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Head Studies

May 26, 2011

I spent the day doing a series of head studies.  I’ve used sketchy, scrubby brushwork.  Part of the inspiration for this comes from my visit to Gadsden, Alabama a couple of weeks ago, and the last morning before I headed for home.  I had been there for the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational, and the area was hit pretty hard by some major storms.  Damage in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham sent people north looking for places to stay.  As a result, I moved out of my hotel room a day early, with an invitation to stay my last night in Gadsden at the home of Steve Temple, the Director of the Gadsden Museum of Art.  On Saturday morning, Steve and I sat on his front porch, talking and having coffee.  The subject of gouache came up, and before I knew it, Steve was leading me up the steps from his back porch up to his second floor studio.

I discovered that Steve Temple is a very talented and accomplished painter.  He showed me a number of portraits that were in various stages of completion.  What was most interesting to me, however, was the fact that he had several studies in gouache, and was even doing the preliminary underpaintings in gouache.  The intent was to then paint over the gouache with oils.

I have a CD that is a collection of Victorian portrait photographs from the early 1900’s.  Most of the images are women wearing some pretty outrageous hats, but it’s a great source of women’s faces, with no copyright issues.  Using those images, I managed to get several heads to sketch level.  Here are three of them, posted in the same order in which they were done.

All are 8×10, gouache on Crescent board.

I calculate that I spent about an hour on each of these.  While I certainly want to eventually capture a likeness when doing portraits, that wasn’t the primary focus with these.  I tried, of course, but fell short in every case.  The main purpose at the moment is just to work out the brushwork and determine what kind of paint consistency I need to use with these.

Looking back at that last morning in Alabama, since I needed to get on the road for home, we only stayed up in Steve Temple’s studio for a short time.  As a result, I’m working from memory here, but it seems like his studies were done in a very similar fashion to what I’ve done here:  thin washes and layers, with more opaque areas for emphasis or for making corrections.  If I take any of these beyond the sketch stage, they will require considerable time.  Because gouache dries so quickly, getting soft blends for skin tones is a very slow process.

It may be that I’ll continue to do portraits only as sketches like these, and as I get the technique figured out, I’ll just continue working on getting a reasonable likeness.  So far, I’ve worked strictly on strangers’ faces.  It eliminates the pressure of catching a likeness.  I’ll try people I know eventually, but I can tell it’s going to take some time to get them right.

This is a pleasant temporary diversion from landscapes.  I also want to work on figures a bit, so I can put people into some of the landscapes, and begin trying some street scenes again.

For now, it’s just good old fun.

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