This weekend I attended a workshop on painting a child’s portrait taught by artist Robert Liberace. Robert has used the same family for models during several of his workshops. The models were five girls who range in age from a wriggly 8 year old (who is a total delight) to a serene 17 year old. The sisters were very sweet and playful and you could tell that they really enjoyed posing together.
When I first looked at the girls I didn’t think any of them looked quite the same. After painting them I realized their skin tones and hair colors and textures varied but their eyes, noses and mouths shared almost identical structures.
On the first day, Rob spent the morning lecturing about how a child’s anatomy and facial structure differs from a full grown adult. He then gave demonstration in charcoal using one of the models.
We spent the afternoon working on several 20 minute sketches to warm up and then a longer pose. The goal was to create either a preliminary drawing using charcoal or a grisaille (a two-toned) under painting.
One the second day, Rob started a two-day painting of the oldest daughter. He seated the model on a platform and was slightly below and to her right.
Because it spanned two days, this was one of the best demos I’ve gotten to witness (I’d say witnessing him at Zoll Studio ranked as the best-but man this was a close second).
Rob started with a quick sketch, working out angles of her face and placement of her features as well as mapping out the darks/shadows.
Once these were established he quickly sketched in the model’s basic features paying particular attention to the eye socket and the angle of the shadows around it. He continually checked his placement.
Once satisfied he started working laying in the grisaille. Rob wanted this layer of his painting to dry overnight so he mixed raw umber with flake white (lead white) and used galkyd (by gamblin).
Rob started with a mid-tone and worked from there to model the face. He started with basic shapes taking care to use angles and lines to describe the model’s features.
One the third day, Rob went to work. After double checking his painting from yesterday he lightly wet the surface of the painting with a mix of gamsol (an odorless mineral spirit) and stand oil. Rob mixed his first midtone using permanent rose with cadmium yellow and titanium white.
After applying paint to the area of the cheek, forehead and chin, Rob began modifying the mid-tone for a little cooler/warmer as well as slightly lighter tones.
One of the students asked how much the underlying grisaille affected or impacted the layer he was working on. Rob explained that it served to provide the basic terms of reference for applying the color.
Although that sounds pretty obvious he explained it far more elegantly (I didn’t get to write it all down unfortunately) but what I got out of it was that the first layer is critical in developing the second layer of the portrait. It serves as a map or a point of reference for the color layer.
Rob worked on the portrait throughout the morning and the finished painting was amazing.