This is a bit of a one-step-forward, two-steps-back post:
I’ve got two new paintings that I started recently, one is a bit larger and that’s still in the wipeout phase. But this second one I started with the first chromatic underpainting layer or imprimatura.
I’ve also been hard at work on the portrait of Sarah. Things were moving along and I was getting lost in the details… too lost really. Sometimes you can’t really see an error in your work. I knew there was something a bit off about this portrait. I suspected it had to do with the eyes but as I spent so much time working on the right eye I had become blind to it (no pun intended). I assumed that the left eye was the one that needed to be corrected and I used some of the typical techniques to try to see what needed to be corrected with it (e.g. covering the area in the painting for a bit while looking at the source material then trying to get fresh eyes on the work).
Finally I turned the image upside-down and looked at it in a mirror. It became obvious immediately that the right eye was way out of place. It’s odd that you can’t see the error at all when working hours on it, but once you discover it – that’s all you can see.
So I decided not to take half-measures and to get back to a blank canvas.
That’s right, lead white over the offending area. I selected lead white for two main reasons. First it dries quickly so I can get back to it in a couple of days. Secondly it’s very opaque. A lot of people don’t realize this but oil paints are more or less translucent. What’s more is that they become more translucent over time. There are many paintings hanging in museums where you can see the ghost image of a correction showing through. Of course those weren’t visible when the artist first corrected them but over time the mistakes have been revealed by the natural aging process of the oil layers. Lead White should remain opaque enough that this won’t happen to this particular portrait. Would be terrible for her to end up with three eyes in the next century.
This is why you don’t worry about the details until you’ve nailed the larger forms. It’s a hierarchy, you have to get the proportions right first then the symmetry then you have the opportunity to get temperatures, colors and smaller details. If you don’t nail the proportions or symmetry though, won’t matter how beautiful the details are.