Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mary Magdalene - Italian Renaissance

This was for Follow the Masters March 2010 challenge, Italian Renaissance. It's oil on 12"x12" canvas board.

I was always curious how the Renaissance style paintings got their special look, a bit yellowish, and portraits where almost every face is glowing like porcelines. So I did some research on the internet, and saw some instructions on You Tube. People had used something called the Flemish style painting, where the canvas were primed, and layers of underpaintings were done in brownish color and then black and white before color is finally applied. The color layers were applied thinly as artists often times had to make their own color instead of like us today just buy tubes of color from the art stores or off the internet.

Before I started I had to chose what painting to do. I wanted to do something relatively non-complicated in terms of composition, and I didn't want to do something that's too common. So I looked around and found Italian Renaissance painter Giovani Bellini's Mary Magdalene. It's actually part of a bigger painting,
"Madonna with Child, and St. Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine". I liked the facial expression, she even had a double chin! So I had to paint this real woman.

So I first sketched the head, then put a layer of brown acrylic, followed by a layer of thinned out brownish greenish oil. When the oil layer was dried, about a week, I did the burnt umber layer, thinning out burnt umber oil paint, and painting it like using water color.

After that layer was dried (about another 1 week), I did another layer in black and white. The black and white layer is supposedly what gives that "Renaissance glow". Before I did the black and white layer, I rubbed the canvas with linseed oil, I even used half an onion to rub the canvas! With the black and white, I used 2 part ivory black, 1 part burnt umber, and a bit of ultramarine blue. With this mixture, I kept taking out half, adding about a part of white to the remaining, until I got something very close to white. I think I got about 10 shades of grey from this. I used several very small brushes, applying the greys, and using a small soft hair brush to blend out the color. This is where I paid a little more attention to the hair.

After the black and white layer was dried, about another week, I then applied color. By this time, I was already under the gun for the challenge's deadline. So I only did the first layer of color. If I had more time, I think the painting could use more refinements, and it can definitely use a layer of glazing to deepen the tone and give it a "bling" effect. I think going forward if I do more portraits, I would consider doing a layer of black and white underpainting to the face to give it "the glow".

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