My version of Bouguereau’s ‘A Calling’ aka ‘Une Vocation’

As I posted previously I’m doing some master studies to learn stuff. I finished my version of Bouguereau’s painting “A Calling” (“Une Vocation” is the original French title). FYI there are two paintings by him with that name.
Here’s my completed painting, based on the original by Bouguereau:
"A Calling", Airn LeBus (after Bouguereau), 11x14 inches, oil on canvas, 2009

'A Calling', Airn LeBus (after Bouguereau), 11x14 inches, oil on canvas, 2009

I started this in early February 2009 and completed it in early April.

I spent about 4 hours drawing it with pencil on paper in the same size I would paint, 11×14 inches. The hands were the toughest part and took several sessions to get correct.

I transferred the drawing to the canvas with graphite paper. I then went over it in sepia ink with a Sharpie and put a thin imprimatura olive-greenish wash over everything (turpentine, bleached linseed oil, ivory black+yellow ochre).

Once that was dry I started the painting, using a direct technique (no monochromatic underpainting with subsequent color glazing). I mostly used bristle brushes and oil straight out of the tube with no medium.

My palette was the following (with some exceptions like the blue pencil):

  • burnt and raw umber
  • mars black
  • titanium white
  • yellow ochre
  • burnt sienna
  • vermillion (hue)

I saw early on that the painting was turning out a lot different from the original tone-wise…the contrast was much less dramatic. I still liked the way my painting was looking though so I decided to keep my version as it was turning out and didn’t try to alter my version to look more like Bouguereau’s.

The original is about 22×18 inches according to, and mine is 11×14 inches. Overall my version is less detailed than his, which was due to the smaller nature of my painting, my current skill level, and the amount of time I was willing to spend on this. Overall I am happy with it, especially the hands, since this is the first time I have painted hands 🙂

The painting work on this took me about 19 hours. I spent the most time painting the eye area of the face, the hands, and the clothing.

Now I need to finish my Petrus Christus study 🙂

New completed paintings and drawings gallery

I totally redesigned the completed paintings gallery and added some recent stuff. You can always get to it from the icon under GALLERIES on the top right side of the blog.

My version of Portrait of a Young Girl by Petrus Christus (work in progress)

A couple months ago decided I should take a bit of a break from my own original paintings and study some more old-master type paintings and drawings in order to learn.

Here’s one of the paintings I am working on, I started this in mid-February 2009. The original is by Petrus Christus and is referred to as Portrait of a Young Girl or Portrait of a Young Lady, etc. I’m painting it with oil on panel in an 11×14 inch size, although I think the original is closer to 8×10 inches:

Petrus Christus study work in progress

Petrus Christus study work in progress

I found two fairly hi-res photos of this work, one is very cracked and the other seemed to have less cracks in it. After comparing the two though I realized that it just looks like they blurred one to remove the cracks, as well as cropped it, and the coloration and contrast is way different than the other and it’s even a bit rotated too! I now know that I need to seek out a bunch of photos of a famous piece of art since they can be wildly different.

Even though the drawing is pretty simple, it took a while to get her to look the same, she kept looking older in my version. The original is kinda odd, especially the nose and the right eye. I noticed that the original looks really strange when you look at it in a mirror. This is the first master-level painting that I have seen that looks weird when viewed in that way, every other one I have tried looks perfect in a mirror.

Partly because the original is so cracked and it’s hard to see some details, I am deviating in many respects from the original. I’m basically duplicating the form of the painting but partly in my own style. One thing that is awesome about this is that her gaze really follows you around the room, it’s rather eerie.

I did the face and skin in a raw umber dead layer underpainting first. Once I was satisfied with that, after many sessions and many hours, I started glazing transparent combinations of yellow ochre, burnt umber, and vermillion (hue) over the dry underpainting. The background was also painted with a few layers of glazed burnt sienna and burnt umber.

I still have a ways to go on this one. The decorative band around the hat has been very difficult, but I think I am close to figuring out how to do it.

*Update: For the completed painting see:

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City – work in progress

I’ve been working on this painting since late November 2008, this is tentatively called Graveyard Girl From The Dream City and is oil on 11×14 inch panel.

For all posts about this painting, see the dream city category.

You can also jump to just the finished version here: graveyard-girl-from-the-dream-city-completed

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Detail view:

Graveyard Gurl from the Dream City

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail) - work in progress

Planning, transferring the drawing, imprimatura

I initially wanted to paint something like a combination of my old painting Pigtail Gurl and Dream City in a larger format and with the idea that I can do a better job now that I have more experience. I wanted to experiment more with the “dead layer” technique too, especially after trying it with my Christmas Angel painting and having some success with it there. As I was planning it out the drawing got more complicated and the buildings and such ending up being a bit less weird than the Dream City, although I will still use a similar palette and the skyline and sky will be similar.

I used Poser software to create a model of the girl that I lit and posed as I had envisioned and then used that as I would a normal photo reference. I did the line drawing all in Photoshop, and then printed it out at Kinko’s. I also did some color study stuff in Photoshop. I used graphite transfer paper to get it on the panel (tracing over my printed-out drawing). This is the first time I’ve tried this technique and it worked well, but I dislike the overall process and aesthetic of digital art so on projects I have been going back to traditional media (pencil/paper/etc) for everything, including the planning and initial drawing. After recently looking at some Albrecht Dürer stuff I’m even more inspired to get better at drawing and to generally eschew digital techniques. I ended up changing the drawing considerably later, I will post that later as a comparison to the final painting.

I went over the drawing on the panel in sepia ink (ultra fine Sharpie) and put a thin wash of olive greenish color over everything (imprimatura) using Turpenoid, a little Galkyd Light, tiny bit of red ochre, yellow ochre light, and ivory black. It really didn’t need to be that complex…a couple times recently I have used a few transparent coats of acrylic, very thin to keep it smooth, just black and yellow, for an olive green color. The imprimatura is partly to wash away the graphite and seal the pen, and partly as a ground for the next layer since the panel I was using was too smooth and shiny. You can also let the brush strokes show through to add variety and texture, although in this one I didn’t do that. I made sure not to use too much turps as it will cause the paint to lose cohesion, that happened to me on my Two Mushrooms painting. Using Turpenoid in the paint is not my favorite thing, that’s another reason for me to use acrylic for the imprimatura.

Dead layer underpainting

With the girl’s face, I am again glazing over a raw umber dead layer underpainting. It is very nice to just focus on the tonal values and such without worrying about color initially.

My first session of underpainting for the face ended up being way too dark, partly cause I had a rather bright light on my easel and it was too close to the painting, duh. I’m getting better about physically stepping back from the painting a lot, moving the light around and viewing under other lights, looking at the painting in a mirror, upside down, etc. I also know from reading and my experience with “failed” glazing attempts that the underpainting should be rather lighter that desired for the final result, since I will be glazing onto the shadows as well as the lighter areas later, darkening most of it except the highlights.

Here’s a photo close to the end of the dead layer stage (although this was too dark!) and then a pic of the work-in-progress after I had glazed on some color:

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

In the first dead layer underpainting session I spent about 3 hours mostly on the face. I used raw umber and titanium white with no turpentine, oil, or other medium. I mixed up 4 shades on my palette and was happy at first to have a fairly nice reference (for a change) from my Poser rendering. Later I bemoaned the poser reference for the lack of realistic details, a real photo would have been superior.

I used several of the same-sized flat and filbert / tapered brushes so that I could use one for each value of umber…I painted all the darkest areas, then moved up in lightness and painted a bit wet-into-wet, doing a little blending afterward with clean dry brushes.

After that I spent several more sessions working on the face, lightening further and defining features, etc. It seems generally better to err on the side of it being too light rather than too dark…as long as you don’t lose the drawing and definition between elements, it’s easier to go back and darken shadows than to lighten everything up. It can take several sessions to cover up a dark area with light since I paint thinly, and it can look funky and chalky putting white over a darker color when the dark shows through.

Palette and glazing over the dead layer

I used cadmium yellow light (hue) + mars black for the greens so far, and have been using fairly fine bristle brushes a lot lately. Pthalho blue for water and sky, french ultramarine in the sky too. Clothing is prussian blue. For black I use mars and white is titanium.

The flesh tone glazing has been vermillion and yellow ochre with bleached linseed oil. Before I glaze I “oil out” the skin area by rubbing on the oil with my finger, letting it sit briefly and rubbing off the excess with a finger or very carefully with a paper towel. Dust has been a major issue with glazing, I constantly need to check for and remove dust from the painting as I am working on it. Storing the painting in between sessions face down carefully leaning against a wall helps. Dust on big brushes is probably the biggest culprit.

So far I have spent about 24 hours total painting this with another 10 or so drawing and planning.

The next post on this will probably be in a few weeks and will be the completed painting.

I am going to do a separate post later about what I have learned so far about glazing and using a dead layer.