Master Copy, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tutorial: How to Mix colors

Last week I demonstrated how to start a master copy of the painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer, ca. 1656. I demonstrated the initial stages of selecting a color copy reference of the painting, explained how to draw a grid, described a method of tracing by using a window and finished up with a demonstration on how to paint a three value painting including white, gray, and black paint. Today I will explain the process of transforming a three value painting to an initial color lay in painting.

Step One: Use Three Value Painting as a Guide to Identify Lights and Darks

Now that the painting has three values, white, gray and black I can use that as a guide to finding the lights and darks in the painting. I began the initial color lay in by trying to break down the main colors I see in the color reproduction of, Girl with a Pearl Earring. The seven main colors I noted in this painting were: Blue, Yellow, Yellow Ochre, White, Black, and a light flesh tone. I got the idea to do an initial color lay in from the book I mentioned last week, The Complete Oil Painter, by Brian Gorst. I laid out these basic colors from Liquitex Acrylic Paint brand on my palette: yellow ochre, titanium white, ultramarine blue, napthithol crimson, burnt sienna, ivory black, primary yellow. I added tomato red to my palette as a substitute for alizarin crimson. Using a palette knife, I began mixing up the colors I wanted using large amounts of paint to make nice large piles of paint, which I call a color string.  I began the painting by starting with the darkest value which was a bluish black in the background of the painting. To create this dark value, I mixed ultramarine blue and ivory black.

After I had established the darkest value and painted in the background area or negative space, I started painting in the middle values such as the blue turban, the gold robe, the light yellow scarf, and the fairly light skin tone. For each color, I mixed up two values one was darker and the other was lighter. To make lighter values, I added small amounts of white to the pre-mixed initial local color. And to darken a color, I added ultramarine blue or burnt sienna. I reserved using black for the darkest colors. Periodically, I sprayed the canvas and the palette with water to keep the paints wet, so they wouldn’t dry out. I saved the lightest lights for last, such as the whites of the eye, the fur collar and the highlights in the eyes and mouth. To keep the edges between each value soft, I painted quickly, using two large brushes with light and dark values painted right next to each other and allowed them to “melt” into each other. This technique is called painting wet into wet, and keeps the painting from having harsh outlines. After I had painted out all the white areas, I began painting in the shadowed areas of the painting, including the face, the turban, the scarf, and the robe. Important: Remember to wash out your brushes in a water jar every time you switch colors and use a paper towel to dry off the paint brush so it won’t get too watery. Also, make sure that the paint doesn’t dry on your brushes and be sure to clean each brush thouroughly in water after you complete a painting session.

Step Two: Take a Break from Painting

This next step of taking a break, may seem counterintuitive, but I find it helps me to be more objective about a painting’s progress. After I completed the initial painting session, I took a break for several days to get a fresh take on it. When I returned to the painting, I wrote down a list of things I would like to change and I checked the facial proportions to be sure that the drawing was correct. In the next session, I corrected things like proportions, added shadows with a glazing technique,  and tried to make more accurate color matches. To help obtain more accurate color mixtures, I researched Vermeer’s palette and painting techniques. And to create the glazed shadow areas in this painting, I used a Slow Dri blending medium by Liquitex in my darker paint mixtures to thin out the consistency of the paint.

 

Master Copy Tutorial: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Last week I talked about the importance of copying the work of the old masters and this week I am going to give you a step by step tutorial about how to get started. I have several master copies in the works, but I am choosing to focus on Vermeer’s well-known work, Girl with a Pearl Earring, circa 1656, according to Maritshuis, 2014. If you wish to read more about this painting, you may visit the following link: Details: Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665, Mauritshuis. Retrieved on 9 December 2014. This citation is from an article about Vermeer’s painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which I found on Wikipedia. The original painting was painted in oils on canvas, but to save drying time, I used acrylic paints.

Step One: Make a Grid from a Photocopy of a Master Copy

My first step in creating a master copy of Vermeer’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was to locate a good print copy which I could use to create a grid for the initial sketch. Creating a grid helped me to make sure the proportions of the head were proportionate to the copied image. I photocopied an image of Vermeer’s painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, from the book, Vermeer, by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. After I made the copy, I created a grid, measuring one inch from the horizontal and vertical edges of the printed copy with a ruler. After I measured out the markers for the grid, I drew vertical lines to create the vertical axis. Then I drew horizontal lines for the horizontal axis.  Each box on the horizontal lines of the grid should be numbered starting with 1, and the vertical boxes should be labeled A, B, C, etc. After that, I created an exact duplicate of this grid on a clean sheet of sketch paper. Note: it is very important to ensure that you have the exact amount of boxes on both the vertical and horizontal axes on your grid copy as the one from the original, or the proportions may be incorrect. Also, be sure that when you draw vertical and parallel lines that your ruler is perpendicular to the picture plane and doesn’t shift, or it make affect the measurements of the one-inch boxes.

Step Two: Create a Duplicate Grid and Transfer it to Canvas with Carbon Paper

Next, I located my first set of coordinates on the vertical and horizontal axes, on my grid copy to start drawing in the edge shape of the portrait, i.e. A1. The artist, Thaneeya McArdle, gives an excellent description of this process with detailed visuals of the grid method at https://www.art-is-fun.com/grid-method/?rq=draw%20a%20grid. To complete the portrait, I moved on the next grid coordinate, and so on. My next step was to trace the completed grid sketch onto a clean sheet of sketch paper, using my window as a light box. I taped the original sketch to the window with masking tape, then taped a clean sheet of paper on top of the original. Then I traced the image to the cover sheet. The traced image was then transferred with a pen to canvas paper, using carbon paper, with the dark side taped face down.

Step Three: Paint a three value underpainting in Acrylics

Are you still with me? I know it sounds like a lot of steps…Don’t worry I am including some photos of this process to help jog your memory. So now we move on to the fun part, the painting itself. To break down the light and dark values, I consulted a well-used book from my art library, The Complete Oil Painter, by Brian Gorst, which gives a detailed demonstration about how to paint a monotone underpainting. I mixed up three values from darkest to lightest with Liquitex Acrylic paints and a palette knife using Burnt Umber, Titanium White, and Ivory Black. The darkest value was applied to the background, while the middle and lighter values were painted on the figure. Intermittently I sprayed the palette and the canvas with water from a spray bottle to keep the paints wet so they wouldn’t dry up, especially while I was mixing them. I also stepped back every so often to view the painting from a distance and be sure that the drawing in my painting was accurate, and made corrections as needed. These values will give me a roadmap of where to put light and dark values when I get into the color portion of the painting. They help to simplify the lights and darks without the difficulty of color matching. Next week, I will paint a “limited color lay in” with the local color

Meisje_met_de_parel
Photo copy, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer ca. 1656
Vermeer copy with grid
Photo copy, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer ca. 1656, with grid 
Vermeer paper copy with grid
Copy of Grid with pencil on sketch paper 

 

Vermeer Copy Light Box
Traced image of grid using window as light box

 

carbon paper trace 1
Carbon Paper used to trace image to canvas

 

Carbon Paper tracing, complete
Carbon paper tracing completed

 

Jodie Schmidt after Vermeer three value
Three Value Underpainting in Acrylic