Nicholas Baxter

Realism Techniques 7

I finished painting #12 in the Apostasy series, now tentatively titled Sacrificial, a few days before my recent galavant to Galapagos. Didn’t get a chance to post anything about it before I left, but let me just say: That trip was crazy. So crazy that re-entering the studio upon my return was like landing in a time warp to a long ago era. Like a cat in a new home I sniffed out the place to make sure it was still real, still my life(?), in this current place and time, and then gratefully got the fuck to work on some prints for an upcoming group show (more coming soon on that).

Good to get outta here for an adventure, but good to be back in the creative womb with some new entries in that cluttered/overflowing filing cabinet called mind.

So, to get myself caught up, here’s the now foreign-seeming latest:

“Sacrificial”, oil on panel, 12 x 12in, 2012


For anyone actually reading this blog on the regular, the technique of layering to achieve high levels of realism should be at least somewhat familiar by now.  Yet, within this broader process of applying paint in separate layers lies the specific technique of applying paint in small amounts, during the progression of a single painting session, or layer. In other words, a wet-into-wet paint application which mimics classic Alla Prima techniques, yet occurs within the quite contradictory process of indirect (or layered) painting.

For example, the basic form and colors of the gloved fingers shown below had been established after one opaque paint layer (which I usually call the block-in). After that first layer of opaque paint was dry, subtlety and detail were added in the subsequent layer shown, but this increasing complexity, not surprisingly, requires increasing care during application. Towards this end, paint is added sparingly, in thin amounts, and blended down to join it seamlessly with the dried block-in.  I move through an area, micromanaging approximately 1 inch square sections of the painting, each receiving the same apply/blend treatment.

I use Galkyd Slow-Dry medium with all of my paint mixtures, and pay close attention to the viscosity of the paint when mixing on my palette, since overly fluid or thick consistencies can make this stage of the painting process incredibly difficult.

Finally, where mini-layers come into play is when the application and blending process is repeated during the same painting session. I revisit many of the 1 inch square areas while the paint is still wet, and re-apply another thin layer of color, blending that out very carefully so as not to destroy the first application. …And so on, until these wet mini-layers have accumulated thick enough that I deem the layer no longer workable. At this point, the session is finished and I wait for that layer of paint to dry before revisiting the same area again.

The sequence below shows some of these steps. If you look carefully, you can see tiny areas of paint being applied and then smoothed out. These same areas were worked over once more in the same fashion, with certain areas receiving a third pass during that same day’s work.

Look at the purple shadow area first, then the off-white knuckle wrinkles, then the orange and deep red under-lighted areas.

 And lastly, a studio shot of my reference for the piece, which was perhaps the most complex and densely detailed of the series thus far:

The scalpel was a final addition to the already heavily-Photoshopped reference image, replacing a much more modern cauterizing scalpel, whose unsatisfactory look of a Lego toy betrayed its badassness. See this blog post for more on the intricacies of reference usage.