Portrait Painting Atelier: Old Master Techniques and Contemporary Applications
by Suzanne Brooker
Overall, Portrait Painting Atelier by Suzaane Brooker is a colossal disappointment. There is a huge disconnect between many of the paintings presented and the information that was given. In fact, I felt duped all together as if some kind of authorship bait and switch had taken place especially when being drawn in with such a beautiful painting on the book’s cover.
I can imagine like most people, I was in awe when I looked at the book’s cover dust jacket and flipped through the dozens of stunning portrait examples throughout the book. There the book promised that a quality discussion would soon take place on how to create an image like the one on the cover and the likes throughout. The thickness of the book also promised that this discussion of painting techniques and materials would travel deep. These promises were rarely delivered and by the end of the book I found myself completely disappointed.
Portrait Painting Atelier attempts to teach an indirect method of painting. One which requires artists to paint in many translucent layers of paint, a method that has been employed by many artists since oil painting become popular hundreds of years ago. The study of indirect painting is a noble one and a topic worth exploring. The book is extremely well written and organized nicely, but there are many flaws in this book’s overall approach.
The biggest problem with the book are all the beautiful portraits that adorn the pages. These portraits are not painted by the author which in itself is not a problem; the problem is that the artwork shown doesn’t follow the rigid rules the author preaches. The author demands that all layers of paint should be translucent, preserving the original white ground. I can assure you that none of the non-author, good paintings exhibited follow such rigid rules. Watch Patricia Watwood’s fantastic DVD on figure painting and you’ll see her eventually cover subsequent layers with thicker paint. Patricia’s portraits are exhibited numerous times throughout the book and is definitely an artist worth listening to. Another fine artist who’s artwork is shown many times is the fabulous painter, Kate Lehman. I recently had the good fortune of having a conversation with Kate regarding her oil painting techniques. Like Patricia Watwood, Kate also uses a variety of indirect and direct methods when painting and doesn’t stick to a rigid set of rules as the author suggests.
The second half of the book goes on further to turn off readers. The author presents her own paintings in a step by step fashion and they are some of the worst portraits imaginable. The people in the paintings look sickly. The author’s own artwork looks as if a high school student attempted to copy a poor photograph of a person using a cheap set of acrylic paints.
Before you buy this book, flip to the back of the book, look at the author’s paintings and ask yourself: Do I want to make art that looks like that?