Sunday, June 27, 2010

Harry, Invictus

Harry, Invictus, charcoal and oil on board, 56 x 74 cm

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

from Invictus, William Ernest Henley, 1875

Manel asked me how i combine charcoal with oil paint. So i thought i'd give an explanation here. (If anyone is really interested i can always make a short demo clip, post on Youtube and link it here).

an important discovery i made was to use a fine-grain foam roller for applying the white gesso, not a brush. This leaves a keyed surface (like the texture of shark-skin) that takes charcoal really well.

i first completed a tonal drawing in charcoal, lots of charcoal, leaving the surface dusty. I coulld take my time over this to get it just as i wanted it (well, as good as i could get it - am only really happy with eyelids in this one).

i then gave it all a light spray with turpentine to dampen it without disturbing the surface prior to actually painting into it. Then, using a soft watercolor brush and oil paint thinned with plenty of turps, i deftly work into it, not worrying too much about the runs but conscious i can quickly have the whole image oozing down the surface if not judiciously pacing myself.

One can't brush vigorously or revisit the same place too often or else it quickly turns into black cement. Frequent rinsing of the brush in clean turps, esp before starting on a new area, helps prevent turning everything into a grey monotone.

Once almost as i want it, i touch in some commercial medium, otherwise the turps will simply evaporate and leave the charcoal as raw dust again. The oil in the medium embeds the charcoal.

To finish, i sprayed the whole thing with workable fixative to stabalize any charcoal not touched by the medium. And i deliberately leave quite a bit of that for delicacy and variety of marks  because the medium intensifies but deadens tonal marks (after all, this blog is about my explorations in expressive mark-making).

Along the way I used a little titanium white to imply some form in totally dark areas like the throat, and some mere touches purple and green (complimentary colors for hidden internal pop) for skin and around hair.

I guess most visitors will just glance at the above image without clicking on it to enlarge, thinking that they have seen and understood the work. But this color aspect is not really visible unless one does see the enlarged version.

So there you have it. Work fast, work with a light touch, and watch the magic happen.


  1. very good, Harry! I loved it!
    the design is fantastic, and the charcoal and oil have created a dramatic air consistent with the poem, very inspiring ...
    a big hug!

  2. Harry,

    Henley was a tough one!

    You look like a fierce warrier indian chief, face turned to the heavens with a gaze of understanding.

    You are the master of all medias, Harry!

    I hope your weekend is going well,

  3. Maravilloso !!!

    Una imagen impactante.

  4. Stunning image, Harry. Everything a portrait should be. I found myself returning to it for another look.

  5. Harry, here you look like a roman emperor. I like the point of view you have chosen. The black and white style lets us see the strenght of the brush strokes.
    I have a question: how do you combine charcoal and oil?
    One more time, congratulations.

  6. A masterful sight for a very spontaneous painting. Wonderful !

  7. thanks Leni

    and thanks to you too, Denise, and a big hug right back

  8. hi Brian, it's been great reading about Caio's visit with you in Boston - you're both pretty special

    as for master of media, i'm afraid more of a dabbler in everything and master of nothing

    but ive given myself three years to find my voice in painting ... it's not something i can force because my ability to paint (the way i would like) is not simply in my conscious control

    i believe one day i will go out to the studio, pick up a brush and quite unselfconsciously start a dialogue with the canvas in a visual language that feels right and natural for me, and that others can still read ... the brush can be hogs hair, toothbrush, toilet brush - i have this weird belief that once i can truly paint, i will be able to paint something meaningful and compelling with any tool whatsoever - a twig, a strand of kelp, my elbow.

    one day ... as Shakespeare has it in King Lear, "Ripeness is all".

  9. Liliana, muchas gracias por encontrar su camino aquí y dejar un comentario ... Acabo de visitar su blog y destrozado por sus visiones sorprendentes. Tal color, la imaginación tales, su libertad de diseño. Saludos.

    Liliana, thank you so much for finding your way here and leaving a comment ... i have just visited your blog and been blown away by your amazing visions. Such color, such imagination, such freedom of design. cheers

  10. What a generous comment, Candice. Coming from one with such a deep understanding of painting and whose own work is so impeccably fine, it means a great deal.

  11. Marcus Aurelius the stoic, maybe, Manel, haha.

    As for combining charcoal and oil paint, i started to respond here but found i had so much to say (what else is new, lol) that ive now added it to the body of the post. So please see above, and thank you for the question.

  12. Merci, Olivia. Vous êtes un maître de la spontanéité à l'aquarelle, câline le milieu pour faire le travail pour vous. Tout ce que je fais, c'est l'application de mes compétences aquarelle, tels qu'ils sont, de peinture à l'huile.

    thanks, Olivia. You are such a master of sponteneity in watercolor, coaxing the medium to do the work for you. All i'm doing is applying my watercolor skills, such as they are, to oil-painting.

  13. Hello! Harry

    !Buen trabajo¡
    expresivo y dramático.


  14. All great stuff Harry, I really will have to try this one out, Hmmmmm...charcoal and oil paint.

  15. This is fantastic. I was staring at the great portrait above and wondering how you combined charcoal and oil. I scrolled down and you shared your method. Thank you.

    Amazing mark-making. (I always enlarge your works.)

  16. Have fun, Carolann.

    Thanks for the closer look, Hallie. I find composition (tonal value) seems to become clearer with decreasing size of image, but color and quality of marks thrive on magnification.

  17. Very good explanation, Harry. It adds more interest to the work. Thank you for your patience.

  18. Nicely done Harry, Im a big fan of charcoal that you can blend it or use it quite sketchy. I like the angle of the head and particularly the eyes give the portrait a mysterious quality.

  19. Harry:
    Você mostrou neste Post, o quanto você é habil na arte do desenho,sem duvida este trabalho é excelente, realmente é de impressionar sua habilidade.
    Voce conseguiu captar a alma da figura.

  20. Harry eres un maestro sobretodo del dibujo,haz conseguido con pocos trazos la imagen de la Dignidad.Todo lo tuyo està lleno de Poesia.
    All your works are full of poetry
    A hug.

  21. hi Kristin, great to hear from you and that you like it ... i really enjoyed your WIP post ... cheers

  22. thanks Paulo ... and obrigado caro amigo for the other very informative comment about Jungian archetypes (marked private though i would have loved to have published here) ... i think we both sing from the same hymn page :))

  23. muchas gracias, Azucena ... me siento la pintura, la poesía y la música están íntimamente conectados ... cada uno es el alma levantar su voz para gritar su alegría y su dolor

  24. Wonderful



  25. thanks SKIZO

    and thank you, Marian ... glad you thought the words appropriate

  26. Harry your posts and paintings continue to inspire me. I definitely will try this technique. I'll let you know if I need a visual reference through YouTube.

  27. thanks Elizabeth ... glad you're finding something of interest in my explorations

  28. sorry i haven't been doing my blog rounds as regularly as i was (due to work commitments) and as i sit in Boston this sweltering evening, this was a pleasure to look at.