Pen sketches around Isle of Skye on a perfect day in July, 2011

Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Sketching

Excerpt from my diary (July, 2011) – Ilse of Skye

“From Sligchan the mountains were enormous.  They’re all around us, no trees, only rock, moss and bracken.  They just keep rising one beside the other, which seems to make for alot of depth and layers.  The wildflowers of daisies, foxglove, buttercups, yellow buttons, flax and thistle were everywhere.   Little whitewashed houses dot the landscape looking very quaint with their chimney stacks.  The scenery just kept undulating like a rollercoaster ride.  Even the shadows of the clouds over the mountains and sweeping plains, contrasting lights and darks, performed magical compositions on the scenes before us.”



Author: gwendoline  |  Category: Concepts, Oil Painting

In the dim light from the courtyard window, I spied an old basket of books, “free to a good home”.   The Victorian Artists Society were having a clean out.

The books had been gone through by other scavengers, and most of those left were ‘how to paint’ books, which alot of artists are not interested in.  However, I picked up a little hardbacked, A4, red book, “Painting a Portrait”, but by chance noticed it was by P. A. de Laszlo, so it came to my ‘good home’…..lucky me!!

First printed in 1934 and this one is the 5th impression from 1947.  It is written from a recorded interview by A. L. Baldry, who died at the age of 81 years in 1939.

A plate from the book "Painting a Portrait" by P. A. de Laszlo


Telling Baldry the process of producing a great portrait:-

De Laszlo says his palette consists of :  Ultramarine Blue, Rose Madder, Zinc White, Light Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna and occasionally, if required for a particular session, he adds Ivory Black, Veronese Green, Lac Garance and Cadmium Orange.  Poppy Oil is his medium, because it was thin and enabled him to work freely.  The Poppy Oil also slowed down the drying process, keeping his work open for a longer period.  He used alot of brushes, endeavouring to keep paint mixtures clean.  For the sake of purity of colours, he avoided mixing more than two colours together at any time.

De Laszlo goes on to talk about making the sitter comfortable, letting them feel less self-conscience.  He looked for their characteristics of personality which would lead him toward producing a better likeness.  Next he would arrange the lighting and a suitable background, in harmony with the intended colour scheme of the picture.  When satisfied, he did a rapid drawing in his sketchbook to make sure the movement, light and shade and placing are as he wished them to be:  “to be certain that the decorative effect of the picture is complete.”   In the case of a larger picture, he would do a colour sketch to be able to judge the effect of the colour scheme in which he wanted to keep the portrait.  He did not transfer these sketches to the canvas, they only helped him decide on how to deal with his subject.

De Laszlo began with a clean canvas, in its frame, as he believed the frame was an integral part of the picture, so must be there from the beginning.  He placed the sitter beside his canvas and observed the sitter from a few paces back.  He would always begin with the head, seeking to express by means of light and shade the construction of the skull and defining accurately the larger planes.  Working rapidly he would establish the exact relation between the head and its surroundings, gradually building up.  He says you cant separate details from the general effect, the details are part of the general effect and come gradually and naturally as he develops the work.  As the painting progresses, having dealt with the larger planes, he occupies himself with the smaller planes and lesser subtleties by which he obtains a likeness.

He judges the sitter and his canvas from a distance away from his easel, not only to see the general effect, but he mentally recorded what he was going to put on his canvas when he walked up to it.  He also used a little mirror to view both the picture and the sitter which enabled him to discover any faults there may be in the drawing, or in the relations of tones.  He says, “It acts like the fresh eye which can often perceive defects that the painter, having got accustomed to them, has failed to detect.”

When the head is finished, the hands and body are firmly sketched in and the background definately suggested.  The hands and feet were considered as much as the face itself, to reveal the character and personality of the sitter, hence, taken every bit as seriously as a face. De Laszlo was very observant of the sitters’ mannerism, movement of their body,  gestures and the way they wore their clothes.  He says that the “more shrewd the insight one can obtain into the sitter’s personality, the more revealing will be the expression of the face and especially of the eyes.”

A fabulous find!!