Portrait of Pedro J. Martinez
El Orgullo y La Determinacion.
Oil on birch, 57" x 21" framed in maple with indigo stain
For more on the Unveiling event, click here.
Miller-Havens talks about her painting process
On the occasion of the 10th year anniversary of the installation of this portrait of Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. I am going to talk about the Process I used to paint this piece.
You will also hear the sitter, Pedro Martinez, tell you about how our understanding of one another enriched the depiction of him as an athlete and individual.
As a result of this generous gift by Gloria and Peter Gammons the number of Hispanic visitors increased and then a curator of Hispanic art was appointed. The acceptance of this portrait was a huge step towards the diversity that the Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery seeks.
Sometimes portrait viewers are introduced to a painting by a label that tells who the person is and perhaps why they were painted along with the medium that the piece is made of: watercolor, oil, encaustic etc.
Not everyone cares how or why an artist made decisions in the process just as long as the viewer enjoys the painting.
For those who are curious about the making of art I am going to talk about my process.
I want to mention that because of my background in psychology my approach to painting people is a bit different that traditional portrait painting where the sitter sits for hours and the artist out of necessity stares at them.
In my experience I learn more about a person by getting to know them in a variety of venues and by observing their emotional and physical tendencies.
From Leonardo through Pollack many artists have been inspired by music while they paint. Written on the back of this piece are the following:
Buena Vista Social Club
BB King/Clapton Riding With The King
So Opera Latin American Jazz Rock n Roll and Blues all accompanied me on my journey to bring this painting to life.
The Beginning, The Support
The Egyptians painted on wood panels, as did the Italians until the 14th Century. Later canvas was used partly because it could be easily rolled up and carried from town to town. Some artists still prefer the light weight of canvas, but with a slightly improved transportation system, there is no actual need to paint on canvas.
When wood was used as the support, rabbit skin glue was employed to seal the piece thus preventing warping. The glue is a smelly but effective choice still used by some brave souls today. This painting is painted on Baltic birch that has been sized on both sides with a PVA glue acrylic wood sealer.
Primer, The Surface
The sized panel is covered with a ground, a white layer of gesso (in this case, a non-toxic acrylic substitute for white lead oil paint). The gesso is applied by brush in 6-10 right angled layers, sanding in between with a sander and by hand. The last layer is gesso with a gel medium tinted with grey to make the painting surface smoother and provide a neutral background.
The Pose, The Cartoon Stage
Traditional portrait painters paint from life with the sitter striking a pose. Some artists combine these sittings with photographs, others use only photographs. In the 16th century, Rubens was one of the few old masters who did not paint from life as he found it too distracting. In agreement with him, this artist prefers not to be distracted, but also to not set up an artificial situation.
Photos and videos are poured over. A pose is determined from a set of photos that exist or that the artist has taken, then blown up on paper in black and white so that the idea can be viewed at the intended size. I liken it to a tailor's pattern.
There are many ways to place the composition on the support: free hand, grids, tracings, lens projection. The mediums often used are pencil, charcoal, chalk, thin paint. The outline of this portrait was placed on the support by means of transfer paper, then free hand using black paint and brush. The image is positioned so as to have his leg move up and towards the viewer bringing you into the painting.
For this individual love for his country and the beauty of flora and fauna were high on my list of inclusion in this portrait.
I switched out the baseball league patch for the Dominican Republic flag and buried native flowers under the mound.
Paint Application Sequence
Two ways of applying paint are "indirectly" or "directly". Indirect painting requires building up paint layer by layer beginning with all the light and dark tones worked out in grey (griselle) or another color under painting. Colored glazes are then applied, creating the effect of light showing through from beneath the color. Direct painting consists of laying on fully colored layers with the last being the lightest. This technique is seen in Impressionist work such as Monet and the Abstract Expressionists such as Rothko. In the picture , tI am painting "indirectly" as well as "directly" . For instance, the face is being painted indirectly and the uniform directly.
Color and Three Dimensional Space
Some artists rely on lines to create three dimensionality and then use color as a refinement of that definition. In the 19th Century, Cezanne discovered that cool and warm colors could create the illusion of space.
In this portrait, for instance, the uniform is white, but if pure white paint was used, unless it was contained in a very strong three dimensional drawing, it would look flat like a silhouette. I prefer to use color to define three dimensional space. This can be achieved by alternating layers with warm and cool whites. In this case the uniform paint actually contains layers of blues, reds, purples, and white.
Harmony Between Form and Color
A portrait is intended to look like the person, but if there is no harmony between form and color, the painting will seem flat, without life. Some artists follow a method that entails painting the flesh, then the clothing and background. Others, such as this artist, find painting all over the picture a way to keep every aspect in harmony. Not unlike writing music, too much base and not enough treble throws the melody off.
Tricking The Brain
When painting large amounts of one color, such as this white, it helps to trick the brain by turning the painting upside down or sideways. This re-orients the brain for a few moments and breaks up the tension that arises after painting the piece in one orientation.
Hands and Skin
Hands present a particular challenge. Because they are almost as large as our faces, they can compete with other more important elements of the painting. From a color and form point of view, palms are relatively flat and without the rich colors and veins of the other side of the hands. Too much flesh tone yields what this artist calls the "Barbie doll" skin problem, too little renders the image anemic. It's all a balancing act painting layers and layers, blending blending.......
In this portrait light is focused on Pedro's hands to emphasize his long fingers that enable him to handle the ball so precisely.
Protecting the Completed Painting
Oil paintings need to be protected from the elements and in times gone by, worms. Varnish was the traditional solution for preservation and is still used today in both matte and high gloss finishes. But it. requires that the painting dry for six-twelve months. Beeswax is another protective sealer and was used in this case because the artist prefers a very soft matte finish and the waiving of the six month drying time.
How do we see ourselves?
Most of us do not see ourselves the way we look to others. Our perceptions come from looking in the mirror, at photographs, or from other media. The final decision as to whether the portrait is an accurate likeness and does justice to the spirit of the individual is difficult. After time learning how an individual sees themselves and would like to be seen or remembered. El Orgullo y La Determincion, In this case strength and determination seemed appropriate.
A challenge for the artist is to create a likeness of an individual while at the same time saying something about their character. This artist's goal is to make a portrait vital, human, convincing and timeless. This means capturing the essence of the person at a moment in time, attempting to reveal some of what has gone before in their life, and finally combining the two on a one dimensional plane.
Martinez and NPG Director Martin Sullivan at Unveiling of Portrait
Pedro speaking with WGBH "Greater Boston"s Emily Rooney
about the making of his portrait
An example of the impact art can have on Museum Visitors
2012 Miller-Havens and Martinez teach 8th graders from
The Carol Morgan School, the first Dominican School to visit Washington D.C. more