Casting about for something to paint, I thought I'd like to try a portrait sketch; it can only be that because its subject has been dead for just over 100 years now. But I've not painted a portrait of any kind for years, and thought it was time I did.
It's a WIP - Work in Progress - and because I'm using oil paint (on oil painting paper) it won't be finished for a while given the method I've chosen: and I've chosen that so that I can show an old but (I'm hoping) good method of achieving it.
I started out with the most basic possible pencil sketch, strengthened with a"turpsy" (ie, solvent-rich) mix of Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine oil; then sharpened up the drawing a bit from my source photographs - Hardie changed quite a lot over the years, and looked far older than his 60 years when he died: so we're only going to get a sort of composite painting out of this (I suppose that's going to read a bit like an excuse, but it's basically an iconic look I've after with this, so if it does, it does!).
Having blocked in some of the background and shadows, I employed that old approach I mentioned - rather than going in with full colour, I refined the image a bit more with a mixture of Terre Verte, a very traditional colour historically used for this purpose, and lead white - I still have some Flake White left, which is what I used. It's less oily and much faster drying than Titanium White, and can be applied more thinly. There's a long story to be told about the advantages of lead white, but this isn't maybe the time to tell it.
Now this layer has to dry right out, which will take time: and when it has, I'll apply thin, transparent glazes of colour over the top. You needn't fear you'll obscure the detail - you'd only do that if you used very opaque colour, and Titanium White.
There will probably be some Titanium White eventually, but the aim is to keep it to the minimum - and maybe I'll be better advised to use another lead white instead.
For the moment, the painting looks as if I've turned poor old Keir, as if he hadn't enough to contend with, into the Incredible Hulk, because Terre Verte is a green, with a very low tinting strength: it will cool warmer colours applied on top - and it's one of the ways that the old painters indicated gentle shifts in colour and tone in their portraits. Probably obviously, the finished product won't be as good as a genuine old portrait - because I'm not going to take the time over it that they would have done, and anyway I'm using paper; but my desire is to give others an idea; and of course it's good practice for me; it'll be interesting to see how it pans out.
Building up a portrait in this way - you can do the same with landscapes if you want, but you probably wouldn't use Terre Verte as your base colour; it wouldn't hurt if you did, but it might end up with a rather cool painting; an earth red would be more usual; and you can employ acrylics if you prefer quicker results - gives a very distinctive look; it's not an Impressionist treatment, but now and then maybe it's good to remember that not everything has to be.