‘Portrait in Oils’
Mark Fennell is a professional portrait painter who works to commission from his home studio in the hill top village of Brill in Buckinghamshire. He works predominantly in oils, notable sitters include Isla St Clair, Antony Worrall Thompson, Franco Luxardo, president of Luxardo S.P.A and singer – songwriter John Otway.
His work has been selected for exhibition with The Royal Society of Portrait Painters and The Royal Society of British Artists at the Mall galleries London.
Mark had already prepared his linen canvas with a thin acrylic base of Burnt Sienna, Titanium White and a touch of Cobalt Blue as this would enable him to work from the mid skin tones of the subject to the darks and the lights. The canvas measured about 16″ x 20″.
For this demonstration Mark is going to use a limited colour palette of Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. This is known as the Zorn palette after the Swedish artist Anders Zorn. “
Anders Zorn palette
The Zorn Colour Palette
Mark explained that the Zorn palette refers to a palette of colours attributed to the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (18 February 1860 – 22 August 1920). It consists of just 4 colors yellow ochre, ivory black, vermilion, and titanium white. Cadmium red light is commonly used in place of vermilion by modern-day artists.
The first part of the demonstration can seem a bit boring but it is vital to get the measurements right. Mark marks the top of the head down to the chin and then the width of the of the head. He measures the chin to the eyes, the eyes to the top of the head. He is always looking carefully at angles, for instance the eyes are at a slight angle across the page.
Mark uses a worn out old paint brush and keeps his paint thin at this initial stage of sketching in the details. He finds that by keeping the paint dry at this stage it stops the following layers from slipping around too much.
Mark concentrates on straight lines and angles, the curves of the face and features can be drawn in later. He recommends standing back frequently to check the work. While doing this demonstration he is under severe time constraints which means he is not doing this as much as he would like.
Mark works meticulously, constantly measuring with his paintbrush the distance between the different facial features. He finds a cotton bud can be useful to remove wayward marks.
At this point Mark is going to put in the darks. He mixes Ivory Black with Yellow Ochre and he uses the biggest brush to do the job. He still keeps his paint quite thin. “Fat over lean” is the rule.
Having put in the dark background Mark moved on to the hair. He looks at it in terms of shape rather than thinking of whips of hair. He mixes some red in with the black to give a dark brown colour. He likes to squint to see shape and form as opposed to seeing detail. Painting from an iPad can mean you can see too much detail.
The facial shadows were painted in cool greys. Ivory Black is a blue black pigment and this can produce greys when mixed with white that are ideal for the shadows on the side of the face and under the lips. He can lighten the effect later. Even at this stage Mark did not paint in the eyes. This is intentional. He tends to work on the structure of the face first. If the structure is not right from the start it is impossible to get a likeness.
Mark uses several paintbrushes at the same time but he needs to stop to clean them when he loses track of what colour is on which brush. For the lips Mark would probably prefer to use Alizarin Crimson rather than the Cadmium Red Light but he mixes in a touch of black to create different tones.
The young man in the photograph has extremely dark eyes which makes it difficult to see the pupils. Mark rests his painting hand on the arm holding the palette to steady his hand to paint in the highlights in the eyes. At this point, his concentration is such that he cannot take questions.
Time was beginning to run out. Mark stressed that it is not possible to complete an oil portrait in two hours. He would usually give himself 3 or 4 days. Commissions start with a two to three hour sitting and then Mark works from a photograph. He felt he had been working under quite a lot of pressure tonight in order to get the portrait painted in the time. Having said that it was less pressure than working in advertising. Mark had been an Art Director in Advertising but one day he took some time off and bought some paints. He has not looked back.
At the end of the demonstration the audience took themselves off mute to express their admiration and appreciation of the impressive oil portrait Mark had produced in just two hours of non-stop painting. It had been a very informative and inspiring demonstration.
Examples of Mark Fennell’s finished portraits can be seen on his website: https://markfennell.co.uk/