Sunday, November 7, 2010

New painting, moving forward in time to Raphael

The third assignment for my art class is to recreate a painting from 1500 to 1700 in oil. Lots to choose from, right? I didn't want a painter who used a lot of impasto, I prefer layers of glazes. That eliminated a huge number of painters. I also wanted a portrait that looked reasonably anatomically correct and natural. That means most of the Mannerists are out. After much searching I selected "La Fornarina" by Raphael painted in 1518-19, not long before he died in 1520. The original is 63 x 87 cm (approx 28 x 34 inches) but my recreation will be 12 x 16 inches. The original is oil on wood panel, I will paint with oil on 1/4" hardboard.

I didn't have any large boards prepared with real gesso and I really didn't want to make up a new batch so I decided to experiment and try a product from Golden called "sandable gesso" which is an acrylic gesso that is supposed to be more like real gesso than standard modern acrylic gesso. Standard acrylic gesso isn't sandable and I was worried about getting too much texture with brush marks. Results: sandable gesso is better than acrylic gesso, but nowhere near as good as the real thing. It sands with difficulty because it still has some of that characteristic acrylic gumminess, but I was able to get some of the texture off my boards. Even when smooth it is nowhere near as soft as real gesso. However, I didn't have to spend two days preparing it; I merely opened the can. My boards have some unwelcome texture but at least it is better than using canvas so I won't be fighting texture as much as I would using canvas.

An additional experiment I am going to try is doing two copies of the painting. One will be my official school assignment in oil, the other will be a practice version executed in acrylic. Acrylic?! What the heck am I thinking?! Well, I am thinking that I will be able to work faster in acrylic than oil so I can get further in the painting process and discover mistakes before I make them in oil. As generally pleased as I am about how my Ghirlandaio copy turned out, there are a few things I would have done differently if I did it over. Plus it will be a challenge to see how much of an oil paint look I can get with acrylic. I will be using Golden's Open Acrylics, which stay wet a lot longer than regular acrylics. That will give me more working time and more blending ability. I am also using Glazing Liquid so I can apply glazes. Based on my first day's work I do like the open paints and glazing liquid better than trying to thin regular acrylics with water, but we'll see how things progress.

On the left is the original. I printed it out at desired size to use as a cartoon, rubbed the back with raw umber pigment, then traced the cartoon onto my board (middle picture). On the right is as far as I went today with raw umber underpainting. The glaze dries slowly so I have to wait an hour or so before I can rework areas without messing them up. At the point where I was starting to make it look worse not better by continuing, I stopped.