I was recently commissioned to paint a portrait of Bruce by his daughter. I wanted the face to be approximately life size, so the specially prepared board I chose measured 24 x 30cm.
There is always an apprehension when starting a portrait in egg tempera – the initial stages are fairly straightforward – an outline is drawn in pencil and then made permanent with a light wash of india ink. I then ink in the basic colours in order to knock back the bright white surface. Next comes the scary part – a layer of grey/green is painted over the flesh areas! This is based on a technique called Verdaccio – normally a grey-green underpainting which gives a tonal layer to the flesh. Green is the ‘opposite’ of red, so pinky flesh tints really stand out and sing when layered over the green. This sets the overall tone for white skin – this technique harks back to the Medieval and Renaissance masters, and is a very good trick to use.
Next, I decided to get stuck in with the detail of the eyes – a bit of self-indulgence really, before the next stage, which involved layering the skin tones.
Quite a few hours were spent on cross-hatching the various skin tones before optically blending the colours to portray a realistic looking skin. Small details are added, and it starts coming to life at this stage.
This is the stage where the painting really started to come to life for me. Details such as the lips, teeth and stubble really helped to make the figure into an individual. You can see the size of the brush I use – I think during the whole painting I used a size 3/0, 0 and a larger brush for the under layers!
These next photos show the progress of the head, with some nice details of the hair and eyebrows.
I wanted something bold in the background, so chose a beautiful deep blue silk cloth, complete with folds and creases to add interest. I loved the detail of the frayed edge of the fabric and included it to give a Trompe l’oiel effect.
The final job was to complete the shirt. This involved painting a dark red over the main body of the shirt, and cross-hatching progressively lighter paint over it to give a realistic woven appearance. I also painted in tiny details of loose threads on the buttons to echo the background fabric (and chest hair!)
The finished painting:
Below is a short movie showing the painting transforming through the various stages – please forgive the clumsiness of the photography – all pics were taken on my phone…..enjoy!