demo portrait

Chef Cathal Armstrong was named among America's Best New Chefs for 2006 by Food and Wine magazine. I have had a vision in my head for a portrait of a chef for some time and was thrilled to have the opportunity to paint Cathal, a true culinary artist.

Embarking on this painting, I have a general vision of the finished painting in terms of color and composition before I even start. The final painting will be approximately life size and will be 3/4 length. This is going to be a major piece that will take a significant amount of time and energy. As such, I am taking time to fully understand my subject and work out the details before I begin the final piece. I do this preparation through pencil sketches, detailed pencil drawings, color studies and small finished paintings.

As an artist and art enthusiast, I have always appreciated those artists that lifted the veil to their artistic process. Unlike the artists of a century ago, or even a decade ago for that matter, I can use the internet to enable a geographically diverse audience to view my artistic process as it develops. I hope that you enjoy this site and return periodically to watch this painting develop. As always, I welcome questions or comments as the piece progresses over the coming months.

Keith Driscoll 8/17/2006

Idea Development

Keith Driscoll portrait in progress

Pencil gesture sketches of potential poses prior to meeting with the Chef

Keith Driscoll portrait study
I decided on the pose above because it was a good fit with what I was envisioning and with Cathal's personality. I did this quick pencil sketch to solidify the idea and confirm that I was going in the right direction .

Studying my subject

Keith Driscoll Portrait Study
Quick pencil studies to just get more familiar with the elements in the painting.

demo study
Study of Chef - graphite on paper - 8" x 12"

Small pencil study of Cathal's face - developing a deeper understanding of forms and how light is moving over them. The likeness is not great, but that is not important yet.

demo study pencil fish
Keith Driscoll - Fish and vegetables - Graphite on Paper - 9" x 13"

The Chef's knife will be sticking into a cutting board with fish and vegetables on it. This part of the painting will be important because it will be the most colorful part of the painting .

demo study fish
Keith Driscoll - Fish and vegetables - Oil on Canvas - 9" x 16"

I liked the pencil drawing and decided to work out the color composition in finished painting. My intention here was to create a piece that could stand on its own merit while still working out details for the painting of Cathal.

demo head color study
Keith Driscoll - Color study of Chef's head - 8" x10" oil on board

I liked how this study turned out. The likeness is getting closer and I like the color scheme very much. I was originally intending on painting a dark gray/green background, but am reconsidering this decision. The light warm background color I used this study will enable some interesting illumination and atmospheric effects and the final painting, which will be near life size, will be much lighter. I will need to do some additional color studies using the entire figure to decide which direction I will ultimately to take.

demo color sketch
Keith Driscoll - Full color-study of Chef - 14" x 9" oil on board

The purpose of this study was to see how the light background color would work for the full-length portrait. The likeness and drawing were not my focus for this study, so neither is perfect. As I painted, I decided to cool down the background a bit from the background in the head study. I still like the idea of a light background rather than a dark one. I think the composition is strong and reflects Cathal's personality. I am thinking that on a larger scale the simple background may be a bit boring. If this winds up being the case, I may try adding subtle indications of a kitchen behind without weakening the main composition.

demo hand
Keith Driscoll - Study of Chef's hand - 16" x 10" oil on board

This is the last study I wanted to do before starting on the final painting.   Hands are complex and can get confusing; I don't want to overwork them in the final piece. I painted this study larger than hand will ultimately be because the large scale forced me to really separate and observe the color and value shapes and not combine any parts in a single brush stroke. It is not as finished or pretty as I hope it will be in the final painting, but the study served its purpose. I am ready to begin on the final painting. I have a canvas stretched and ready to go. It is lead primed Belgian portrait linen stretched to 33" x 48". I begin the painting tomorrow... 


demo final
Keith Driscoll - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

I started the painting by toning the canvas in light gray tone. While the canvas was still wet, I used a wash of raw umber to get big shapes of the figure and still life. I also did a limited amount of line drawing to capture gestures. After I got the big shapes in the right places, I used a rag to wipe away paint in the light areas to further define the shapes. I also painted in more raw more umber to get the darker values in the figure. I then painted the background color to define the body.

demo study face
Keith Driscoll - Close up - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

At this point I have begun adding color to the face. I will apply the paint thinly, particularly in the shadows. I will build up the paint in the lights over the next few sessions.

Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef
Keith Driscoll -Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress
I continue to build up color across the entire painting thinking about the painting as a whole. There will be specific focal points in the painting that I will want to emphasize I will highly rendered these points and leave other parts of the painting much looser.  I find paintings that incorporate a loose/tight approach much more visually interesting and rich than pieces that have every square highly rendered.

Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef closeup
Keith Driscoll - Close up - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

I am building up the paint in the light areas. I continue to make adjustments in the drawing to improve the likeness. I try to pay close attention to shifts from cool to warm colors and changes in local color across the face. I do not do much blending as a prefer a more "painterly " look to my work. I also borrow a bit from the impressionists using broken color to add vibrance and interest.

Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef
Keith Driscoll - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

Since the last posting, I wiped out the underpainting of the hands which had the shadow shapes much to dark -this was causing problems when I began putting in more color. I fixed that value problem and began work developing the hands in color. They still need more work, but I'll move on to other parts of the painting for now and to get those parts closer to finished. I like to bring the entire painting to a finish at one time - then no part will be overworked unnecessarily In addition to working on the hands I also did a little more work on the background and chef's coat, and began blocking in color on the fish and vegetables.

Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef
Keith Driscoll - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

This picture shows further development of the chef's uniform.

Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef
Keith Driscoll - Chef Cathal Armstrong - 33" x 48" oil on linen - work in progress

I am continuing to refine all areas painting including face , hands, and uniform knife.
Next , I have to bring up the food and table to more of a finish while still keeping it loose.


Keith Driscoll Portrait Chef
Cathal Armstrong - Chef
33" x 48" oil on linen

Finished? Perhaps. I'll keep it in my studio for the next month, look at it every few days to see if anything jumps out that I'd like to change.

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