Scott Burdick 
Oil Painting Demonstration

painted 2007

"Tibetan Grandmother" oil, 24" by 16"

This was a simple composition so I didn't bother doing an initial drawing before starting the block-in. The key in either case is to concentrate on the large shapes of the shadow and light pattern first! The tendency will always be to go too light in the shadows so this is the crucial moment to work on those overall value relationships.

Even without a single detail, you should start to see the form. If you don't, no amount of detail will help later on.

Just a slight indication of where the hand will be, though I'm going to wait until near the end of the painting to get into anything definite. 

Slowly working and refining those large shapes, adding some of the background value to give me some wet paint to work the edge of the face and create some softer edges.

Still no details at this point.

Finally, only when I really feel that the larger values and shapes are correct, do I start moving to the smaller shapes within the big masses.

The hair is a good example of the process of larger shapes to smaller. Don't try and draw in the blue braided ribbon and paint all the dark hair around it because you will end up with a very stiff, overworked area. Since the dark of the hair is the larger shape, I block that in first and then dash in some of the smaller blue shapes of the ribbon. If the blue were the larger shape with only little bits of hair showing through, I would have done the opposite. It doesn't matter what is in front, on top of, etc. in reality. Just decide which is the larger, dominant shape and do that first. You can see this in all the areas -- the eye socket first, then the eyeball on top of that larger shape -- the dark pattern of the necklace, then the smaller beads on top.

Even though there is a lot of things in the background, I'm keeping it simple and suggestive. I want the darkest darks, lightest lights, and purest colors in the subject to bring your eye to her rather than having all the stuff in the background compete and confuse the eye. A large part of being an artist is selection, deciding what not to put in and to simplify much of what you do include.

Here you see a lot of refining and finally getting into the smallest details, highlights, and accents of color. Once you've put in the time and effort to get the large shapes and values correct, this part is very easy. When I find myself struggling at this stage, it is generally because I've made some error in the previous stage. When that happens I don't hesitate to simply get the big brush back out and wipe out the details and keep working the large masses once more until it is right. Simply adding details will never help something that is out of value or drawing.

Refining, working the edges, and a final few dabs of warm colors in the background to balance some of the warms in the woman.

And finally, the hand. Since this isn't my center of interest, I keep it very simplified and suggested. 

"Tibetan Grandmother" oil, 24" by 16"

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All material on this website, Copyright 2007 Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon