How to Proceed When Nothing Is Working

SARGENT'S BEATRICE (Study of a Sargent painting), oil on stretched canvas, 14"x10". SOLD

SARGENT'S BEATRICE (Study of a Sargent painting), oil on stretched canvas, 14"x10". SOLD


Have you ever worked on something, be it a painting or any project, but nothing was working out? And how did you feel? Stuck? Frustrated? Disappointed?

I ran into one of this with this painting (a study of a Sargent) you see on the top. After drawing, I was going to finish the portrait in one session. This is called the alla prima method, where you work wet paint on wet paint.

But she just refused to cooperate. I had wiped off and repainted her face nearly a dozen times, over three consecutive days, but nothing was working!

What was going on? I wasn't feeling the best, thinking about all the time I had wasted when I should have a new painting by now. It was only 14"x10"!

How to get Unstuck?

Then, I decided to do something I advised some of my students to do in all my courses: if you're ever stuck with a painting, especially if it's the color not working out, go old fashion and approach it the traditional way, the Old Masters' way, which requires patience and working wet on dry (or glazing).

I did that, and she was happy to finally come out.

Here is my process from start to finish. If you're an artist, I encourage you to try out this method. If you want to learn more, take a look at my video course dedicated to this method.

If you're not a painter, this is still relevant to you. Can you approach the same project from a completely different angle? Can you even start differently? Or use a different method?

Process Tutorial


Step 1:

Use the grid method to transfer your drawing from paper to canvas.


Step 2:

Use Raw Umber, White, and Ivory Black to make a monochrome under-painting.


Step 3:

Once the monochrome under-painting is dry, use Raw Umber, White, and Paynes Gray to develop the "dead layer". This can give your painting a nice cool undertone.


Step 4:

Once the "dead layer" is dry, you are ready for the color layer.

Mix White, Cad Red Light, and Gold Ochre for the skin.

Mix Cadmium Red Light with Gamsol and Linseed oil to glaze over her "belt".

Glaze the under painting of the dog with Gold Ochre.

Keep shadow areas thin, make light thicker, and try to have the cool undertone show through in the shadows and transition areas between light and dark.

Once your color layer is dry, deepen some shadows with Transparent Oxide Red glazes.


why study the masters?

There are so many reasons to study the masters and make copies of their work.

  • Learn from the masters with hands-on practice. Learn the way they paint, and learn the way they see.

  • Expand your own tool box and improve your own skills.

  • Get to know what works and doesn’t work for you.

  • So much more…

Because I believe in so much about studying the masters, I have THREE courses dedicated to studying different masters: Vermeer, Alice Neel, Matisse and Picasso. I urge you to take a look, choose one, and start this fascinating journey!