This is the 3rd and final part of Matt Springer’s series. Enjoy!-Editor
After some delay, I’m pleased to share this next and final article on my vignette detailing the Artist, William-Adolph Bouguereau painting the Nymphs and Satyr in his Paris studio. In this installment, I will discuss the method I used to make the miniature reproduction of one of Bougeureau’s great masterpieces.
Once the easel from the painting was created and the figure of Bouguereau was basically done, I settled on the canvas size to closely reproduce the painting in 75mm scale. According to my scale calculation, I went with a 5X7 inch piece of Gessoboard. This is a primed and very hard board used for fine art painting. It has basically no texture on the surface as I prefer to paint on smooth surfaces. Besides, any canvas texture on the surface I would use for the painting would be very much out of scale for the scene so the Gessoboard fit the bill. I bought mine at Blick’s Art Supply.
Here is a pic of the Gessoboard on the easel in the scene prior to any work being done:
Before work began, I attached a styrene frame onto the back of the board and around the edges to replicate the look of a canvas stretched over a wood frame. Eventually, the styrene frame was painting with a wood grain texture to complete the final look.
I began the work on the painting by locating a high quality reference picture of the original painting off of the internet that I printed out in 5X7 size in grayscale. Why in grayscale? This I will explain later, but for now, the first step in the painting is the drawing of the scene onto my Gessoboard. To do this, I placed the board on my easel with the 5X7 printed copy of the painting next to it for my reference. I trimmed the extra paper around the 5X7 reference pic so that I had the reference immediately next to my Gessoboard with both reference and board immediately next to each other. This was very helpful for getting the sizing and location of all of the shapes and forms transferred over to my board. To do the drawing, I used a #3 graphite pencil and gum eraser. The figure shapes were done first paying close attention to the spacing of each figure and the relationship between each. I started with simple blocking shapes done with very light lines and I continued to refine those simple shapes into more and more specific limbs and bodies. This method is much easier for me than trying to approach each line as if it were the finished shape in the right place. Keeping the lines light made it easy to change and move things as needed. I took some time on this as getting it right now was critical to the success of the finished product. No matter how well it would be over painted, a badly proportioned starter drawing would result in a poor finish. It had to be right as the painting is one of the central features of the work. Not only was I concerned with edge lines for each figure, I also blocked in the shadow shapes and highlight shapes as well. I find that these shadow shapes help visualize the finished work. With a grayscale reference, I find the shadow shapes easier to see. When you take color out of the mix, it’s all about value which is really 80% of a great painting. I didn’t get a lot of pictures of the drawing but here are the few I could find.
Once I was happy with the drawing and all of the blocked in shapes, I sprayed the surface with a clear, fixative spray for graphite to keep the pencil lines from smudging off when I started to apply the paint. Once the fixative had dried overnight, I was ready to start painting.
I have enjoyed canvas painting since I was in High School and it was great to work some of that into the miniature. I don’t believe that Bouguereau used a gray underpainting in his original work on the Nymphs and Satyr, but I decided to do one on my painting. As I already mentioned, grayscale allows the painter to focus just on value without concern for color. This is called Grisaille or a dead layer approach pioneered by the early Flemish painters like Rembrandt. Once the Grisaille is completed, it forms a roadmap for values that inform the color layers applied later.
I start the Grisaille by using a mixture of 50/50 Lamp Black and Raw Umber paint. Into this tone, I add Titanium White in various amounts to lighten it. Here are a few pics of the gray scale painting evolving over the course of about 2 months of work. One thing that helped speed up the work was the additive Cobalt Drier. I would use a tiny bit of it into my oil mixes which effectively dry the oils over night. This allows relatively fast layering of shades and tones to build up the complexity of color pretty quickly.
Once the grayscale is done, I have a finished painting that just needs to be colorized. I apply color layers over the top of the fully dried grayscale. Here is a shot of that coloring in process
The finished work is the result of many layers of glazes and more opaque or thicker layers that work in total to duplicate Bouguereau’s very complex approach to skin tones. I had to remain conscious of the great range of values in the figures so masterfully presented in the original painting. My basic oil palette for the flesh was made from Titanium White, Naples Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Raw Umber, Viridian, French Ultramarine Blue, Flesh Tint, Terra Rosa and Lamp Black. I use a combination of Windsor Newton and M. Graham oil paint. Once all the painting was done, I sprayed the painting with Damar varnish which unifies the color and brings back the depth and subtlety of the painting layers. Because of some layers having more additives than others, the unvarnished painting often has flat areas and glossy areas. The varnish evens out the overall finish. Over time, the varnish gloss fades and will serve to protect the painting underneath.
Here are a few shots of the finished work. Thanks to Sabrina Ferguson who supplied one of the pics of the finished work ( I stole it off of your Facebook pageJ Thanks!)
I hope you enjoyed this article and as always, I remain open to any questions, comments, etc. This was a milestone project for me, it has given me the confidence to explore more complex and creative projects in the future. Enjoy and keep painting!