Learning from Great Artists- Diego de Velasquez

Welcome to the second great artist lesson. Today I will be touching on some aspects of Diego de Velasquez's paintings that inspire me. I hope my perspective shines light on something you can take away and use in your own work.

Being primarily a portrait painter as Velasquez was, I'm drawn to his ability to reference and note how light and shadows play. Many young and developing artists believe the best way to make a beautiful piece of art is to paint photo-realistic and get every line and detail into the work. If you have not learned, within a work that requires a singular focal point, every detail near and far will be too distracting for your eye to focus when necessary. This reminds me of one of Rembrandt's quotes. "Paintings are for viewing, not smelling." In other words, think about what your viewer will actually see from 10 yards away. Velasquez was one of the early developers of this loose painterly method. His brush strokes are highly visible. Most of the marks I find remarkable are the highlights and radiant glows he sometimes lays smooth or leaves a think mark with oils. In many of his moving portraits, half of the faces looks like an oil sketch with no true definition or light tones. Up close, it reveals a sense of incomplete work but from a far, all the necessary details to capture their likeness are present. As he grew more fluid with his stroke and mixed less value steps, his abstraction grew. In his Villa Medici Lanscapes, one can really see how he thinks through his layers and loose representation of subtle shadows and textures. His simplicity blows my mind every time. It is very easy to see he has a small palette of color tones. Yet being a royal painter, he had access to minerals such as azurite and lapis lazuli, that many painters could never afford. The majority of his work is done with lead white, iron oxide, organic black, a hint of vermilion and a touch of azurite to cool the mix. Although this is very effective, it is interesting to note that artist of that period never had to worry about using too saturated of tones. The dirt and minerals they could acquire only offered a small range of colors, indirectly helping them represent life more realistically.

Other things that Velasquez had to consider for his viewers, being Spain's royal painter, is art that would be hung high on the wall, colors that would help the subjects stand out in dim corners of rooms or high above altars and whether it was a high traffic area or meant for prayer and solitude. Most artists will still only have to deal with their own living space or family members bathrooms. If you have ever done a mural, you know what it is like trying to relate to those who will see the work publicly without compromising your concept.

It is always a joy to look at the creations of others and learn how they worked in their time period. It says a lot about lifestyles and the priorities of the artist and the patrons of the time. Thanks again for reading along. I hope you enjoyed the read.