What are you painting?


I’m only about 9 hours into copying this hand study of a portrait by Gerard Soest at the National Gallery of Art here in Washington DC. The reaction to my copy by the public has been extremely entertaining and at times has had me in stitches, like today. I guess visitors are not used to seeing a person paint only a small portion of a painting in the collection, and the oval shape I chose to emphasize the dramatic swirl of the dress and the gesture of her hand is unexpected and definitely throwing people off. But what seems to be the icing on the proverbial cake is that it appears to people that I am not painting the picture in the right color. Um, what gives?!! [Insert Valley Girl tone here]

Well there are some really good reasons for all the choices I have made so far in regards to this painting. The first decision I made, that of doing only a hand study of the larger painting is because I only have the months of July & August to copy and I thought by narrowing my subject I could get more accomplished in that time. Second, the oval shape is an intentional decision as far as the composition. In addition, if I have more time, I will paint another oval of her other hand to have a matching pair. And lastly, the colors you see before you are just the underpainting known as a “grisaille”. The areas that are more grey are called a “closed grisaille” meaning they include white, plus the umber I used previously and prussian blue to achieve the overall modeling and value relationships. Those are the areas that I painted today. I will indeed get around to the actual color of the painting, eventually, in thin glazes of color. It is the way this painting was painted and since I am more of a direct painter, learning this technique is part of what drew me to the painting.

Below are some of the amusing things I have overheard/ or been asked directly while painting in order of frequency:

“What are you painting?” (Um, a hand and her dress….)

“Are you trying to paint abstractly?” (Yes, actually. A strong abstract design is the basis of all realistic painting)

“Dad, I don’t get itttt!” (Snicker)

“Esa mano esta horrible/That hand is horrible” (Said by someone who doesn’t know I speak Spanish. Ouch? 😉

I’ll end this post by saying that painting is a process that is sometimes not self evident. So hang in there with me, eventually you will be staring at the exact doppelganger of that hand. Just don’t hold your breath waiting.

The underpainting I began with today.
My copy at the end of the day showing the first areas to receive the “closed grisaille”.


4 thoughts on “What are you painting?

  1. Lol! Well, I think it is coming along beautifully, and will be your best copy yet!

    I assume you will be one of Liz’s cheerleaders Fri. I am bummed, but I have to be in Ashburn that night, so cannot attend her face off. I know she is a bit nervous…who wouldn’t be? Cheer her on for both if us, okay?!

    Debra Keirce, MAA, MPSGS, HS, Art Renewal Center Living Artist 571-236-0047 DebKArt.com


  2. Looking great! When I was studying drawing/painting in China we sometimes were sent out into parks/plein air-ing and it was de-rigeur for the public not only to crowd around, and sometimes in front of you (especially if you were the token foreigner) but to critique your work. The things I would hear would make me laugn, especially when I started to understand some of what they were saying. Everyone’s a critic – internationally.

    1. Ha ha! Dana that is a great story. I have nothing but love for the Chinese visitors to the NGA and what you say is spot on. I bump into them all the time when I am stepping back to view my painting. And the other week I had not one, but 2 Chinese tourists pick up my brushes. And one of them got really mad at me when I asked him (politely) to put them down. I guess he thought I worked there. 😉

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