Archive for the ‘dead layer’ Category

Blog vs. Facebook thoughts, Amsterdam, and Claudia from Interview with the Vampire

March 21, 2017

OK, so I moved to Amsterdam from California last August. I haven’t painted since then!

However, I finally set up a usable area in my apartment this weekend and started painting this smallish image of Claudia from Interview with the Vampire. This is something I drew on wood panel back in November 2014, specifically for this old oval frame I found. Spent a little while laying down the first layers of paint, feels good to be paintin’ again.


claudia 1 claudia WIP 1

I was also thinking about this site, one reason I don’t post very often is that it’s kind of like writing into the abyss, since I don’t get a ton of traffic and comments it’s a lot easier to post on Facebook or Instagram where I can tell people are seeing it. In any case I’ll make a bit of an effort for a while to keep this updated and see if it’s worth it.



Europe trip and new Hand of Glory project

October 24, 2014

I’ve been getting more productive art-wise again after an extended break. I went to Europe recently and saw a ton of amazing art in Spain, England, and France, so that inspired me. I visited the Prado in Madrid for the first time and saw some incredible stuff, including an important self-portrait by personal favorite Albrecht Dürer. I also saw some gorgeous paintings by Anton Raphael Mengs, with whom I was previously unfamiliar.

Another source of inspiration: while visiting Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, I came across Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s tomb. I love his art and did a study of The White Hat, so I feel something of a connection with his work.

I’m currently wrapping up another project that I’ve been working on for a couple years, and will post more about that later.

My next painting will be a dark realistic oil painting of a Hand of Glory. It will have tattooed symbols on it, inspired by some old alchemist illustrations/diagrams, and will be painted on wood panel in monochrome, subsequently glazed over sparingly with skin tone. I think it’s going to be a fairly simple project…I wanted to do something straightforward to return to painting. My last project was a bit too ambitious and complicated, so I ended up struggling and letting it sit for long periods of time. This new one should be much simpler but still interesting and will nicely complement my Memento Mori skull painting.

I’m not sure when I first encountered references to a Hand of Glory but I remember it from the original Wicker Man film and from the old game “Thief: The Dark Project”. There’s also a great song by the band Witch called Hand of Glory that may have inspired me to pick this subject. On a side note, I want to mention that the Thief game series has really amazing art and atmosphere…the first three games have inspired various projects of mine including stained glass and a song.

Hand reference photo

Hand reference photo

For this Hand of Glory project, I took some moody low-key photos of my hand a few months ago, and used one as a reference to do a pencil sketch directly on wood panel. I revised it over a few days, looking at my own left hand while sketching to alter it. After I was satisfied, I went over the outline with fine sepia sharpie marker and then erased most of the pencil. I then mixed black and yellow acrylic paint into a thin wash and sealed in the drawing, making the brushstrokes in such a way that if they show through later intentionally they’ll add some interesting underlying texture to the painting.

Here’s my start to the project. This is 11×14 inches and the hand is somewhat larger-than-life:

Hand of Glory sketch on panel

Hand of Glory sketch on panel


Hand on panel with wash

Hand on panel with wash






Master Study – Robert Campin

May 20, 2012

I decided that I need to do more studying with the old masters…to start I am going to try painting one by Robert Campin: (link opens in a new window)

I have a nice hi-resolution picture of the original painting, which I cropped so I can just focus on the face. I especially love the way he did the eyes.

I’m painting this on 8×10 wood panel in oils and will use a monochromatic “dead layer” underpainting to start. I will then glaze color over it and do additional work on the shadows and highlights at that point too.

This is after 1 hour of painting and a few hours of drawing:


Robert Campin study WIP 05-20-2012

Robert Campin study WIP 05-20-2012

I sketched this freehand on the panel but divided the panel into 4 sections, then did the same to my photo to give me a little assistance in making it more accurate to the original.

This underpainting is all in raw umber and titanium white…I did my usual method before that of going over the drawing in sepia Sharpie pen then putting an imprimatura wash of yellow and black mixed acrylic over the drawing. This time I also used an eraser to get rid of most of the pencil before putting the acrylic on.

Here’s what it looked like drawn on the panel and then inked with the imprimatura, almost ready to start painting:

Robert Campin study drawing and imprimatura

Robert Campin study drawing and imprimatura


Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra

March 31, 2011

This is my finished painting “Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra”. It is 11 x 14 inches, oil on wood panel.

Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra

Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra

Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra (detail)

Duplicitous Dionara and Devious Diandra (detail)

For this one I used a monochromatic underpainting / dead layer which I later glazed over in color. Here are the work-in-progress posts I did which include some photos of the dead layer: Duplicitous WIP posts

I spent about 30 hours painting this over about 8 months. I’m not sure how much time I spent doing studies and planning but I would guess 10-15 hours. That’s more than I usually spend planning…it helped me to avoid having to change stuff in the middle of the project.

Overall I spent the most time on the hair. When I first started this project it was supposed to be a quick one…I ended up making the hair complicated though and spent a rather long time on the faces too, so the project ended up being much longer and more complicated than I had expected.

Here are the main oil colors I used for this painting:

Underpainting of flesh areas: Raw umber and titanium white

Flesh tones – glazed and opaque color: Yellow ochre, cadmium red hue, titanium white, raw umber, burnt umber

Dress: Titanium white, phthalo blue, raw umber

Here are a some of the preparatory drawings I did for the hair and dress as well as a detail of the main drawing:

Hair studies for Duplicitous

Hair studies for Duplicitous

Dress studies for Duplicitous

Dress studies for Duplicitous

"Duplicitous" sketch

"Duplicitous" sketch

I don’t look on the studies as being just useful for this painting since they help me increase my drawing skills in general. On the hair I also wanted to learn how to do ringlets and curls better and I’m sure I will use that style in other works.

Duplicitous work in progress 3 – started glazing color

July 4, 2010

It’s been a few painting sessions since my last post on this…since then I have started glazing transparent color over the “dead layer” underpainting of the faces and done more work on the hair:

Duplicitous work in progress detail

Duplicitous work in progress (detail)

No part of this is quite finished yet, but the hair ringlets and faces probably only need another session or two. I might add ribbons to the hair and dress and am debating what else to do on the dress, I don’t like the way it looks right now. I’m also going to put something in the background; I will probably paint a traditional-looking wallpaper pattern.

I’m happy about the glazing, it works very well over the dead layer and is surprisingly quick to do, like an hour or less was spent on each face adding color. In the same and subsequent sessions I also add opaque highlights, clean up lines, darken shadows, slightly alter features and fix any issues I notice, etc.

New painting work-in-progress – Duplicitous

April 12, 2010

One of the paintings I am currently working on is below…it’s tentatively called “Duplicitous Diandra and Devious Deirdre”. I’m working with oil on panel and doing a dead layer underpainting for this. I’m definitely having some flashbacks to my Petrus Christus master study and have also been trying to channel some Hans Holbein the Younger as well 🙂

Here’s what I have so far (detail):

"Duplicitous" work in prog April 11 2010

"Duplicitous" work in prog April 11 2010

This is the drawing I did for this, which I transferred onto the panel:

"Duplicitous" sketch

"Duplicitous" sketch

Petrus Christus study completed – Portrait of a Young Lady

June 18, 2009

I finished my Petrus Christus master study. This painting is usually referred to as “Portrait of a Young Lady” or “Portrait of a Girl”, etc. His version was painted c. 1470.

Here’s my version, completed and in a nice frame. Portrait of a Young Lady, Airn LeBus after Petrus Christus, 11×14 inches, oil on panel, 2009:

Portrait of a Young Lady

Portrait of a Young Lady, Airn LeBus after Petrus Christus, 11x14 inches, oil on panel, 2009.

My version differs from the original in many ways, mostly on purpose with a couple things unintentional 🙂

Here’s the original: Petrus painting at wikimedia

I wasn’t looking to copy the original painting exactly and did my own thing on stuff like the background, eyes, highlights, and overall tone. Also, because the original is very cracked and small I had difficulty seeing how some parts looked. The necklace and decorative metalwork of the hennin hat look a lot different than his.

Petrus Christus study - detail

Petrus Christus study - detail

I painted this with oil on panel, and used a “dead layer” underpainting in raw umber first for the face and body. After I was satisfied with the way it looked, I started glazing flesh tones over the dead layer, very thin, with bleached linseed oil and just a small amount of paint.

The main colors I used in this painting were mars black, raw umber, burnt sienna and burnt umber, vermilion (hue), yellow ochre, and titanium white.

I wanted to do the text inscription after looking at some paintings by Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger. That part on my painting was pretty painstaking to execute and plan; it was the most complicated text I have painted so far. I did it over 4 or 5 sessions, getting the overall lettering correct first and letting it dry before embellishing it, and putting the raw umber drop shadows last when the rest was dry to avoid smearing what I had already done. I lightly oiled out the area each time before starting a new session.

Here’s a photo without the frame, you can see the detail of the inscription and stuff better:

Petrus Christus study without the frame

Petrus Christus study without the frame

One of my favorite things about this painting is that her gaze really follows you around the room. Anywhere you are, if you glance towards the painting she is looking right at you. It’s a little creepy 🙂

I spent about 45 hours painting this. The drawing took an additional 6 hours or so. A lot of the painting time was spent painting and repainting the metalwork and trying to figure out how to do that and the necklace. I spent at least 3 times longer on the necklace and maybe 6 times longer on the hat metalwork than I would have if I had known exactly how to proceed. So as always, this was a learning process…that was one of the primary reasons I did this painting in the first place, so I guess it worked out 🙂

I have two other posts about this painting, to see them look at the master study category.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City completed

June 9, 2009

I just finished this painting, which I started in late November 2008. It’s called Graveyard Girl from the Dream City and is 11×14 inches, oil on panel. It’s a kind of surreal portrait of an imaginary girl in ornate finery standing in front of a tombstone-strewn night landscape with a dream city background.

For all posts about this painting, see the dream city category. I have a lot more info about this project in the earlier posts.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City by Airn LeBus. Oil on panel, 11x14 inches, 2009.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City by Airn LeBus. Oil on panel, 11x14 inches, 2009.

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, it has a kind of shining dark clarity which I think is unique. Painting on panel and leaving a lot of hard edges yielded a crispness which contrasts with the surreal nature of the painting. It took “too long”, but I learned a lot. A lot of time was spent on the face fixing some issues, and a lot on the clothing which I had not planned out properly and which I changed halfway through. So like many of my paintings, much time was spent re-doing stuff or experimenting / figuring things out. I think painting on panel is more difficult for me than canvas, but I can’t glaze in the same way on canvas so I have been using panel when I am going for harder edges and lots of glazing.

Total time spent on this: about 40 hours painting and 14 hours drawing and planning.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail)

On the clothing, I suffered from lack of reference material and the small size of the details. I wanted to do some gold embroidery like in the Ghent Altarpiece but after trying it for a few hours / sessions, I ended up painting over it and adopting a simpler approach. The gems in the middle ended up looking cool but part of the effect was accidental — I wiped off some paint and removed some lower layers by mistake. It made a kind of glow-effect that I kept and built on.

I like the final glazed-over face, even though I initially painted a dead layer that was too dark and it took me many careful sessions to lighten it. I left some parts “too dark” since she looks kind of corpse-like and it fits with the graveyard scene. I’m not quite sure if she is undead, or a ghost, or what. Her eyes follow you around the room though, so that must mean she is still alive 🙂

I glazed vermillion (hue) and yellow ochre over the raw umber dead layer underpainting to get the flesh tone. I also put more opaque white/yellow/vermillion for highlights and to lighten up the underpainting.

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (background detail)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (background detail)

Once I finished this, I didn’t using retouching varnish. Varnish in general can really unify and deepen a painting and just overall make it look way better, but you can’t use a final varnish on an oil painting until it is truly dry; a general rule of thumb seems to be a year. You can put retouching varnish on when it is only touch-dry though, like maybe a week or two after your painting is done. I used to do that with all my paintings but a few of them are still sticky months later so I am going to stop using it. This one would be at major risk for the same thing, since many parts are thick with many fairly oily layers so I am already concerned about drying times.

Switching to mars black has helped, since it dries much faster than ivory black which I was using before. I also started ‘oiling out’ much more lightly after parts were sticky for many days due to too much oil in the oiling out and glazing process. Dust is also a major concern when the painting is sticky like that. Now I very lightly apply oil with my fingers and wipe as much off as possible, again with fingers or very gently putting a paper towel against the painting and running a finger over it to get the excess oil up. Even after a week of drying, rubbing a paper towel over the oiled-out painting seems to remove paint. I usually try to paint very thinly so depending on the color used and oil amount, a week is usually enough time for me to oil out and do another session. I use bleached linseed oil which I understand dries faster than normal linseed and also yellows less.

Who knows about all this stuff though, because scouring the web or books gives conflicting info, and there are so many different combinations of technique and materials which can yield different results. I just read books and search on the web, take everything I read with a grain of salt, and try stuff and if it seems to work I keep doing it.

My version of Portrait of a Young Girl by Petrus Christus (work in progress)

April 5, 2009

A couple months ago decided I should take a bit of a break from my own original paintings and study some more old-master type paintings and drawings in order to learn.

Here’s one of the paintings I am working on, I started this in mid-February 2009. The original is by Petrus Christus and is referred to as Portrait of a Young Girl or Portrait of a Young Lady, etc. I’m painting it with oil on panel in an 11×14 inch size, although I think the original is closer to 8×10 inches:

Petrus Christus study work in progress

Petrus Christus study work in progress

I found two fairly hi-res photos of this work, one is very cracked and the other seemed to have less cracks in it. After comparing the two though I realized that it just looks like they blurred one to remove the cracks, as well as cropped it, and the coloration and contrast is way different than the other and it’s even a bit rotated too! I now know that I need to seek out a bunch of photos of a famous piece of art since they can be wildly different.

Even though the drawing is pretty simple, it took a while to get her to look the same, she kept looking older in my version. The original is kinda odd, especially the nose and the right eye. I noticed that the original looks really strange when you look at it in a mirror. This is the first master-level painting that I have seen that looks weird when viewed in that way, every other one I have tried looks perfect in a mirror.

Partly because the original is so cracked and it’s hard to see some details, I am deviating in many respects from the original. I’m basically duplicating the form of the painting but partly in my own style. One thing that is awesome about this is that her gaze really follows you around the room, it’s rather eerie.

I did the face and skin in a raw umber dead layer underpainting first. Once I was satisfied with that, after many sessions and many hours, I started glazing transparent combinations of yellow ochre, burnt umber, and vermillion (hue) over the dry underpainting. The background was also painted with a few layers of glazed burnt sienna and burnt umber.

I still have a ways to go on this one. The decorative band around the hat has been very difficult, but I think I am close to figuring out how to do it.

*Update: For the completed painting see:

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City – work in progress

April 1, 2009

I’ve been working on this painting since late November 2008, this is tentatively called Graveyard Girl From The Dream City and is oil on 11×14 inch panel.

For all posts about this painting, see the dream city category.

You can also jump to just the finished version here: graveyard-girl-from-the-dream-city-completed

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (work in progress)

Detail view:

Graveyard Gurl from the Dream City

Graveyard Girl from the Dream City (detail) - work in progress

Planning, transferring the drawing, imprimatura

I initially wanted to paint something like a combination of my old painting Pigtail Gurl and Dream City in a larger format and with the idea that I can do a better job now that I have more experience. I wanted to experiment more with the “dead layer” technique too, especially after trying it with my Christmas Angel painting and having some success with it there. As I was planning it out the drawing got more complicated and the buildings and such ending up being a bit less weird than the Dream City, although I will still use a similar palette and the skyline and sky will be similar.

I used Poser software to create a model of the girl that I lit and posed as I had envisioned and then used that as I would a normal photo reference. I did the line drawing all in Photoshop, and then printed it out at Kinko’s. I also did some color study stuff in Photoshop. I used graphite transfer paper to get it on the panel (tracing over my printed-out drawing). This is the first time I’ve tried this technique and it worked well, but I dislike the overall process and aesthetic of digital art so on projects I have been going back to traditional media (pencil/paper/etc) for everything, including the planning and initial drawing. After recently looking at some Albrecht Dürer stuff I’m even more inspired to get better at drawing and to generally eschew digital techniques. I ended up changing the drawing considerably later, I will post that later as a comparison to the final painting.

I went over the drawing on the panel in sepia ink (ultra fine Sharpie) and put a thin wash of olive greenish color over everything (imprimatura) using Turpenoid, a little Galkyd Light, tiny bit of red ochre, yellow ochre light, and ivory black. It really didn’t need to be that complex…a couple times recently I have used a few transparent coats of acrylic, very thin to keep it smooth, just black and yellow, for an olive green color. The imprimatura is partly to wash away the graphite and seal the pen, and partly as a ground for the next layer since the panel I was using was too smooth and shiny. You can also let the brush strokes show through to add variety and texture, although in this one I didn’t do that. I made sure not to use too much turps as it will cause the paint to lose cohesion, that happened to me on my Two Mushrooms painting. Using Turpenoid in the paint is not my favorite thing, that’s another reason for me to use acrylic for the imprimatura.

Dead layer underpainting

With the girl’s face, I am again glazing over a raw umber dead layer underpainting. It is very nice to just focus on the tonal values and such without worrying about color initially.

My first session of underpainting for the face ended up being way too dark, partly cause I had a rather bright light on my easel and it was too close to the painting, duh. I’m getting better about physically stepping back from the painting a lot, moving the light around and viewing under other lights, looking at the painting in a mirror, upside down, etc. I also know from reading and my experience with “failed” glazing attempts that the underpainting should be rather lighter that desired for the final result, since I will be glazing onto the shadows as well as the lighter areas later, darkening most of it except the highlights.

Here’s a photo close to the end of the dead layer stage (although this was too dark!) and then a pic of the work-in-progress after I had glazed on some color:

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

Dead layer version of Graveyard Girl from the Dream City

In the first dead layer underpainting session I spent about 3 hours mostly on the face. I used raw umber and titanium white with no turpentine, oil, or other medium. I mixed up 4 shades on my palette and was happy at first to have a fairly nice reference (for a change) from my Poser rendering. Later I bemoaned the poser reference for the lack of realistic details, a real photo would have been superior.

I used several of the same-sized flat and filbert / tapered brushes so that I could use one for each value of umber…I painted all the darkest areas, then moved up in lightness and painted a bit wet-into-wet, doing a little blending afterward with clean dry brushes.

After that I spent several more sessions working on the face, lightening further and defining features, etc. It seems generally better to err on the side of it being too light rather than too dark…as long as you don’t lose the drawing and definition between elements, it’s easier to go back and darken shadows than to lighten everything up. It can take several sessions to cover up a dark area with light since I paint thinly, and it can look funky and chalky putting white over a darker color when the dark shows through.

Palette and glazing over the dead layer

I used cadmium yellow light (hue) + mars black for the greens so far, and have been using fairly fine bristle brushes a lot lately. Pthalho blue for water and sky, french ultramarine in the sky too. Clothing is prussian blue. For black I use mars and white is titanium.

The flesh tone glazing has been vermillion and yellow ochre with bleached linseed oil. Before I glaze I “oil out” the skin area by rubbing on the oil with my finger, letting it sit briefly and rubbing off the excess with a finger or very carefully with a paper towel. Dust has been a major issue with glazing, I constantly need to check for and remove dust from the painting as I am working on it. Storing the painting in between sessions face down carefully leaning against a wall helps. Dust on big brushes is probably the biggest culprit.

So far I have spent about 24 hours total painting this with another 10 or so drawing and planning.

The next post on this will probably be in a few weeks and will be the completed painting.

I am going to do a separate post later about what I have learned so far about glazing and using a dead layer.