A Classical Painting Demonstration by William Whitaker

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A Classical Painting Demonstration

by William Whitaker

Stage I

I took this photo at the end of the first painting session. With neither face nor hands to slow me down, I was able to bring it this far pretty easily. Given the Ingres-like neck and back, I decided to give it the classical treatment. I took special care because I want the painting to look "finished" at every stage.

I used both sables and filbert bristles. I blended with an old worn sable.

I'm painting this on a 12 x 9 inch linen canvas stained a grey tone mode of ultramarine blue and raw umber that I thinned with a mixture of 90% turpentine and 10% Graham Walnut/Alkyd painting medium. I rubbed it down with a rag to achieve the value I wanted. My favourite brown is Gamblin's asphaltum and I used it for the darks. I mixed just a little walnut/alkyd medium into the paint pile to make it a little more supple and sensitive and to help it dry faster. I used Old Holland Cremnitz white mixed with just a dab of raw sienna for my lights. I also worked a little walnut/alkyd medium into the paint.

I'll put it aside and let it dry and take it up again the day after tomorrow and start in with colour.

Stage II

Two days have passed and the painting is dry. I have no idea where to start up, so I do what I always do. I begin with a task that could inflict the least possible damage. I use my painting knife to scrape off any lint and any bumps in the painting surface.

I'm using two Silver Brush 1003 Filberts, three very inexpensive Loew-Cornell artificial filberts that I buy in a craft store, a Daniel Smith #4 sable, and an old worn out Daniel Smith #4 as a blender.

I start on the white drapery, but soon switch to the center of interest, the female back. I put some paint on the turban and pretty soon I'm warmed up. I stop thinking, and begin to paint by instinct.

I use a limited palette of colours. I work carefully and patiently and am proud of it, since by nature I'm neither careful or patient. To show rebellion against my mid-20th century art training, I use the old sable as a blender.

Remember kiddies, using a blender is bad!

Stage III

I'm increasingly turning to traditional Flake White for my paintings. It handles wonderfully, has interesting body and dries quickly.

Because of the small scale of this painting, I mixed Permalba (a titanium/zinc white mix) with my Flake White for added opacity. I also mixed in a little walnut oil to make the white buttery.

I completed the painting this session. Obviously I did more work on drapery, but the most sensitive careful work was once again done on the back where I softened form and modified shadows. I did not use a blender at all today. All brushwork was either with a filbert hogs bristle brush or a pointed sable round.

I mixed up a background colour that differed only slightly from the colour in the background in Stage Two, added enough oil to make it lie down and behave a little like enamel, and painted the entire background again with a fairly large filbert bristle brush. A pretty good brush rule of thumb is to find the largest brush for the job, and then put it aside and actually use an even larger brush.

Finally, I took a deep breath, signed my name, and slapped on a frame.

William Whitaker has been a professional artist since 1965, during which time he has conducted workshops and been a university art professor.  He continues to work with one or two advanced student artists for fun.  He paints about three or four hours every day ands spends the rest of the time trying not to ruin any good work he's done.

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