Borrowing from the Mini Master

I’m taking an oil painting class. I made myself sign up for it. What better way to force yourself to paint than to pay someone to force you. The class is taught by an Uraguayan folk artist who lives and works locally. He is wonderfully random and full of energy. I’ve been to one class, and he is already one of my favorite painting teachers ever.

We spent the first class (well, the second really; I was away for the first) sketching, and coming up with ideas for what we would eventually paint. I’m a face person, so I started sketching faces, then ended up taking inspiration from a feather headpiece I bought in New Orleans during Mardi Gras (my whereabouts during the first class). So by the end of class, I had a sketch I was thrilled with of a woman with a feather headpiece.

I completed an underpainting that night of a yellow-ish orange with touches of alizerin crimson, then went home and stared at it for a couple of days. I still wasn’t sure about the color. I also wasn’t sure about a head floating around in that color, with nothing else to the composition.

Then I thought of Tolouse Lautrec, and turned to his work for inspiration. What I appreciate most about the pieces of his that stand out to me is his use of fore-, mid-, and background. Though the subjects are simplified to line drawing, the composition is flawless. Most often, he places his subject in the midground, pulling the eye back to that lady, center stage and center of attention. The foreground might be a man in silhouette admiring the dancing girl, his size and placement on the page (usually corner) indicating his location in the space. In the background, a line of revellers, also in silhouette, but higher up in the plane. It wasn’t until I was mimicking this blocking that I realized how it puts the viewer right in the shot. Something about the depth and the way the moment is framed places you the viewer among the revellers.

So I borrowed from Lautrec’s layout for my own composition and ended up with this sketch.

Now I think the subject’s face needs to be turned to face in because of the angle of the balcony. It also took me a while to come up with a color scheme I’m happy with (which is why the color is so muddy–I was trying things out one over the other), but I think I’m there.

I was still too scared to put paint to canvas, so I’ll wait and do that tonight under my teacher’s helpful eye.


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