I am a contemporary painter, but I am deeply influenced by the traditions of European and Russian art. For better or worse, classical painting techniques are rarely taught in American art schools. So I found a book that promised to reveal the secrets of the Masters in step by step instructions. The tutorial images look more like 80s soft core porn: unrealistically round perky breasts and half open puffy lips of the models are lovingly emphasized by dramatic chiaroscuro. But I would not be deterred and followed the prescribed steps and painted my soviet citizens instead.
There is a craft aspect of this method that is appealing and soothing. There is a relaxing quality in having set parameters and knowing what the next step is. The palette is extremely simple and I feel like I can really focus on the subtleties of light and shadow. This is something that was always challenging and overwhelming in my usual approach where I attack the canvas and attempt to solve for all the unknowns simultaneously. The traditional approach to oil painting does feel more like craft, more like following in the footsteps of the other master craftsmen that have perfected a method. And it's very different from my past painting experiences in which come up with the method as I go.
While "learning from the Masters" I decided to really focus on my subjects, to isolate them from their environment, to elevate the beer drinking factory worker and the bored toilet plunger sales girl using the classical portrait techniques. This way I can focus on finely rendering facial features and give special attention to the way the clothing drapes the body. I want to paint the worker's smock and the shop girl's bulky vest like the luxurious finery of the stately nobles of the past who were the predominant subjects of such portraiture. I want to do this because I know so intimately how that drab blue-gray worker's smock drapes and folds, how hateful those standard issue uniforms were. I had one too.