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Three Self-Portraits: Three Ways to Paint

  • Title: 3 Self-Portraits
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas
  • Size in Centimeters: 30 x 90
  • Year: 2012
  • Made in: Rome, Italy
  • Collection of the Artist

This image hangs in my studio as a reminder of how much difference an edge can make.  The paintings were made during the course “Velazquez Revisited: Portraits all Prima” in the Spring of 2012.

From the bottom up:

  1. Thinking line instead of mass.  Edges remain sharp (more or less);
  2. Thinking mass instead of line.  Masses are blended vigorously after each 15 minute session with a dry bristle brush;
  3. A composite of the first two: start with mass, then blend, then repeat.  Then think line and edge.  It never ceases to amaze me how this counter-intuitive process (mass before line) changes the dynamics.


2 replies
  1. Corey
    Corey says:

    Just stumbled on this. Good work. Great examples of line/mass/combo. Could you give a bit more detail of what exactly you learned doing mass then line? And how exactly are you blocking in masses? Step-by-step might be good. Visual progression even better.

  2. tja
    tja says:

    Hi Corey. Thank you for the compliments.

    Force yourself to think mass instead of line and I think you’ll quickly find out for yourself the benefits. Use hog bristle brushes at least an inch wide, even when you’re painting eyes and details. Also important is using a dry bristle to blend what you have every 15 minutes (set a round timer for the model a round of 5 sessions, 15 minutes each, with a break of 5 minutes between each session and during the break, blend). And when I say “blend,” I don’t mean to do so delicately, be aggressive.

    If you do a search here for “Portrait of a Young Italian,” that painting was done entirely with inch-wide hog bristles (i.e., no small brushes).

    I think the most important aspect of “mass first” is how it changes the role of line: no longer needed as a “contour workhorse,” it becomes more a tool of emphasis and nuance, like what you see around the eyes, nose, mouth, and left jaw.

    I hope that helps.


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