Thursday, 17 July 2014

Oil Painting Critique of Mary and Jesus Oil on Canvas

These paintings of Mary and Jesus were intended to be a pair, but the artist has expressed dissatisfaction that they do not look like they go together. Both paintings are oil on canvas. Jesus has received a coat of Dammar varnish; Mary has yet to do so. The artist Anna Strawbridge Ziegler has faced the challenge not only of completing a double portrait, but of making them appear a pair.

An Oil Painting Set of Religious Art

Painting of Mary and Jesus by Anna Strawbridge Ziegler
In order to make oil paintings belong together, it is a good idea to think about the light. Does the light hit the object from the same angle? Is the light of the same intensity? If one differs to the other, the pair is unlikely to appear unified. As can be seen from the two images, the quality of the light differs, and I feel this might be the reason for the artist’s dissatisfaction in making them appear to belong.

Quality of Light of Religious Paintings

The face of Jesus has a subdued light, suggesting half-light. The tones are low key and the features almost shrouded in shadow. The portrait of Mary has a higher contrast in tone. We can see her features more clearly, as though light had sought out her features. This contrast in portraits is particularly clear in the eyes – the focal point of any portrait. The artist tells me these are her third and fourth paintings ever completed. From this, it can be seen that the artist has overcome great obstacles, as portraiture is not easy. The result is quite accomplished.

Tips on Painting Religious Portraits 

Jesus with high contrast and low contrast
To make the portraits appear to belong, the issue of the light needs to be looked into. This can be tackled in two ways: either reduce the contrast and tonal value of Mary’s face, or increase the contrast and tonal values of Jesus. I feel the former will simply result in two subdued portraits, which I feel is not the intention. The 2 images on the right shows Jesus' face of differing tonal keys. the one on the right is the original image; the one on the left has been altered by increasing tonal contrast.

How to Alter Contrast in Images

Altering Contrast on My Pictures
Altering the tonal key of an image is easy if you know how. The screenshot shows how to do this on Microsoft MyPictures. Simply increase contrast to heighten the tonal key of Jesus. This will bring out the highlights on the face. Don’t overdo it, or detail will be lost within highlights and shadows. Always save the original image. The altered image can then be printed and used as art reference.

Tones of Portraiture in a Painting of Jesus and Mary

Jesus and Mary have a better Match in Tonal Contrast
The altered image of Jesus has been placed next to Mary, creating a better match regarding light than the original. The artist could add a little warmth to the highlights of Jesus' face by adding a little burnt sienna to the mix. The dark backgrounds will really bring out the tones on the features.

Highlights and Shadows on Christ’s Face

Mary's Hands
used in Painting
With the tonal values of the photo heightened, the artist can move forward in one of two ways: either begin the Jesus portrait afresh or work over the original one in an upper glaze. Working in an upper glaze means using thinned oil paint (usually with a little linseed oil) over select areas of the portrait. In this case, a paler color can be worked around the brow, cheeks, nose and chin of Jesus’ face. Using the altered image can be used as a guide. Blend out the edges of the highlight areas with a fine sable to create smooth gradations into shadow.

Correct Use of Dammar Varnish

It must be noted that Jesus has already received a coat of Dammar varnish. Never apply oil paint on top of varnish. It is better to remove the varnish with special varnish remover (not turps or industrial thinners) before proceeding. Follow manufacturer's instructions. I use cotton buds and work over the painting little at a time. Look out for any oil paint that lifts with the varnish. If this happens, the painting has not dried properly before the varnish has been applied. It might be best to start a new painting in this instance.

Tips on Painting Religious Portraits

In order to make two paintings appear as a set, ensure the lighting conditions and the background colors are similar to one another. In this case, we can see the light has different qualities in these portraits of Jesus and Mary. Jesus’ face appears shrouded in shadow and lower key by contrast to Mary’s. This can be put right by increasing the contrast of Jesus’ face. MyPictures, Microsoft’s standard program can be used to do this. The photo can then be printed and used as reference for the painting. The highlights can then be worked over select areas in a light glaze or begun afresh.


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Jesus painting with frame