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Mike Derby Portrait Blog



  • edited November 2017
    Turns out Weatherford already posted it.  No reason to repeat.  Thanks Paul for the improved link below.  He makes it look easy.

  • MikeDerby said:
    Also some good info on aluminum panels.

    Good info on aluminum panels, yes.  But a terrible way to cut it, that leaves jagged edges.

    This is how to do it, it's a 30-second video:

  • @PaulB - What thickness do you use?  Its available in 2,3 and 4 mm.

  • MikeDerby said:
    @PaulB - What thickness do you use?  Its available in 2,3 and 4 mm.

    @MikeDerby it's 3mm "compbond", not quite dibond, but I was told the difference is not detectable.  I bought a few panels, each 96" x 48". Cost was US$80 each, shipping added 10%.  Panels arrived with some of the corners dinged slightly, but I was able to lightly tap those flat.  Doing the math shows these are pretty much the cheapest thing to paint on.

    I got them from a local company selling supplies for signage.  They offered products named compbond, dibind, alumalite, econolite, omegabond and lusterboard.  Navigating these and their associated finishes (baked enamel, milled, anodized, primed ...) was confusing.
  • I will let you be the judge.  They all look about the same to me.  In order of friction against the brush from least to most it is plain stain, fine dust, gesso, medium dust.  This is canvas.  I need to do it again with scrap claessens 13.  The med dust required some work to get the paint into the crevices.  The fine dust is pretty nice but I will have to wait for it to dry to see if the paint sinks in like the gesso.  The med dust required two coats of stain, one with dust and one without to seal it to the canvas.  All in all, a good experiment that provided no additional satisfaction regarding coverage.  The texture of the dust is really kool.  Unless I specifically wanted the additional texture, on cotton canvas with a medium to heavy weave, I would not use the dust.  This is all Geneva and the coverage looks fine doesn't it?  Only the BU in the middle really shows the stain thru the paint.  I can see others with problems in person but its not bad at all.  I could definitely handle it on a painting.

  • Very interesting demo and technique, quite appealing, thank you!
  • I'm a little confused. In the other thread you said the medium dust helped coverage, but here you said they didn't help? Was this on canvas and the other thread was referring to linen?
  • @Richard_P I am confused too.  That's why I keep flailing around trying all these different techniques.  The difference here is that it's fairly rough cotton canvas.  There is plenty of tooth and it's working fine.  But I want to use smooth media.  I want control such that if texture is required I can do it and get coverage.  If I need it smooth I can do that and get coverage.  It's the inconsistency that is making me crazy.
    @kingston. Thank you for the warning. I was wondering about gesso on claessens 13 and was pretty worried about it.  And why the excercise?  I am doing something wrong.  So far I can only guess what is happening but I get very inconsistent coverage.  Maybe it's my hand oil.  Maybe I am not squeezing enough brush dip out of the brush before I use it.  Maybe I need a second coat of stain.  Maybe it's the nature of the media but it's as if I am applying a glaze in places.  It is to the point that I just know it will sometimes take two coats.  Do I expect too much?  After all, it's supposed to be alla prima.  Its straight Geneva too because I want the open working time.  Sometimes I wait two weeks to use it after I set it out and mix it so it will thicken up and not be so transparent.  Even that does not always work.  I have no formal training in materials so any insight you can offer is greatly appreciated.
  • Mike, I had the same problem for a long time. GENEVA black would not cover my painting surface. I always had to mix it with a highly pigmented black from Old  Holland, but still... I tried different Gesso grounds, I tried sanding/not sanding. ... I tried everything possible. But I admit, I always had cheap Gesso grounds...

    Now I found a Gesso from Switzerland, called LASCAUX. Unfortunately it is very expensive but it solved my problem. It is highly absorbent, once dried, it feels a little bit like plaster. It is made for oilpaint/acrylics and works perfectly well. I did not have the coverage problem anymore. And I can even sand it lightly before painting, without getting a slippery surface... and I just saw, that you can get it in the US as well (if you are there...). Hope this helps!
  • Another quality acrylic gesso recently produced not so expensive, is made for both oil and acrylic, only 2 coats needed (water based). However I also coat this with 2 coats of oil gesso and then stain using Mark's recipe, because most acrylics suck up all the oil from the paint becoming unmanageable. As EstherH mentioned above,  highly absorbent, "it feels a little like plaster" rather than plastic, can be sanded without getting a slippery surface. "Tri Art mfg." acrylic gesso. This is the best I found in years!
  • has anyone mixed plaster of  paris with oil primer for a ground? My mother and aunts did this but I don't know the particulars. I don't think they mixed it with water and the paint consistincy wasn't that different from the tube paint with a little linseed oil.

  • edited November 2017
    @BOB73, that's an old technique (rabbit skin glue applied to canvas first), but quite worthy for anyone who wants to try it, used to be more popular(up until about 20/30 years ago), but modern times and technology has changed as we all know. I recall learning of this in college, ways of old masters. I believe this mix was also used for creating, don't know if I am saying this right about "relief painting" where figures and furnishings are build up 3D and oil painting over that. I am not aware if references can be found on line for specific methods.
  • MikeDerby said:
    @Richard_P I am confused too.  That's why I keep flailing around trying all these different techniques.  The difference here is that it's fairly rough cotton canvas.  There is plenty of tooth and it's working fine.  But I want to use smooth media.  I want control such that if texture is required I can do it and get coverage.  If I need it smooth I can do that and get coverage.  It's the inconsistency that is making me crazy.
    I use panels, so it's even worse for me! As I've said before I've found W&N clear gesso provides a good tooth.

    Bear in mind as well that Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue and Pyrrole Rubine are transparent/semi-transparent colours. Even Cadmium Yellow and Titanium White are not as Opaque as other pigments.

    You could try using opaque colours (with much reduced chroma). Iron Oxide Red (PR101), Iron Oxide Black (PBk11), and Chromium Oxide Green (PG17) are the most opaque pigments available. 
  • Thank you to everyone for your suggestions.  Acrylic gesso is out if the media is already oil primed.  However, original gesso was made with gypsum or marble dust and oil paint, if I can believe the internet (always risky).  Therefore, if I get a good ratio and good results, that may be the answer.  There is no perfect answer, it is probably a mix of answers.  I would like to go be an apprentice in Raphael or Rembrandt's studio but that is all gone now.  I like alla prima or wet-in-wet because it is so immediate but it's no different to me if I DMP an underpainting and then glaze it.  I am painting it multiple times anyway.  I bought Mark's stain so I will let you know how that goes.
    @kingston, thanks for the master class and the tip on faster thickening.  I will try that.
  • BOB73BOB73 -
    edited November 2017
    I think a lot of it has to do with how you load your brush for a specific kind of stroke. I haven't come close to figuring this out either but it is mentioned in a number of videos I've seen. Even Mark talks briefly about it  in different videos but I can't remember which ones. there's no specific video I know of for this, just comes in as a comment once in a while in the various tutorials as they are going about their painting. One thing I'm sure of is it is different with ala prima vs glazing. Different too if trying to avoid blending.
  • Here is Mark's new stain.  It looks good and works well.  I am using the two thin coat technique he recommends and will let you know how it goes.  I want the matte finish he achieved.  I used about a tablespoon to cover this 24x18 cotton canvas.  It is only a little thinner than his regular paint.

  • The throw has thrown me for a loop but I think its a pretty fair representation.  Any suggestions?
    BTW, after two thin coats, the Geneva stain is more eggshell than matte.

  • I see round white dots in the photo, and square white dots in the painting, so i would round them off by using the blue, which would lower the average value a bit.

    But I agree, it's a pretty fair representation.  You don't actually need to do anything.
  • Agree with @PaulB. The tassels look great.
  • Have you counted the dots yet @PaulB? @MikeDerby, Spectacular. I'm not even going to joke about painting a tassel being a hassel.
  • BOB73 said:
    Have you counted the dots yet @PaulB?
    No, but I did watch a video of Mike counting the dots.
  • While I have been distracted from The Happy Family with work and Christmas, I have also been thinking about my next composition.  This is a picture I have wanted to paint for some time.  I spent the last couple of days tinkering with it in Photoshop to add contrast and adjust the lighting and etc.  I would appreciate your input on that and the background.  I know I could put in a complementary color and be done but I want this one to be special.  I am considering a Dutch treatment, but her hair is so dark I am sure it would just disappear.  Anyway, let me know what you think.
    The painting will be 12x17 on a 16x20 linen canvas, so slightly over life size.

  • This is good. Just enough shadow to bring out her features.
  • Gorgeous photo! I'm looking forward to see this develop. Personally, I actually like the light pink/gray backround...I would keep it. 
  • Personally I prefer darker backgrounds. I would go with something like this:

  • Perhaps with the background a bit lighter so it blends in more with the hair highlights there. :)
  • I like the dark too but brown won't work here.  I used a dark dark purple for the portrait of Emily Carder, which you can see at my Austin Blog, and it might work here.  Nice how it brought out the highlights in her hair.
    I also like the light. Sargent would sometimes use a light green, almost a mint color, but I think that would be too obvious here, given the prominent reds.
  • I posted a different picture of the same person for the portrait challenge in case someone needed a subject.
  • I commented recently that the Charteris chapter on Sargent's method was so good I wanted to memorize it.  I have since begun a literature review of other sources of his technique and found the following along the way.  Enjoy!
  • Thanks, this is a great read.
  • edited December 2017
    I like your suggestion of purple for the background, and have you considered a muted purple or a light muted green. I also recommend that you practice quick color thumbnail sketches using simple abstract shapes on the side and explore and experiment before committing to anything, because we really don't know what's going to work right now. Nice photo to work from, nice pose and good composition. Sargent never left anything to chance.
  • Here is the traceup on Mark's new stain with marble dust on a 22x24 inch (56x61 cm) panel.  Its not a big jump from this stain to purple.  I think you have a good idea @Forgiveness and I think I will try some things on photoshop.
    Ok so here is the departure, even tho' its not complete.  I am going to do this one indirect.  I will of course use DMP on each of the stages but I just have to try it.  Attached is the youtube sequence that inspired me to try. 
    I wish @kingston was here to help out.  Jim if you are reading this I am [email protected]  You will get no guff from me.  If you feel moved please feel free to help out.

  • Well, finally some progress to report on the Happy Family.  I repainted the father.  I think I will tinker with the hair a little more but the rest is mostly there.  Please point out anything you think I need to touch up.  Also please note the golden lines in place.  This is a little trick I learned watching Vic Harris videos.  He uses string to mark his line so I found my original tick marks and strung some thread between them.  It works like a charm.  They can be moved or removed as needed at any point in the process.  I just use push pins on the back of the stretcher bars and tie thread to them.

  • Hi Mike, looking great.
    A couple of tiny things:
    Nose- it looks like you have painted his nose from the photo on the far left rather than from the family photo
    Forehead shadow- the transition could be softened a little.
    Edge of cheek- there is a little reflected light that could go in there

  • Mike, I feel there is too big a gap between the line of the nose and the corner of the left eye.  the result being that his left cheek is too wide.

    The hair is superb.
  • Good catches @Boudicca and @PaulB .  I made some adjustments.  Let me know if this is better.
    Thanks and Happy New Year!

  • Yes, that was quick  :o
    Happy New Year too you too Mike
  • @flatty.  What do you see that needs attention?
  • The eyebrow on the left is arching too much. :-)
  • Thank you so much for this thread as I continue to learn so much and deepen my understanding. I am amazed! Happy New year and may you have a most prosperous year ahead! Thanks for your caring in this, for your outstanding patience and passion in action.
  • Thank you Foregiveness and Flatty.  Mark I am glad I can be of some service.  This whole painting has been an excercise in new experiences.

  • What great eyes you have @Boudicca, @Richard_P and @PaulB . I see a spot next to the nose that looks too much like an extension of the mustache and not enough suggestion of the nostril but I'm thinking that may be a trick of the photography and/or my failing eyesight since no one else mentioned it. Happy New Year All. It's great to see @MikeDerby working on the family again. 
  • And so I begin.  You get to watch me either figure this out or ... something else.  I have wanted to do it so long I don't even know when it first appealed to me.  I will start by finding the darkest values on the face and then subtracting about 10% so that as I build up, I will end up with the right values.  Each layer gets a little bit darker.  I will be using my grey scales and squinting a lot.

  • This is all I can manage on a work night.

    [Deleted User]
  • A grey stained canvas this time? :)
  • Actually @Richard_P , this is geneva stain with marble dust on panel.  so a complete departure.  It looks grey but thats just a funky photo.  Mark says its completely neutral and i ain't arguing.  :)

  • Some progress and some obvious problems.  I am trying to leave the values a shade light so when i glaze them it darkens down where it should be.  easier said than done

  • Oh, I didn't realise you were doing a griselle! Wouldn't it be easier to make the photo black and white in a photo editor? 
  • Looking forward to seeing this one progress, and I agree a tonal image would really help see the gray scale.
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