Nicholas Hilliard was one of the preeminent miniaturists of the Elizabethan period, and completed portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and other prominent people of his time. This manuscript, written by Hilliard himself, discusses his process for the creation of portrait miniatures.
“Oil Painting Secrets from a Master” was written by one of artist David Leffel’s students and documents many of the concepts he teaches in his classes.
Over the past several years, I have been studying the process of historical paintings. This particular painting was made in conjunction with Pearce Arts, and we took turns working on various portions of it. Here are the steps to this final painting:
An oak board was obtained for the panel, and cut to size.
3 coats of rabbitskin glue were brushed on to the panel. Because this will gel at room temperature, the glue needs to be kept in a double boiler when applying. A piece of linen was soaked in RSG and placed atop the board. This was left to dry.
Plaster was slaked to a silky finish, mixed with RSG and water in a double boiler, and 8 coats of slaked plaster were applied.
The surface was pounced with charcoal and scraped smooth.
The design was transferred to the surface and inked.
The areas which would take gold were prepared with size.
2 layers of gold leaf were applied.
Egg tempera was prepared with pigment and applied.
Oil paint was prepared as a second layer atop the egg tempera.
Final details were added.
The frame was prepared and gilded.
We all know the work of Leonardo Da Vinci and other acclaimed Old Masters. His drawings and paintings have stood the test of time and are now hailed as some of the best work anywhere. What better way to learn to draw than from Da Vinci himself?
Select a sketch that you find particularly appealing, and pull out your sketchbook. Observe the construction lines that might still be visible – those light initial tentative lines that artists make when first starting a piece. Decide what type of medium was used – chalk? Graphite? Will you decide to use the same medium, or will you try to reproduce it with something different?
Work from large shapes to small. If the sketch is of a head, observe the shape of the sphere that forms it. If the hair is in a complex braid, sketch just the basic forms initially. All of these initial forms should be done very lightly as they just provide the structure. Details will come later.
As you add more detail, start to strengthen and darken the form. Build these up slowly as it is easier to add more graphite than it is to take it away. Switch to softer, darker graphite as you move to areas that need to be dark.
Finally, add your details. Pay attention to the direction of wisps of hair, or other details that make this sketch special. Ask yourself what qualities drew you to that particular sketch in the first place, and make sure you are working to replicate those qualities in your piece.
Finally, don’t just stop with one sketch! The first one might not have all the qualities that you are looking for, and that’s ok! The more you practice this technique, the better you will get.