Featuring David Gluck
from the Art of the Portrait.
As Cary is going to the Art of the Portrait the end of this month, she has received this Conference Insider. It gives a sneak peek of what to expect for the teaching faculty.
In this article, David Gluck discusses the preparatory work that went into his painting, “Wetlands,” which is featured below. Some of the preparation includes his influence for creating the painting, sketching to work out composition, purchasing props and costumes, creating multiple color studies, and of course, taking time to calm his nerves with a bowl of ice cream.
Letting Prep Work do the Heavy Lifting
From year to year I change my mind a lot about how to do things in the studio. I make organizational overhauls, change my preferred sources of inspiration, switch back and forth from natural light to artificial, and back to natural. I’m always chasing a better system. One thing that never changes, though, is my commitment to doing the proper amount of prep work for a painting. There is no skipping prep work in my dojo. For me, the preparatory stage in making a painting—the initial drawings, colour studies, and model and prop sourcing—is what ensures a successful finished painting. Without it, I find myself battling mistakes and shortcomings from start to finish. Except, I usually don’t even finish the paintings that didn’t have their proper dues paid in the preparatory stage.
I thought it might be of interest for readers to learn about the preparatory work that went into my painting “Wetlands,” which received a Certificate of Excellence at this year's Portrait Society of America’s conference. This painting, like so many others, emerged from a stew of inspiration in the form of a folder in my desktop in which I collect imagery that strikes my fancy. This folder contains photos I have taken, artwork by other artists, vintage photography, and sometimes even an adorable kitten picture saved from Facebook for my amusement. When I have downtime I click through this folder, mulling over my concepts and deciding which of my unborn paintings ought to be lugged out into the world next. I try to let my ideas marinate for as long as possible before I even start planning for a painting.
Some readers might have already guessed that Raeburn’s “The Archers” was a big influence in my painting. I was blown away in real life by the presence of the painting and the elegant geometry of the composition. I decided I wanted to create my own iteration of that concept, but in my rugged, manly-man hunter theme. For the first time, I chose to introduce a young woman into this series. I had two goals in mind when I started planning this painting. Firstly, I wanted to paint a narrative with two figures interacting. Secondly, I wanted the composition to be dependent on action and movement.
The first stage of a painting, for me, is the simplest. I do quite a few small sketchy thumbnails to work out the composition from my head. I do not simply sit down with a sketchbook and try to do fifty in a row. These come out at random in the months leading up to the moment when I finally start the project in earnest. Some are done in a sketchbook, a scrap piece of paper, and even on napkins at a restaurant. When I get an idea, I jot it down.
The next stage is perhaps the most fun stage of a painting: blowing Paypal funds on awesome props and costumes from eBay auctions. It allows me to justify buying a bowler hat and antique rifle and write it off as a business expense for tax purposes. And once these items have been added to my prop “library,” they are there forever. This is fantastic when, like me, you’ve committed to a theme and future projects will benefit from having a rich stash of goodies to work with.
What do I do next with my stinky oilskins/fake mustaches/Viking helmets? I con friends and family into modeling for me. And then I con my wife into taking all the photos for me because I still don’t know how to use our futuristic canon camera. Using my references, I piece together a composition I like on paper. I usually use charcoal and white chalk on toned paper to rapidly get my ideas out. It’s not unusual to have to piece together material from several different photos—and this is one of the rare advantages of using photo references: I have the freedom to take the best hands, the best expression, basically the best of everything, and piece them all together. I supplement these references with life studies when needed. This stage is also crucial because it gives me a chance to familiarize myself with some of the more challenging parts of the painting, namely the hands and the face. Rehearsing these problem areas before committing to canvas can be a lifesaver.
Now that my composition has been solidified on the grand scale and at the size of the finished painting, I can sit down and do 3-5 color studies. These colour studies are about the size of a postcard. I usually nail the color concept I want straight away, but I do the remaining 2-4 studies out of a sense of duty and to convince myself that the first one really is the best option.
Now that I’ve got the composition pinned down and the color arrangement determined, I can do a couple of detailed colour studies for the faces in the painting. These are painted the same size as in the finished painting. This gives me one more chance to rehearse those faces before I work on the final painting. They also end up being very affordable works of art for collectors who fall in love with the final painting but can’t afford it. Recently, I’ve enjoyed trading them with other artists and I’ve amassed a nice collection of other artist’s head studies. Now, I don’t want to brag and tell everyone I have a Jeremy Lipking and an Adrian Gottlieb….but I have a Jeremy Lipking and an Adrian Gottlieb.
With the head studies, I’ve completed my preparatory work for my painting and am now ready to nail the actual painting. Getting all of this groundwork established makes painting go quickly and smoothly, with a minimum of bad studio days, tears, and hissy fits that can only be calmed with ice cream.