I love doing copies of master painters. Mostly because learning from their success and mistakes, gives me a whole new set of tools to pull out when necessary. This last challenge took me a lot longer than I expected, mostly due to the detailed approach I took to this copy. When Brian threw out the gauntlet of a limited palette, my initial response was one of, ‘how in the world am I going to get my reds the way I want them?’. I am a fan of the cadmiums and not having any on my palette presented a worthy challenge. I’m happy to say I not only produced a piece I’m happy with, but enjoyed the task laid before me.
To begin, I prepped my canvas with a mixture of burnt sienna, raw umber and lead white to create a field color reminiscent of my usual burnt umber and lead white. I chose not to do an elaborate drawing study, but rather went for a direct transfer. I don’t always do this, but since time is something I don’t have lots of these days, I went for the faster route; thus affording me more time do get into the tight details of this amazing portrait.
Using vine charcoal on the back of a black and white print (to size), I did the transfer. Paying attention to major shapes and some minor shapes that brought interest to me.
Next I established a background. In the source image that I worked from, I noticed that the background was divided at the shoulder line and so I established both the deep black of the body to the shoulder line and a dark olive green for the upper part of the painting. Using yellow ochre and black with a hit of raw umber I got the green I was looking for. My initial pass was very thin and broken to allow some of the field color under-painting to show through. Next I started to establish my deep reds around the eyes, ear and nose, then started laying in the collar or ‘rough’ as they’re referred to. (God bless Van Dyck for having to deal with these crazy collars…) My initial lay-in of the collar was more of a thin taupe color using raw umber, yellow ochre and white to give the collar atmosphere. It’s not white, it just has white highlights.
After laying-in the collar I did a dead color pass. Getting large areas of color established but keeping them overall grey and very thin except for the highlights. I believe a big part of the success of this painting is in the heavy impastos versus the very thinly painted areas that create a sense of depth. Unfortunately I didn’t have panel handy to do this copy like the original in which Van Dyck used these incredible impastos. My photos don’t translate my impastos as well as the actual piece, but there is a ton of paint on his forehead, crest of the nose and different parts of the collar.
After establishing the basic values, I then went into finishing, always paying close attention to the original and concentrating on the fact that the original also is nearly 400 years old so it’s a bit dirty. Keeping in mind that a lot of the darkness around some of the impastos is dirt, I tried to paint more from what I though Van Dyck was thinking to do with his brush strokes to create the form and highlights.
The final product came out well and I’ve learned a lot from this one. I’m not sure I’m going to toss my regular palette of colors out, but I do like the idea of limiting the palette for different paintings in the future. Thanks for the fun challenge Brian, sorry I took so long to finish it.