value contrast in the painting;  I’ll spend some time playing with its shape.)  Her belt below will probably be a reddish earth tone color.  I’m still slowly adding color to her face without medium resulting in a stronger paint layer--and less nausea for the artist.

Finishing Up (detail #1)

Finishing Up (detail #2)


Near Completion

On a sudden impulse I created a design of sorts along the blouse’s length which happily enhanced the exotic nature of this portrait.  I recently mentioned to a friend that I saw these near-completed portraits as musical instruments needing tuning.  That’s what I’ll be doing these next few days, tuning.  The finished portrait will eventually be in the Portraits I section of this site.  Thank you for following this demonstration. 

Near Completion (detail #1)


Portrait of Nazli Nikkels-Tassoudji, MD (2005) (detail)
50 X 35 cm., oil on panel


Portrait of Junko (2009)
65 X 42 cm., oil on canvas 

Video of Junko in Process


Though Bartner is always experimenting with new pigments, his usual flesh palette consists of the following colors:

(a semi-opaque color lay-in in which the mixtures contain flake white)
Gamblin Burnt Sienna
Winsor & Newton Permanent Red
Zecchi Cobalt Blue

Old Holland or Williamsburg Yellow Ochre Light
Winsor & Newton Ivory Black
Robert Doak Terra Rosa
Zecchi Naples Yellow

Bartner uses whites manufactured by both Robert Doak and Old Holland.

His medium is a mixture of Oleogel, and Amber Butter Painting Medium, the latter made especially by James C. Groves.  The Amber Butter contains walnut oil, and amber and fir resins, which, in combination, help to congeal oils and oil colors.  Bartner finds this mixture of the two mediums a suitable substitute for the original Liquin made by Winsor & Newton, but without solvent or archival worries.


paraskevi malouxou said...

very nice Eva, and the next portrait!

Katherine Thomas said...

Thank you so much for posting the step by step technique used to make these gorgeous portraits! I so admire your work here, and find it to be a great inspiration. Your work is amazing.

jeronimus said...

Many thanks for posting this. I will definitely give this procedure a try.

Jeff Lafferty said...

Amazing stuff!

SYLVIANE said...

An impressing and admirable portrait, and what a patience to add all the process with pictures!Bravo!

jane said...

always fascinating to see work in progress - thank you!

Stew9 said...

Thanks so much for this!
I've learnt so much from it.

tinoradman said...

Scott, it is always interesting to see your wip shots. I am sure those flesh tones glow in original paintings. Reproductions never do justice to them.
However, I have one question regarding the underpainting, if you don't mind. What is the point of a careful tonal modeling in the initial stage if those areas are obliterated with whites in the next step..?
I am not questioning here the sound painting procedure, nor the initial drawing which, of course, is necessary for this kind of painting. I am talking about tonal modeling.
To make my point perfectly clear, let us look at the portrait of a girl. The hair and face are modeled in (roughly) 2-3 values. The left side of her hair (in shadow) is considerably darker than the side facing the light. Yet after applying the whites, both sides are practically the same value.

S.Bartner said...

No worries Valentino. I still have this triptych and see what you mean in the photo.

As I look at it now, the actual shadow side of the hair in the grisaille phase is more transparent and slightly darker/cooler owing to 1)the darker underdrawing and 2)the fact I used zinc white only on that side of the hair. This means when color is applied, the zinc white side will become more transparent and darker due to the shadow in the drawing.

I do find it necessary to reestablish the darks at times to keep the form from flattening. The underdrawing assists but doesn't do it entirely on its own.