Still High from Liberace's Velázquez to Sorolla Workshop (And I don't mean from the OMS), Days 1 & 2



Today wrapped up the 5th day of Rob Liberace's Velázquez to Sorolla workshop and I count myself extremely fortunate to have been one of the attendees.  I have taken several of Rob's classes locally here at the Art League in Alexandria VA, but this is my first workshop experience and I have to say I am now a big fan of them! Having 5 consecutive 6-hour days with Rob's excellent instruction helped me to really discover some bad habits that I fall back on in my alla prima painting. There is something about the directness of  alla prima. The speed at which you need to commit to your decisions--that really allows you to see the flaws in your work. So what are my flaws when it comes to alla prima? Well for one I have a tendency to round out everything in my gesture and use a strong contour line. I have 2 theories for why I do this. 1). I am a reincarnated WPA artist. 2). My alma matter should have beat it the sh*t out of me while I was back in school. Instead I was actually encouraged to follow it as it was viewed as part of  my "unique style" and "identity".  Well dear readers, do you know what is the quickest way to kill realism in your alla prima? Adding curves!! Hence you can understand my frustration and my desire to break this dirty little habit.  Luckily for me, Rob Liberace literally has all the answers and being in his workshop this past week lit the proverbial "eureka" light bulb above my head. Hallelujah!





The following is the historically accurate palette he used for the Velázquez part of his workshop. Most of the paint is from Natural Pigments, Da Vinci and Daniel Smith:

  • Vine Black

  • Iron Oxide paints (Umbers & Siennas)

  • Yellow Ocher

  • True Naples Yellow made from lead

  • Vermillion

  • Madder Lake (for purple) or Carmine Red

  • Lapis Lazuli

  • Cobalt Smalt

  • "Sleeping Beauty" Turquoise (Daniel Smith)

  • Earth Green

  • Malachite

  • Medium-Linseed + lead (Maroger medium)

  • Calcite Powder

  • Leaded Glass Powder

  • Wax

And here are some of the copious notes I took during his workshop. I hope you find them as enlightening as I did:

  • Try not to use the word "hard", think "firm" or "soft" when thinking about edges

  • Fuse like values, an elegant painterly device

  • Use "feathery" edges where distinct facets of light intersect

  • Begins by putting in little "tick marks" to lay in composition & proportions, quick gestural drawing

  • Make sure you stay very sharp and angular when laying down your figure

  • Contours and shadows have "highs & lows" that the paint must forcibly lead too

  • You must amplify the color notes hinting in your subject

  • Paints on denim, cotton, linen, cotton & silk herringbone fabric he finds in the fabric store

  • He is fastidious about his surfaces and will size his fabrics first before applying coats of gesso. The right surface is essential in the overall success of a painting!

  • Spreads calcite, umber & oil on his canvas before beginning (in Velázquez manner) to give a little "cushion" for his paint

  • Uses bristle filberts in the initial painting stages

  • Uses shadow masses to help delineate form, chiaroscuro. Academic stuff, lots of planes. Hatches in the shadow.

  • Puts in the nasal line and "sweeps" across it to blend it in with the face

  • Step one is monochromatic underpainting

  • He is sure to extend his lines and exaggerate gesture for a better composition

  • Uses a wedge of paper towel to cut in lights in his underpainting

  • Often employs the back of his brush handle to break up paint ridges and "erase"

  • Goes for the big masses first when laying down paint and spreads it out

  • Get your anatomy down in the underpainting

  • Big mass of value, one light source, bigger brush

  • "Zipper like" approach to edges of value to get a more volumetric feel

  • Every stroke is "crumbly, jiggly & wiggly"

  • Know where the "hump" of a form is so that you can decide how obvious to make it--softer or firmer

  • Use the opposite color temps in your glazes, on a warm ground use cool etc.

  • On day 2 he will reactivate the shadows by adding umber to them but no color, also a little black as needed

  • Begins glazing over his underpainting by applying a thin amount of wax & green glaze to the face to help knock back the warm temp and give him something to paint into

  • Turns his brush to make it not such an "obvious mark" (holds brush at the end & perpendicular to the canvas)

  • Takes hard edges & relaxes them by feathering across them

  • Will add a little color to his shadows as long as there is no white (use a clean brush!)

  • "You see a lot of scumbly broken strokes in Spanish painting"

  • On painting hair, "follow the light as it jumps from one strand to another"

  • Velázquez was extremely aware of the topography of his forms and is subtle. Does not blend but feathers & hatches his edges instead

  • If an edge becomes too soft he will re-establish it, always making corrections, a back & forth of edge handling