HOW-TO: PAINT A PORTRAIT WITH CASS ART
Cass Art Professional Ambassador Greg Mason is building up quite a following! A semi-finalist on last year’s Sky Art’s Portrait Artist of the Year, he is also a regular finalist in the Royal of Oil Painters and Royal Portrait Society competitions. He currently works from his studio in Exeter as a professional artist and teaches a variety of workshops to those wishing to develop their skills in oil painting.
We’re delighted to have Greg share his incredible insight into oil painting portraiture with us for this How-To blog. Taking inspiration from his time spent in Farindola in Italy, he’s given us a step-by-step guide, accompanied by photos of his oil painting coming to life.
The painting I’m going to focus on here is of Giulia. Although this was created quite recently in my Exeter studio using the new Cass Art Artists’ Oil Paints, the process began last summer whilst on residency as part of an international arts festival based in Farindola, Italy. The small town we stayed in had been hit by a significant tragic event in January. The town was still in shock, as many of those who worked were from this small tight-knit community. Giulia lost her cousin and several friends that day and was one of a series of amazingly resilient people who visited my studio in the month I was there. During my stay I got the real sense that the town was rebuilding itself, finding new work for those who had lost and continuing with their traditional festivals as a way of holding on to hope and celebrating life. Giulia and her friend Paulo acted as compares at an evening musical festival. She wore the outfit shown in the painting. The striking red skirt, turban and converse pumps were a real statement of colour and life – so this is how I decided to paint her.
Step One: The process began with a set of photographs. The temperature was hitting 40 degrees every day but I had great light in the space which I could moderate with slatted shutters. Whilst playing around with different poses and situations there was a moment when the light through the shutters hit her dress, she was turned away from the light but still caught in it. In her pose she looks down in contemplation but is clothed in colour. The sadness and hopefulness came together in that moment and I knew that would be the composition for my painting. Having recorded the moment in a photograph, the next decision is which canvas . I like to paint heads at a certain size – around 5 to 8 inches – and I knew that the full figure needed to be represented in the whole space so I opted for one of the large deep edge Cass Art canvases at 80 x 100cm.
Step Two: The next step involves transferring the drawing and I do this in a number of ways, depending on speed and situation. I love working from life, but when this isn’t practical I either use a grid or sighting from reference to lay down the structure and key planes of the face, body and interior. I don’t like to overwork this stage as it’s just a baseline for what comes next, but it’s also foundational for retaining accuracy later on. Also, on a practical level, too much graphite on the canvas can muddy your colours as it tends to blend with the oil layers and eliminated the chromatic values.