Australian Fine Artist

Demonstrating Artist: Greg Allen

Subject: Portrait Painting in Water Colour

I have seen Greg Allen demonstrate before at McClelland Guild of Artists. He has the great ability to be entertaining and informative at the same time. The last demo I was at he succeeded in completing both an oil and water colour painting with only a little extra time. He also gave practical explanations of techniques which helped us to understand some of the beautiful effects he is able to put into his paintings. For this demonstration he arrived with a HUGE watercolour portrait painting of a very Australian looking rural man. This was the subject he was going to do a smaller copy of for the evening.
Greg told us that he is more well known for his landscapes but as a professional artist said that you need to push yourself and be ready to take on subjects that may not be in your favourites list or what you generally paint. He has been painting portraits since the early 1990s and has been working very hard on getting the “modelling” of faces right. He noted that getting the expression and the spark in the eye was an important thing to aim for.
Greg spent a little time telling us how he got started. He entered such things as the Dandenong Art Festival for young artists under 25 years of age (which I also entered a few times at about the same time) and was originally an oil painter until he went to the National Gallery and saw the most amazing water colours during the 1980s. He still does some paintings in oils but since then water colours have been his passion.
We were also told about the fun and not so much fun of painting commissions when the subject is Sheedy and you miss one of his trophies in the painting and have to go back and put it in! Fortunately “Sheeds” is a very nice guy! The club must have been happy as they followed up with another job not too much later.
Greg did get a lot of painting done whilst telling us such entertaining stories. I watched him do his preliminary drawing on a sheet of approximately A2 300gsm watercolour paper. He had it done in a matter of minutes. The painting was started with washing water into the areas he wanted to get his first wash on to. As water colours gain a life of their own sometimes when you decide to use them, Greg explained, you take on risk. Without risk in your career, however, you will never see growth and never have those happy accidents that come from letting go and letting the medium go where it will.
The creation of drama for a portrait is a main theme that Greg spoke about. This can be achieved by the use of light and shadow. Decide on a light source and get it going across the face so that one side falls more into shade. This will help when modelling to give depth to features such as the nose, cheeks and eyes.
As the portrait was of a rural man Greg was able to use some browns and even mauves for skin that has been out in the open for a lot of the person’s life. For the roughness of an unshaven face Greg used salt sprinkled on to the chin and neck. This had the effect of soaking up the paint around it and as it dried, the effect of short whiskers appeared. Longer whiskers were marked in with Greg’s fingernail quickly scratched through the wet paint! Really handy tips! Another great tip was that of getting creases in skin to show the modelling of the cheek, like you get when you smile. The crease was painted in with a fairly dark brownish colour and then a clean wet paint was used to soften one side. We had a practical demonstration of painting to get a sharper line on one side and a blend on the other with just the use of one stroke painted through a pre-wet area on the painting. Paint half on and half off and you can continue pulling the paint with a clean wet brush on one side for a wider softer effect. Highlighted areas on the face were either left unpainted or if they were to be soft, a wet brush was used to lift the paint off a few areas.
The big lesson which I learnt with Glen Hoyle last year was reiterated here. Know when to let your painting dry thoroughly. You can easily create mud by going over with washes when the underneath is still too wet. Also don’t forget to stand back and check your painting. People are not going to stand right in front of your work, they will probably be seeing it from across a room, so that is where you need to check it from. It’s no use if it looks OK right up close but fails when you step away from it.
Greg told us that is very important that you get your modelling of the face done first and then go in with the details and REMEMBER to check your colours on a test piece of paper BEFORE you commit them to the painting! Especially important for watercolours as you can’t always fix a mistake as you would with oils or acrylics.
A little more redness in the cheeks shows a healthy complexion, the eyes are like a sphere sitting in a crevice under the brow, a hint of green can be used in 5 o’clock shadows to make them stand out against skin tones, the ears can show light through them as they are usually thin with little or no fat or fleshiness. Keep a mirror with you to check your progress, it will show you straight away if there is something going wrong between your model and the painting. Remember that the iris etc in the eye rarely shows the whole thing, the eyelids cover possibly a third of them, so don’t paint all of them in for a more natural look, lightening the bottom of the iris will also help with the modelling.
We were thrilled to see the final result of all his work at this demo. Greg said that the painting was not really finished but when the matt went around it, WOW! It looked great.
I had a chance to chat with Greg after the demo. He is a very generous and friendly artist who loves not only painting for himself but teaching others how to improve their skills as well. My thanks to him for taking the time to give us such a great demonstration and also for his personal time afterwards.


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