The Making of “Summertime”

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“Summertime” on display at the 97th Independence Day Celebration this past weekend at the Latvian Hall in Los Angeles.

I recently finished a painting inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, titled “Summertime”. Many people responded positively to this piece at an popup show in LA this past weekend, so I thought it would be a great piece for a “Making Of” post.

With “Summertime”, I actually started by shooting a model in various poses before settling on any one particular idea. I knew from the outset that I wanted to paint a portrait that was inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, but wasn’t sure on what potential pose would work the best for the concept. Dzoanna, the model and I had never worked together so I didn’t have a good idea of her character. I decided to let the photo session lead to a pose naturally instead of coming with a preconfigured idea of how I wanted her to look.

Luckily for me, Dzoanna did a great job and gave me a number of wonderful poses to work from. I went with the fourth photo but any of the previous three could have worked as well.

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I then used a grid process to draw the photo reference from my computer onto a 12″ by 16″ piece of sketch paper. Gridding is a common transfer method and I like it for a few reasons – it helps to keep the drawing proportions accurate and also forces me to pay attention to every individual gridded section of the piece. It’s very simple – by using a grid that’s overlaid on top of the photo, I simply match up the grid sections that in equal number and proportion on a piece of sketch paper, and then copy them by hand.

I find that I don’t ignore the random folds and drapery as much in favor of juicier areas like the face and hands when I use a grid method. It’s a little more laborious than other methods but I like the observation that it forces.

Underpainting stage.

Underpainting stage.

First layer of colors.

First layer of colors.

Second layer - focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Second layer – focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Adding refinements - pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

Adding refinements – pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

I believe this took around 4-5 sessions to complete. After I have the painting transferred, the process is a number of passes that go from an underpainting to successive layers of mostly opaque paints. I don’t use a lot of turpentine at all, and linseed oil is mostly reserved for the later refinements. I try to let the paint really handle the job and have been trying to avoid thinning it overmuch or using a lot of washes. This avoids both over-refining and lets me finish the painting in a relatively short period.

Summertime - 16" by 20"

Summertime – 16″ by 20″

Finally, the piece comes together as a finish and it’s ready to display. I had a fun time with the beautiful patterns on the sleeves and decided to break out of my normally quite somber range of colors with a burst of summer flowers that complement the bold palette of the skirt and sleeves. Weirdly enough, I am happiest with how the black skirt turned out. Black clothes are always a challenge, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever managed to paint them convincingly. Bring it on, black! I hope you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for more like these in the future 🙂

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