Photo reference for oil painting, Jesse in Oils
Original Oil Painting
14 x 18 Raymar Canvas Panel

One of the problems with paintings I do for myself is that they can so easily get pushed to the back burner when paid paintings or other projects with higher priority enter the studio.

I finished the umber layer for Jesse on February 10. It was March 15 before I got back to it. At least it had plenty of time to dry!

Step 1

The colors I use for the dead layer on most paintings are Titanium White and Ivory Black. I do a little mixing on the palette, but it’s more typical to apply the paint straight out of the tube and blend colors on the painting.

I also wanted to paint the dead layer one section at a time and finish each section as much as I could before moving to the next. So I began work with the smallest area, the off side ear.

I used a small sable round to place the brightest highlights with Titanium White. With a second brush, I applied Ivory Black to the inside of the ear and to the shadow at the bottom, where the ear meets the forelock.

Once both colors were in place, modeling was a matter of ‘pulling the colors together’ to create a full range of middle tones.

As often happens, the white highlights almost totally went away. The only one that remained was the tip of the near ear. That’s okay, though. The ears are not the center of interest, so will not have the brightest highlights or darkest shadows.

I also painted the background around both ears so I could manipulate edges. The background was lightened around the face and blended into the parts of the neck and body that serve as background for Jesse’s face. To keep the focus on that part of the painting, I painted the opposite side of the background with almost pure black.

I also painted the blaze with straight Titanium White. This is the lightest part of the painting. Every other value will be judged against this whiteness.

As a ‘reward’ for all this work, I gave myself a bit of a treat by beginning work with the mane.

Jesse in Oil

Step 2

I started working from background to foreground. In this case, that meant I started with the chest and painted upward.

I used the same technique I used for the ears; sketching the highlights with a small sable round, painting deep shadow, then modeling the middle values by pulling black and white paint together.

I’d noticed placement and proportion problems with the chest since the last previous session, so I corrected those areas and the place where neck, chest, and shoulder come together. I began to wonder if the lighting and shape of the chest was too distracting. Would the composition be improved if I blurred that area?

When I went back to work, I took a large bristle brush and brushed out the details of the neck and chest. If I didn’t like it, I could easily repaint the area after the paint dried or could wipe it off and start over, no harm done.

The end result was a better composition with the focus more on Jesse’s face. A happy fringe benefit was that the dead layer moved ahead by two or three days worth of work with the elimination of the detail in that area.

Step 3

In the next session, I painted the eye and the area around it. Small sables were the key to this part of the work. I spent most of the painting day shaping and reshaping the eye, the lids and orbital shapes to get the most accurate shapes possible. When I finished, the eye wasn’t quite done, but it was life-like.

I also noted that Titanium White and Ivory Black in M. Graham Oils are not opaque. Consequently, the umber layer was showing through in some places.

To counteract that characteristic, I used a larger flat brush to paint a base layer over the rest of the neck and part of the face. I did a little modeling, but the objective was to provide a base for later detail work.

The painting dried for a week between this painting session and the next one.

Jesse in Oil

Step 4

In this painting session, I worked somewhere between the blocking in technique and the detail work technique I started with. It was one of those sessions that would probably have been better left undone.

I used a larger Mongoose round and my fingers to apply paint and  move it around. I worked with an eye toward the ‘big picture’, which is to say a lot of blocking in values and not much detail work.

The only area I worked on that I thought was improved upon was the jowl, which went from a flat, medium gray to a more modeled area.

In the end, about the only thing I accomplished was ‘putting in my time’. That was okay, though. This work will contribute to the overall image.

Jesse in Oil

The painting is making slow but steady progress. There is at least one benefit to taking so much time to do a painting. The long breaks between painting sessions give me plenty of time to evaluate the painting and stop potential problems.

Sometimes, there’s even time to figure out how to fix the problems I find!


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Jesse in Oil, Umber Layer