Distance in Portraiture

At work on a full-length portrait in Palazzo Corsini

I’m currently working on one of the larger portraits I’ve ever painted. I also have very little time to do it as the sitter is about to have a baby. Luckily the room where I’m working is the largest room I’ve ever had to do a portrait commission in, and it is so much easier to paint fast when you have this amount of distance to see the model from.

Here is a quick time lapse film of the first four days. A last minute idea using my cellphone camera, so the quality is not the best. The jumps in progress are because the battery kept dying…



  1. wow mark, I am really intrigued by the method shown in both films. Have you always worked straight from a white canvas, or do you ever go in with a campitura (or imprimatura, as called at FAA)?

  2. I use imprimaturas occasionally for smaller sketches on boards outside (a bright orange similar to what some of the macchiaoli painters used).

    On big canvases I’m always worried the imprimitura will soak into the painting at a later date, like the red bole grounds did in many of the paintings you see in the Pitti.

    I also like the luminosity I get with the ligher ground. At Charles’ school we never used imprimaturas, so I wasn’t trained to use them, (and to be honest I’ve never really seen the point anyways).

  3. I’m very often at a loss for words when describing my thoughts on another artist’s work. Not only would they be too subjective for truth, but also incapable of translation. I was first drawn to your plein air, and then the portraits.. For whatever the reason, I think executed with accuracy from start to finish and on contrasting renaissance backgrounds, your portrait work is just superb.

  4. Marc, may I ask why you sometimes use a Transparent Red Oxide imprimatura outside (as with the recent Santo Spirito) & sometimes not (a la the recent ‘Nieuwe Haring’, Maastricht) ?

    • Hi Ben, usually if it’s a sunny view I use the darker Red-Oxide-stained panels. If it’s grey I’ll use a whiter board. I think the effect works better.

      Also, when I travel I often take pre-made, linen-mounted-on-something-light boards from New Traditions or Raymar, and then I just leave the bone colored ground.

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