Monday, October 8, 2007

Painting Demo by Steven Assael

Watching Steven Assael work is absolutely incredible. He will literally do an oil sketch like this in less than an hour. Here's a demo from one of his classes at the New York Academy of Art.

If you have any questions on his technique, feel free to ask.


Steven LaRose said...

I never would have expected the eyes to be painted last.

New York City said...

He works completely with large abstract passages of light, value, and color first, then slowly resolves into detail. I'm lucky enough to have one of his demos.

Check out his website to see his finished work - you would never guess that this was his process.

New York City said...

Or, rather, I would have never guessed.

Anonymous said...

Was he working wet into wet the whole time or did he speed drying dramatically.

If wete into wet- amazing that it is not pure mud! What's the trick there?

New York City said...

He was working entirely wet into wet. There are several reasons why his color didn't get muddy.

First, muddiness is due to value and not necessarily color. If you make clear value statements, your color will not appear muddy. That's why if you look at many of the old masters who worked in only earth pigments (a "dead" palette), there color doesn't look muddy even though the pigments are essentially made of mud. (dirt + oil).

Secondly, as it is difficult to control your values so precisely in such a brief demonstration, he also uses quite a few chromatic or highly saturated colors (cadmiums, alizarin, etc... This is helpful for beginners, and is really not necessary for him. It is really quite incredible watching him paint.

Third, he understands a great deal of color theory and the nature of the individual pigments with which he's working. For example, if you want to mix a purple, an alizarin crimson + ultramarine blue will give you a brighter, cleaner purple than mixing cobalt blue + cadmium red - because the alizarin is a red leaning towards violet, and the the ultramarine is a blue leaning towards violet. The cobalt is a more greenish blue than ultramarine, and the cad is more orangeish than the alizarin. And what do you get when you mix green and orange? You get a neutral (mud).

So, in summary, if you make clear value statements and know your color theory and pigments, you will never make muddy paintings.

Anonymous said...

Was he painting on a toned ground? Looks like a cad red light-based tone.

New York City said...

Close, it was a wash of burnt sienna.

Anonymous said...

How much, if any drawing did he do before painting, or is all of his drawing done with paint? I see by studying the progression he did a lot of finalized drawing as he painted, defining clear lines and planes out of generalized areas of light and dark. The lips, eyes and cheeks look clearly defined as they emerge from generality, perhaps preliminary drawing is of no use to him.

New York City said...

He did all of the drawing with his brush. Basically he just massed in the major shapes and refined them as he went.

Anonymous said...

Why would using chromatic or highly saturated colors help him get more clearly defined values avoid muddiness? I would think that would make it harder..

New York City said...

Using chromatics doesn't help one get more clearly defined values.

What I was referring to was the fact that beginners usually find it easier to make a color statement rather than a value statement because when they're looking at a pigment, it's harder for them to readily see it's value. If such a beginner uses chromatics he/she is more likely to make a cleaner color statement, which can also turn form. If you look at the impressionists, this is mostly what they are doing, as many of their values are much the same. They differentiate with color.

Also, it's useful for a beginner to use chromatics because it's a great way to quickly learn color theory. A cad yellow is more clearly a yellow to the beginner than a yellow ochre, a phthalo green more obviously green than raw umber.... this helps the beginner to think about compliments, identify which direction each color leans, and see the results of their choices. The learning curve is greater.

Also, flesh is largely neutral but not completely. This especially depends upon the surroundings/background. Beginning with a chromatic, one can neutralize it by increments to attain the desired saturation. It's easier to dull a bright color than it is to make a dull color brighter.

Unknown said...

i was wondering if you took any more pictures. the ones you posted are great but it be nice to see some in between pics. also of him painting or of his palette. i would like to know what colors and size/type of brushes he used. i was also wondering if he used any medium. thanks

New York City said...

Unfortunately, I do not have any more photos. I do know the kinds of brushes he used and something of his palette.

I must say beforehand that these were demos done in class. Therefore the materials were borrowed from students such as myself. I don't know exactly what he uses in his own studio, but when I was there(separate occasion) it appeared that he used a lot of chromatics. I recognized Alizarin crimson, and the cadmiums, and cobalt blue. But I've included at the bottom, one of the palettes that he used during the demos that I saw.

Primarily he was using mongoose hair, and some synthetic, fan brushes, and rounds of various sizes. Mostly, he chose a few sables and several more that were not so soft, but not as stiff as bristles. But he worked quite a bit with the fan brushes. One had a single row of bristles so that he used it to cross hatch, and the other was fuller, which he used for blending and washes/glazing. I'd say the fan brush is the most important to his technique as he used it in a multitude of ways: by holding the surface perpendicular to the panel and drawing with the edge, by gripping the bristles with his fingers to spread them out, and by actually tapping, throwing, dabbing, and flicking.

His medium was mine, simply turpentine and linseed oil. The percentages he changed as he progressed, but more turp in the beginning and more linseed oil later.

He chose from the paints that I had with me. So, what I recall about the palette was that he used:

titanium/zinc white
Naples Yellow
Cadmium Yellow
Transparent Red Oxide
Venetian Red
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue
Blue black (a.k.a cold black)

I hope that was helpful.

Unknown said...

very helpful, thanks. how long was this demo? and how often did he switch brushes or how many did he use in the end. i ask because i have the bad habit of sticking to the same brushes throughout an entire painting. for lights and darks, im sure you know what that results to.

New York City said...

The demo was maybe an hour. He held several brushes in his left hand with a rag that he used to clean them and switching them out often. Of course, there's no rule about this, he simply switched according to his needs at the moment.

But a good way to look at it is to use large brushes in the beginning when you're blocking everything in, and slowly transition to smaller brushes as you refine and add more detail. This forces you to focus on the large shapes, colors, values all at once in the beginning, so that your overall relationships are stated cohesively before you progress into nuances.

Unknown said...

thanks. that makes total sense.

adebanji said...

Just a fan of Steven, thanks a million for this article. It is exactly what I would love to witness myself. Just reading the comments and replies to the comments makes my heart beat.......Great contribution!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, i've had the privilege of seeing his work in person and its wonderful. If you're not glazing, working alla prima, how can you keep such rich painting like Assaels. Id think thick paint, using tur/oil med, high tint strength... pig ratio, guess high contrast helps. I see so many flat, dead, maybe all sunken in paintings at college. Any insight on how or you would do this? Or better, avoid it?

New York City said...

"I see so many flat, dead, maybe all sunken in paintings at college."

Hi Anonymous,

Well, the trick isn't necessarily high contrast, it's in controlling your value relationships. If you get those accurate you can have a very limited pallette and get great results.

Another approach is to compress or limit your value range and then punch it up at the end with highlights and accents in the shadows, creases, etc... These should be kept to a minimum and carefully placed.