Wokingham Art Society
Demonstrations by Russ Calver
For commissions etc.contact him by phone: 01590 677860
2008 Portrait, Pastel Back to Archive 2013 Horse Portrait, Oils

Horse Portrait in Oils, 16 April 2013
Russ had prepared a 16" x 20" canvas board - gesso undercoat and then Burnt Umber, wiped on thinly with a rag. Taped to it were two very similar photos of the horse. For portaits, precision is the key. Russ does his drawing in charcoal - it is easy to use and to rub out.

The subject must be carefully placed on the canvas. He does this first with rough shapes (ovals, triangles, circles etc.) and then starts measuring carefully. He uses a thumb on the long handle of a brush to find equal distances: like the length of the left ear and the distance from the base of the ear to the eye.

In this case, by coincidence, there is almost that same measurement from one eye to the other and from the eye down to the sidepiece of the halter. There were many such.

You can see a construction line: the centre of the eye is exactly below the centre of the base of the ear and slightly to the right of the joint between noseband and cheekpiece.
The drawing process is time consuming. It involves checking and re-checking distances and alignments, and frequent adjustment. Even the final charcoal marks are no more than guides: edges will be adjusted as paint is applied.

Russ uses resin-based alkyd oils for demos because they dry more quickly than normal oils but can be mixed with them. There is no need for linseed oil but they can be thinned with white spirit.

He had a palette of yellows, browns, reds, blues and green (tonight, as it happened, it had white, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Indian Red, Burnt Sienna, Cerulean, Cobalt, Ultra and Viridian, but you shouldn't copy other people's palettes - they will never suit your own needs).

He started in the shadows, with Burnt Sienna, red and white mixed with a knife in various proportions.
Once he had the larger patches of shadow, Russ took a smaller brush and started outlining detail more carefully. Both white and an almost-black mix were used. The process was repetetive: drawing lines, measuring and adjusting them, filling between and often re-adjusting by the odd millimetre. As the detail built up he softened some edges with a piece of rag or a finger.

The leafy background was scribbled in with a pastry brush, using a well-thinned warm mix of green and brown with extra blue to push it back. Patches of white and cerulean were blended into the greenery to make sky-holes.

By-passing what would normally be couple of hours of work he gave us some idea of the final detailing process by spending some minutes on the eye (vitally important, especially the lights) and on getting some of the shadows more precise.
As he worked Russ was coming out with a stream of hints and observations. Here are just a few of them:

Have plenty of rag
A mirror shows up errors of composition
Use the best paint you can afford
Keep your tubes of oils away from hot places
Better to work from life, but photo's don't move!
Choose subjects/photos with interesting shadows
There's money in painting people's animals!
There are lots of good tutorials on YouTube
Mix paint with a knife, not a brush
Painting involves luck. If you fail, try again - the tension will have gone
You learn by painting, not by reading.
Remember where the light is coming from
Never work on just one bit of the picture
Look at your "finished" work for a day or two - possible improvements will become apparent
For very good value-for-money custom frames try
International Art Supplies Ltd.
C P House , Otterspool Way, Watford, WD25 8HU
www.intart.net, phone 0845 230 0301
By the end of the evening, the painting was far from finished
although I would have been very pleased if I had done it.

Thank you, Russ, not just for entertaining us but also for showing what can be done with careful observation.
You showed you have a real eye for faces, animal or human, and the knack of painting the important bits . . .

. . . and ended by producing a framed sample of what a finished version could look like.
2008 Portrait, Pastel Back to Archive 2013 Horse Portrait, Oils

Pastel Portrait, 17 June 2008

Russ brought along a matt photograph of a friend to work from. The matt finish, with no reflections, is easier to work with, and Russ prefers to paint portraits of people he has got to know.

He starts by fixing the main features, using charcoal and measuring carefully all the time. For a commission he said he might spend a whole day on this stage! He uses a putty rubber to make any alterations that may be necessary.

Colour is introduced gradually next. Russ uses Senellier soft pastels, and Stabilo pastel pencils. At first he looks for areas of tone and shadows, making forward areas lighter than further back. He uses pastel sticks to mould the features, and checks both portrait and photo in a mirror to ensure a likeness.

The pastel pencils are used for details and Russ does a certain amount of blending with his fingers. He emphasised, however, not to blend everything; a smooth skin is better with a "craggy" background for instance.

When he is happy with the face he turns his attention to other areas such as the T-shirt and hair. The white shirt is painted pale blue to leave himself room for white highlights. In the hair he recommended Pierre noir as the best black for darks.

To finish off Russ used a wet white pastel pencil for highlights in the eyes, and touches of charcoal to darken shadows.

Russ used Canson paper for this demonstration, and told us that he never uses fixative. The evening was entertaining and informative, and the finished portrait was inspiring!

Pat Johnson.

2008 Portrait, Pastel Back to Archive 2013 Horse Portrait, Oils
All images on this website are the copyright of either the Wokingham Art Society or the individual artists
This document is maintained by Sam Dauncey