Archive for category Author: Rob Wareing

Painting Portraits in Oils || Robert Wareing

Painting portraits in oils is generally regarded as one of the highest art forms, something refined, complex and generally best left to the specialist. That’s hardly surprising as oils do require a fair amount of equipment. Finding suitable sitters, as well as the little matter of getting a worthwhile likeness, are considerable obstacles for the amateur.

So how do you set about getting started? Until now, that’s been the conundrum. There have been few books and those that exist have been, well, rather so-so.

This is different. Rob is a portrait artist with considerable experience, but he also has a YouTube channel where he posts demonstrations, and this experience shows. This is a book aimed at the needs of the learner rather than at the subject of portraiture itself. It’s a subtle but important difference. Open the pages at random and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a complete project. Look further and you’ll struggle to find the smaller lessons and exercises you’d be expecting. This is, in part at least, an extension of his online method. However, the idea of not having to wade through pages of eyes, ears, mouths and hands has an appeal, as long as it works. Portraiture is a language and has a grammar – there are technicalities you need to know as part of the foundations and to short-circuit those can be dangerous.

Rob, however, is a patient and thorough explainer and all these foundations are here, but he manages to make them interesting. All those details come up both in the projects and also discussions of various approaches – mixing colours, preparing canvases, getting to know your subject. There are examples on every page that precisely illustrate each point that’s being made.

The whole process is intensely practical and Rob manages to make what is genuinely a complex subject seem, if not easy (that would be sleight of hand), at least manageable. Knowing the limits of what you can teach is perhaps Rob’s greatest skill and this is a truly remarkable piece of work.

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DVD: Capturing a Likeness || Rob Wareing

I came up by chance with the realisation of just how much a self-produced DVD relies on the quality of the demonstrator. This may seem like a truism, indeed a basic fact of any film, but an unedited, single-shot take can be unbearably dull. In professional productions, fluffs can be edited out, silent gaps where nothing much is happening on the paper can be bridged and an air of slickness overlaid. The self-producer often lacks these tools and therefore has to be able to stand up for 30 or 60 minutes and talk coherently without hesitation, deviation or repetition as well as without long silences for thought or concentration. It’s not really even a skill you can learn, it’s just something you have or you don’t.

I said this all happened by chance and this is how it was. The first time I watched the film, just to get a preliminary feel for it, I was on my own and needed to keep an ear open for the doorbell. I use headphones on my computer, so my initial run-through was with without sound. The film was not promising and I remarked later that it was going to need a damn good commentary to lift it.

Happily, I can report that it has that. Rob is an engaging demonstrator and does all the things I said above are essential. He also speaks clearly and the quality of the soundtrack is excellent.

In a full demonstration, a lot happens before you really get to the meat of the subject. It’s a bit like building a house. There’s a lot of groundwork to be done first and nothing much is visible for a long time, but then the structure suddenly appears and the basic outline is there quite quickly – and all because of the quality of what went before.

Rob is excellent on all these details, the basic stuff and on the many pitfalls, such as slipping into painting the side of the face (in a profile) that you can’t see, thus twisting the mouth unnaturally. Working on two demonstrations in pastel and one in oils, he also explains the practicalities of the medium he’s using.

I do have one small niggle, and it’s that all the subjects are posed, for no apparent reason, in front of another of Rob’s works. I can see the point of having a studio/gallery setting, but I did find this just a bit distracting at times. It’s not a deal-breaker and, interestingly, it bothered me a lot less the second time round, with the sound on.

If you want to paint portraits, this film is going to be helpful and it certainly does what its title claims. In many ways, I’m reminded of Karen Simmons’ excellent 1-2-3 of Portraits, but with more detail.

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