Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winners of the 2nd Annual ACOPAL Competition

Teresa Elliott
36 X 36 in.

The America China Oil Painters League (ACOPAL), has recently announced the winners of its second annual open competition.  As this year's Grand Prize Winners, Teresa Elliott, Benat Iglesias, and David Gluck, have the possibility of having their paintings included in an exhibition of contemporary realism at the Beijing World Art Museum in September, 2012.  In the meantime, Elliott and Iglesias will have their paintings featured in a show opening next month at Ohio's Butler Institute of Art with others of America's most highly regarded representational painters, including Jeremy Lipking, Michael Klein, Joseph Todorovitch, David Kassan, Daniel Sprick, Tony Ryder, Casey Baugh, Steven Assael, Nelson Shanks, Daniel Greene, Patricia Watwood, Robert Liberace, Christopher Pugliese, Burt Silverman, and Max Ginsburg.  Unfortunately, Gluck's painting, The Trapper, was a last-minute submission, and it will not be sufficiently dry in time for hanging in the Butler show;  a fourth-place winner, Peter Fiore, will have his painting in the American exhibition instead.

Benat Iglesias
The Louvre Project
60 X 65 in.

It is the purpose of ACOPAL to build a "creative and philosophical exchange between artists in the United States and those living in China.   Exchange programs will be designed to allow American artists to travel to China to meet with their Chinese counterparts to share ideas, methods and techniques associated with realistic painting in oil.  In turn, Chinese artists will come to America to do the same. Visiting artists from either side will conduct workshops, seminars and open forum discussion groups to advance the exchange of artistic endeavors in an amicable climate of 'East meets West.'  Through this organization, exhibitions will be arranged (in America and China ) to showcase the best artists that each nation has to offer with the intent to promote the resurgence of Realistic painting in oil." (from the ACOPAL mission statement).

David Gluck
The Trapper
30 X 20 in.

The American exhibit of ACOPAL members, including this year's Grand Prize Winners, Elliott, Iglesias, and Fiore, will open on December 18th at The Butler Institute of Art in Youngstown, Ohio.  It will run through January 22, 2012.  The Artist's Reception will take place on the final day of the show, from 1:00-3:00 PM.

Peter Fiore
Winter Storm Clearing
30 X 40 in.

To see all 50 of this year's ACOPAL finalists, please visit the organization's website.

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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Auction Preview: Christie's Important American Paintings

William McGregor Paxton
The Crystal
65 X 72 in.
oil on canvas

I tend to be disappointed by the selections which appear in most auctions of Important American Paintings.  After all, "important" is a vastly different description than is the adjective, "good."  However,  as the pendulum of taste among collectors has begun its arc back towards representational paintings,  more and more interesting works have been returning to the market (well, at least interesting to me).  

The paintings in the upcoming Christie's sale of Important American Paintings might not be the very best works American painters have to offer, but there are several paintings among the 137 lots which make visiting the previews worthwhile.  The Paxton painting alone would be wonderful to see in person, and there are many others by artists such as Frieseke, Inness, and Chase which are of note.  Even illustration is represented in this sale, with a commercial piece by Norman Rockwell now being elevated to the vaulted level called "important," a distinction that Rockwell himself would have not likely have expected.

This trend in promoting representational works is encouraging, and it will be interesting to see the results from this auction to see how the sale of these works compares to the prices realized by the Modern pieces in this same auction.

The viewing times for this sale will take place in the Special Exhibition Gallery at Christie's Auction House, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City.  The sale will take place on November 30th at 10:00 AM.

Viewing Times

November 27  /   1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
November 28  /  10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
November 29  /  10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

The catalog can also be viewed online.

Richard Edward Miller
Nude in Interior
34¼ X 36 in.
distemper on panel

Frederick Carl Frieseke
Lady Trying on a Hat
64¼ X 52 in.
oil on canvas

Louis Ritman
In the Garden
36 X 36 in.
oil on canvas

Charles Courtney Curran
In the Orchard
20½ x 9¼ in.
oil on canvas

Granville Redmond
Sunset in the Valley
25 X 30 in.
oil on canvas

George Inness
15 X 23½ in.
oil on canvas

Albert Bierstadt
18 X 27¼ in.
oil on canvas

Frederic Edwin Church
13¾ X 22½ in.
oil on canvas tacked to board

William Merritt Chase
Mrs. Eldridge Reeves Johnson
70 X 60 in.
oil on canvas

Thomas Wilmer Dewing
Woman in Black:  Portrait of Maria Oakey Dewing
19 X 12¼ in.
oil on panel

John Singer Sargent
Sir Charles Stewart Loch
34½ X 28¼ in.
oil on canvas

Newell Convers Wyeth
Lobstering off Black Spruce Ledge
33½ X 42 in.
tempera on panel

Newell Convers Wyeth
The Husking Bee
33½ X 25 in.
oil on panel

Joseph Henry Sharp
Chief Laban Little Wolf
18 X 12¼ in.
oil on canvas

William Herbert Dunton
The Trail Foreman
20 X 16 in.
oil on canvas

Edward Willis Redfield
Melting Snows
50¼ X 56¼ in.
oil on canvas

Edward Willis Redfield
Center Bridge Farm
32¼ X 38 in.
oil on canvas

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Composition of Flesh Color

In the oddly-specific titled 1904 book, 739 Paint Questions Answered, the publishers of The Painters Magazine offered the following recipe for mixing foolproof caucasian flesh, with only one small caveat:

#15   Flesh color is usually made by mixing French ochre and English vermilion, but the principal requisites are that the painter has the necessary talent to paint faces. (page 9)

The book, which was geared more toward decorators and house painters than the fine artist, also offered advice on other topics, such as how to finish a bowling alley, re-paint a hearse white, climb a flagpole without spurs, and how to paint a locomotive (literally).  Though the flesh mixture offered is interesting, the rest of the book seems to serve as more of a curiosity than of any technical help to the fine painter;  almost all of the information is out-of-date to everyone but the historical home renovator. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Random Inspiration: Leonid Steele

Academic painting of a mounted soldier by Leonid Steele

In celebration of Leonid Steele's 90th birthday, Californian painter Alexey Steele, has created a website honoring the artistic achievements of his father, an important figure of 20th century Soviet Art.  Covered on the site are the different art periods through which Leonid participated, from his days as a student at the Leningrad Repin Art Institute, through his roles as a Soviet Impressionist in the 1950s, and as a pioneer of the Severe Style in the 1960s.  Not only does this tribute catalog the elder Steele's work, all of which is held intact in a single collection, but it also provides a historical overview of the changing face of Realism in the post-World War II Soviet Union through the biography of a single man.  Make sure to check the site out, and to read the article on Leonid Steele in an upcoming issue of Fine Art Connoisseur.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Auction Preview: Sotheby's European Paintings

Joaquín Sorolla
Children in the Sea, Valencia Beach
32 X 41¾ in.
oil on canvas

Going on view today in London are the lots in Sotheby's upcoming auction of European Paintings.  Many of these artists are not familiar to American audiences, and searching through the online catalogue offers a glimpse into what was being produced outside the late-nineteenth century art centers of London and Paris.

Previews are as follows:


Friday, November 18  /  9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday, November 20  /  12:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Monday, November 21  /  9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Ignacio Zuloaga
Madame Souty
57 X 69¾ in.
oil on canvas

Peder Mønsted
Canal in Venice
16 X 24 in.
oil on canvas

Peder Mønsted
Forest Stream
29 X 48½ in.
oil on canvas

Peder Mønsted
Washing Day
9½ X 15 in.
oil on canvas

Peder Mønsted
The Woodland Glade
58½ X 43¼ in.
oil on canvas

Gerhard Munthe
23¼ X 30 in.
oil on canvas

Carl Holsøe
23½ X 24¾ in.
oil on canvas

Vilhelm Hammershøi
Interior with Ida in a White Chair
22½ X 19¼ in.
oil on canvas

Elif Peterssen
Sunshine, Kalvøya
38¼ X 29½ in.
oil on canvas

Theodoros Ralli
Holy Friday
25¾ X 36½ in.
oil on canvas

Theodoros Ralli
Sleeping Concubine
18½ X 19¼ in.
oil on cnvas

Paul Sieffert
Nu allongé
23¾ X 32 in.
oil on canvas

Petrus Van Schendel
Moonlit Market in the Hague
25½ X 19 in.
oil on panel

Petrus Van Schendel
A Moonlit Vegetable Market
25½ X 19¾ in.
oil on panel

Auguste Bonheur
Paturage en auvergne
9 X 11¾ in.
oil on canvas

Joaquín Sorolla
Field in Asturias, San Esteban de Pravia
26 X 37¾ in.
oil on canvas

Joaquín Sorolla
View of the Jetty in the Retro Gardens, Madrid
6½ X 11 in.
oil on panel

Raimundo de Madrazo
Aline, Reflections
32 X 25½ in.
oil on canvas

Wladislaw Czachorski
The Bouquet
14½ X 9½ in.
oil on canvas

Fernand Toussaint
18 X 14¾ in.
oil on canvas board

Charles Chaplin
Fille à la lecture
16½ X 10¼ in.
oil on canvas

Carl Thomsen
The Honeymoon
17 X 12½ in.
oil on canvas

Alexander Koester
Ducks Among Reeds in a Pond
27¼ X 39 in.
pastel on paper