“Gottlieb’s paintings do not resemble those of any recognizable master, and yet he is most definitely an artist’s artist. Indeed, the more one knows about the craft of painting, the more one appreciates his work. Hard and soft; lost and found; warm and cool; intimate and detached; unified and varied; lit and shadowed; hopeful and despairing; rhythmic and silent — it is all here, to the extent that Gottlieb makes it look easy to hold in balance all the contrary forces that define a human being, and this world.”
Daan Hoekstra (Artist and regional editor, Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine)

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Portrait and Figure Painting Techniques

To quote Ingres, drawing is truly “three and a half quarters of painting.”   Whether one plans to create a drawing or a completed painting, the principles are much the same. One looks to capture form, the rhythms of the contour, anatomy, gesture, and value.

When the planned result is a painting, the only additions are color and the texture lent by brush strokes.

Creating a realist painting is fairly simple to describe. Conversely, creating a good realist painting is difficult to accomplish.  Bearing in mind the requirements of the above-mentioned drawing concepts, the idea is to bring about a fully unified piece in color.

More so than in drawing, the basis of a successful painting lies in the creation of illusion: the illusion of volume, the illusion of distance and space, the illusion of light, and even the illusion of color itself.

Throughout the process, I strive to define and attain the precise color/values of the background, the shadow shapes, the darkest darks, the lightest lights (I try to add color even for the brightest highlight) the basic lights, and the transition tones.  Ultimately, all of these will serve as a blueprint for the painting.  I dedicate as much time as is necessary to ensure I meet these criteria.

At the end of each painting session, I soften most of the edges. This makes it easier for me to work back into the painting at the beginning of the next session.  Many of the colors will have dried and the oils will have settled to the bottom of the layer, leaving the top layer of pigment unsaturated. The result is a matte effect; the layer is so dull that the proper color/values cannot be judged. These absorbed areas must be oiled out or retouched. While some painters prefer using walnut oil or Damar retouch varnish, my technique is to apply copal retouch varnish in order to re-saturate the colors. Medium can accomplish this just as well when I intend to work back over a passage.

One of the goals of the naturalist painter is to accomplish the most information using a minimal number of brush strokes.  This is much easier said than done. It is simpler to apply more brush strokes than necessary; however, in doing so the painting will inevitably develop a tortured appearance. This goal forces the artist to constantly refine brush stroke technique.

My current palette for flesh consists of lead white, lead tin yellow, yellow ochre, vermilion, transparent red oxide, pyrol ruby red, cobalt blue, transparent sepia, olive green and ivory black.  I mix all colors on the palette before application. Mixing color directly on the canvas can produce a muddy color and texture.  It can technically also result in more vibrant colors, but I find that mixing the colors on the palette first produces consistently cleaner colors.

When mixing any color, I limit the number of source colors to four or less. Any additional source colors can negatively affect the purity of the final color. Ideally, one uses only as many colors as one absolutely needs.

It is essential that my finished pieces appear to glow.  If the painting does not appear to emit its own source of light, I find the piece to have a dissatisfying and dead feel.