In my previous post I talked about participating in Virgil Elliott’s three day portrait painting workshop in his Petaluma studio. I thought you would be interested in knowing about my experience. The workshop consisted of three days of painting a model in one pose (see photo). The students were broken up into 4 skill levels. Virgil determined I was in the advanced level. Due to the space constraints, I ended up with what Virgil called the “worst” spot – at the far left rear from the model. But I figured I was there to learn and accepted the challenge.
From my view there was mostly light and not much shadow on the model, as well as being too far to see her face closely to paint just a head portrait like everyone else. So I chose to do a ¾ portrait with the background. Using a greenish gray oil mixture to create a grisaille, I drew in the basic figure and background. We were supposed to be painting in the direct method, but out of habit I accidentally started painting a grisaille under painting. Then I started mixing the colors for the finishing layers. Virgil came by and was quite surprised that I had not only undertaken a more complex composition, but also that I had done the under painting so quickly (this was only the afternoon of the first day) while others were doing only a head study.
I started painting directly, letting the under painting mix with the colors. This created a more realistic effect, especially in the skin tones. I had blocked in most of the color layer by the first day, leaving the background drapery in the original grisaille. Although the actual drapery behind the model was a mid-tone green, I had not decided if I wanted to paint it a different color.
Our model Alexandra, was a very sweet young woman. Just talking to her in person, she seemed kind of an average girl who wore glasses and her hair up. But when she got up on the model stand, under the lights, took off her glasses and let that hair down – wow! She had a beautiful classic face straight out of a Renaissance painting. With the costume that Virgil’s wife put together for her, we joked that Alexandra looked like a modern Mona Lisa. So I painted her with that in mind, trying for a classical approach.
Over the next two days I worked on refining the figure and trying to capture a reasonable likeness of the model. Virgil said we didn’t have to worry about capturing a good likeness, as this was only for practice. But, as a portrait artist, I couldn’t help but want to make it a successful portrait. Virgil was very complimentary about the way I handled the painting, and said that he couldn’t find much to criticize. I don’t think I’m any threat to Da Vinci, but the painting did come out better than I expected. I welcome your comments as to how my painting turned out.
I really enjoyed the workshop, and having the chance to talk “shop” and learn with a true master. Virgil was very generous with lots of information and advice. It was a great experience, and I was sad to see it end. But the most important thing that I learned was that I am a lot better than I thought I was, and knew more about painting than I gave myself credit for. Now I feel a lot more confident that I am ready to take my painting to a higher level.