Technical Insights…Lessons from a Sargent #1

Recently, I came across a simply stunning portrait of a gentleman by John Singer Sargent that captured my attention. Upon studying this painting, I was reminded of some simple lessons and it is my hope to share a few of these with you in the next few blog posts.

Sargent portrait


 On first glance, I was struck by the solidity of form on the skull and the beauty and strength of the general mass of the simple form of the head. Notice that even apart from the facial features, the three-dimensionality stands out as truly believable.   The simple inverted teardrop (egg shape) form of the skull is not violated by the undulation of line on the far side of the face or the by varying line of his jowl.  On the near side of his face, the slight indication of the cheekbone, minimal accent on his temple, and dark accent under the chin create striking form within the simple values of the general light shape of the head.

Sargent portrait egg

Note that de-saturating the image gives greater clarity to the simple egg-like form that Mr. Sargent captured.  In my own experience, it is critical to remind myself CONTINUALLY throughout the painting to maintain this simplicity of form, taking every opportunity to physically step back or psychologically draw back from the detail that I may be consumed with.  It is so easy to lose sight of this concept as we begin to work on the detail of the features, trying to enhance the peripheral line of the face to “show more form”.  Also, critical throughout is the act of squinting continually to simplify the lights and darks to see the simple form emerge.  See “Technical Insight #3″ on squinting.

I look forward to sharing several more in the weeks to come!

These concepts and more are described in great detail in our video presentations. Click image to see more… Enjoy!

gerhartz videos

Good luck as you forge ahead!

4 responses to “Technical Insights…Lessons from a Sargent #1

  • judyacrowe

    Thanks Dan. This is just what you stressed in the workshop a couple of weeks ago. Thank you so much for such a great experience. Everyone was pleased and went away feeling energized and encouraged. God Bless you richly.

  • Kris

    Thanks so much for the technical comments! Sometimes I need a simple and explict example like this and it is uncommon to find one in a blog post. Looking forward to your next posts!

  • Mike Malm

    Thanks for sharing this insight Dan. Much appreciated! What a stunner from Sargent! Looks to me like this was done over a couple of sittings because of some of the textures on the forehead cheek and nose. What do you think?

  • Dick Ensing

    Sargent was a master at portraits, but at one point in his life he said he was tired of doing all these mugs and started painting with the impressionist group of painters..In short he was a genius and a master painter……Dick Ensing

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