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 one of 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:

Make grids on the print-out of the painting and on your canvas. Make the drawing using the grid as reference for your accuracy.


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.

I established the dog with the cool color, too, but forgot to take a photo.


Step 4:

Once the "dead layer" is dry, you are ready for color glazes. Use Cadmium Red Light, mixed with Gamsol and Linseed oil to make it semi-transparent, and glaze over her "belt".

For the dog, glaze with Gold Ochre.

Mix White, Cad Red Light, and Gold Ochre for skin. Keep shadow areas thin, light thicker, and try to have the cool undertone show through in the shadows and transition areas between light and dark.

Deepen some shadows with Transparent Oxide Red.


Got any questions?

Studying the masters like John Singer Sargent is always fun, and you always learn a lot.

I hope this short tutorial is helpful. If you have a question, feel free to leave it in the comment section below. If you want to dive deeper into this way of painting with glazes, and create realistic portraits, please check out my course by clicking this link.