My approach for creating oil portraits shares several similarities with my watercolor work; for example, I use a similar palette for both-yellow ochre, cerulean blue and alizarin crimson (substituted for rose madder), to which I may add cadmium red and ivory black; However, there are four important differences: In oil, I deal more with shapes than lines,I Work dark's to light, my color applications are opaque rather than transparent and I don't use the progression of three key techniques that I use for Watercolor.
I work on toned canvas-usually raw umber thinned with turpentine which provides a solid neutral tone and I start each portrait by doing a drawing with ivory black.
As with my Watercolors, I start adding Color in the face, which I block with four values. I start by mixing my shadow color, then take a portion of this mixture and lighten it with white to create my halftone. Next I lighten a portion of the halftone mixture to produce my lights. Finally, I adjust a portion of in light mixture to produce my highlights. My brushes are all bristle filberts and I usually start the head using a different No. 6 for each tone. This keep the color clean and allows me to work the tones together.
Once I feel the shape of the head is pretty much correct, I go in and add the subtle color changes in the face. If, for instance, I need to add a reddish tone to halftone in the cheek area, I may add some cadmium red and alizarin crimson to my halftone mixture. My next step is to establish all of the large color spots, such as the hair, the garment and the background. I may not complete the background or garment, but I Want to have some of those colors on my canvas to help me make necessary comparisons. Finally I block in the eyes and mouth, I block everything fairly soft edged, because it's easier to add a hard edge than to soften an edge.
Developing The Painting
I let the block in dry a day or two, then start the next day's work by oiling out my canvas with a mixture of stand oil and turpentine, then pat or wipe off the excess with a clean cotton cloth. This re-establishes the colors as they look when they were wet.
My first task is to model the head. I work section by section. For example, I may start with the forehead and then work my way down one side of the face. When the head is modeled, I go back to the focal point of the face-90 percent of the time that's the eyes, I start bringing up the eyes with all of the details and subtle color changes. Then I work outward from the center of the eye, making any necessary adjustments. The things that make the eye realistic are those elements around it, such as upper and lower lids, the brow and the cheeks.
It usually takes me a month to do a head and shoulders. But at the end of each day, I want the painting to have something of a finished look, so the face is always more developed than the surrounding areas. Although my initial colors and particularly my shadows and dark's are very thin, I use opaque, applications throughout. I develop the painting by building thicker and heavier paint in my light. l don’t glaze, I adjust these colors purely by mixing color and applying it to my canvas. In general, I probably repaint the head four times. In certain areas of the face such as it the features and any other areas I need bring up-I may use as many as 10 layers before the painting is complete.
Paul W. McCormack received his art training at the du Cret School of the Arts in Plainfield, New Jersey. He's currently a portrait instructor at that school, as well as two other New Jersey institutions: The New Jersey Center for Visual Arts (Summit) and Somerset Art Association (Bedminster).
McCormack is a member of the Hudson Valley Art Association, the New jersey Watercolor Society and Allied Artists of America.
His paintings have won many awards in juried exhibitions.
McCorrnack is represented by Portraits Inc. (New York City) and Swain Galleries (Plainfeld, New Jersey). His work also appears in Splash VI (North Light Books).