View Full Version : September 2013: Peter Paul Rubens: Master of the oil sketch

09-02-2013, 09:23 AM
Hi folks! I'm proud to post my very first Painting with the Masters thread. For this month I have chosen Sir Peter Paul Rubens; the Flemish Baroque painter.

Of course he was known for his many hundreds of large scale paintings completed by himself and his workshop, however, I find his oil sketches equally fascinating and will make several copies myself this month on pasteboard and canvas (I'd use masonite however I don't have any on hand at the moment, maybe later).

I think oil sketches are important because they are invaluable for drafting larger works. Composition and colour can be trialed and they allow the artist to familiarize themselves with all the tonal and linear relationships within the painting.

They are also important as a genre. When I see Rubens oil sketches I see him thinking, abbreviating, toning down the less important details and bringing forth the main figures into the light, in order for him and the audience to see some form of hierarchy in the picture. His colouring is so lively in the sketches, it almost seems as if the paintings are still wet.

I recently returned from London where I saw the Rubens room in the National Gallery for a second time. After letting it all sink in, the lines between an oil sketch and a grisaille have blurred in my mind, and I feel like I'm ready to do some serious experimentation.

Here are some of the master's works that you can choose from, it's a mix of sketches and more finished paintings, with some showing characteristics of both. I got the pics from wikipaintings if you want to see larger versions for your studies.


#1. Alexander and Roxana, 15¾ x 13 7/8 in. (40 x 35.3 cm.)


#2. Amor and Psyche, dimensions unknown.


#3. Old Woman, 49 x 32 cm


#4. Portrait of a Woman, dimensions unknown.


#5. The Judgement of Paris, 144.8 cm × 193.7 cm (57.0 in × 76.3 in)


#6. Portrait of Helena Fourment, canvas


#7. Cupid Riding A Dolphin, 14.5 x 13.5 cm

I hope this is enough to choose from! Please feel free to join in for the fun! You can also choose from other sketches/paintings if you wish. I will post as many pics as I can in the coming weeks.

09-02-2013, 09:50 AM
My first copy is a cropped version of the Old Woman, I toned a 25 x 35 cm linen with a semi dark earthy tone and left it to dry for two weeks (it had titanium white in it. Oops!) My approach here was to hone in on the likeness with thin paint, rather than to strive for a carbon copy straight up.

The palette I used was Lead White mixed with Titanium/Zinc 50/50, Burnt Sienna, Prussian Blue and Ivory Black.


I make a rough sketch with thinned out burnt sienna. The light areas of the face are laid on opaquely


Then scumbled with a synthetic brush


Slight corrections are made with a mix of prussian blue and black


The cheekbones and contours becoming more defined then scumbled again


Bringing in the darks now. Notice how the picture loses vitality when scumbling is overdone.


To counter this I give the picture immediate relief with white impasto in the lightest areas.


Repeat but try not to overdo it, when you start getting too fiddly take a 15 minute break. Then view it from afar, looks fine? Leave it. Left it to dry for a week and a half then came back with colour.


This part was relatively easy, using only permanent rose, prussian blue and black, I've knocked back the chroma of the white and changed it's hue without effecting the impasto, which is rock hard now.

More to come!

09-02-2013, 03:25 PM
I like your interpretation of the portrait, it is good to see the progress so far and I look forward to seeing you work on it further.

I may have a go with Amor and Psyche, (or a crop) in the next week or so.

09-02-2013, 03:32 PM
Ed this looks fantastic! Thanks so much for hosting!

lovin art
09-02-2013, 03:36 PM
Wonderful !!

09-02-2013, 03:41 PM
Oh, wonderful! Edgar, plenty to choose from. :) I find very interesting: #1, #4, #5, #6 and #7 so I hope I find time to start one of these!

09-02-2013, 03:43 PM
Ed, is this open for all Rubens' paintings, or just the ones you've shown? You did a lovely job on The Old Woman!

09-02-2013, 06:33 PM
Hi nancy, yes please dont feel limited by my choices. Please choose from any of his works, the same goes for anybody willing to join. They are just examples :)

09-02-2013, 09:55 PM
Looks great Edgah. Thanks for the WIP.

09-03-2013, 07:37 PM
For my copy of The Judgement of Paris, I've cropped the main figures and will be working on a support 1/6th of the original size. I've primed a 28" x 20" canvas with raw sienna and left it to dry for a week.

Then I roughly sketched in the edges of a grid which corresponded to the one I held up to the projected image. It's a 7 x 5 square grid. I found that this made it easy to get everything in their right place without painfully shuffling figures over later on.


I start painting a loose grisaille using lead/titanium white 50/50, raw sienna and ivory black. The figures are sketched in with brown paint first. Usually I'll use raw umber for the earth but I've opted for a more lively earth to mix with the black.

My medium is 4 parts turpentine with 1 drop of Walnut Oil and 2 drops of Linseed Oil, there is enough body to it that it doesn't feel like a wash.


The lightest lights are indicated and I begin to feel the forms with the brush, losing form, regaining form, and repeating. Much like the way you would draw a long pose with charcoal.


The darks are indicated with a dark grey mix, careful not to make anything stark black at this point. The background is blocked in, scumbling lightly, trying to find the right balance between visible and softened brushstrokes.


I've knocked back some of the whites in the second figure using sparingly little medium on a sponge, painting away just enough, following the forms of the body.


At this point I introduce some yellow ochre to mix in with the ivory black to make a neutral green. It's introduced only where necessary. Namely in the background, in the trees and the around the sheep. I'm bouncing all over the picture, nothing is brought to completion in isolation. I keep reminding myself to keep loose, then view from a distance.


Here's where I'm at now, maybe one more session and then it can sit for a while before I add colour.

09-09-2013, 08:00 PM
Here's the latest on the Judgement copy. Everything's pretty much established now, though there's still no definition in the faces, or the dog. I'll be leaving these parts for the colour layer.

The darks of the drapery are more defined and the contours of the bodies are redrawn with a brown outline, which is evident in many of Rubens' paintings.

I've introduced Red Oxide onto my palette for this update. Sorry for the glare and blurriness, I need a real camera

EDIT: Took a better photo in another room.


09-10-2013, 10:47 AM
Thanks for setting up this "painting with the masters" and getting it started Edgar.

Here is my effort at the "Portrait of a Woman"
First a scrub in with some old palette scrapings to cover up the white cardboard.

Then worked in to wet on wet.

It looks like the original has suffered badly through the ages and has had all the subtlety of tone scrubbed off with Brillo Pads. Just enough left to hint at what it once would have been.

:wave: Dave

09-10-2013, 10:20 PM
Hi Dave! Thanks for joining in! This looks great. I'm not sure it has suffered that badly other than the cracking. The warmness of it may be attributed to a wet on wet approach using lead white which creates a unique, stringy brushstroke. It appears that there is one of those lead white 'chips' underneath her jawline. If I were to copy it as is i would use lead white, yellow ochre, red oxide, raw umber and ivory black.

However I may be wrong, and don't want to be seen as someone who knows the painting methods of a master who lived halfway across the world 15 million years ago.

Was this done on pasteboard by any chance?

09-11-2013, 05:36 AM
Hi Edgar, Thanks for responding, this copy is just painted on a piece of thin card that came as packing, I gave it a coat of acrylic primer undercoat and then a cote or two of Acrylic Gesso, I had to clip it to a board to stop it flopping around while I painted.

As you can see this copy that I’ve done is more of an example of what not to do than anything else. It’s main shortcoming is the dreadful drawing which has lost all the subtle refinement of the woman’s grace turning her into a grotesque.
Rubens was the greatest religious painter of his time and it his sense of piety and innocence comes over in the (his) design of the face. His drawings and paintings draw from the Antique the ideals of formal completeness, he subordinating the observed facts to the patterns found in his imagination. Of cause we can still see all that in this painting even if I don’t have the skill or knowledge to reproduce it.

His colours he drew from his studies of Titian and the Venetians, that’s why I think this painting has suffered from over zealous cleansing, surely Rubens would never have let it out of the studio with the colouring and lack of tonal unity we see in it now? The varnishing of paintings was more than a way of protecting the painting from dirt, it was part of the finishing touches, just look at what the restorers have done to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling to see how important that varnish was to the look of the finished work which is now lost.

:wave: Dave

09-12-2013, 08:41 AM
I don't think your interpretation of the woman is grotesque. Maybe the drawing was a bit rushed but the wet in wet effort is great, the tones are good. I too suffer from colouring too much from the yellowed masterpieces, but they serve well in providing a solid underpainting which can be glazed with one or two layers using a palette of blue, yellow and red, tinted with black and white.

09-12-2013, 01:20 PM
Well she certainly looks like a grotesque to me Edgar :) Leonardo drew grotesques but he intended them to be so, mine was unintentional!
I wasn’t talking about the yellowing of the old masters when I said “the subtlety of tone (had been) scrubbed off with Brillo Pads”, we can peer through that yellow haze and still see what the master intended in their completing of the picture, their light touches, final details and general effects of tone were often mixed in the final layers of varnish this has all gone in this Rubens. Rubens work of art was mortally wounded by the restorers, in my attempt to copy it I finally killed it by butchering even the drawing!

:wave: Dave

09-13-2013, 03:00 PM
I havent known about this thread until just a few minutes ago, and I am so glad I found it!
Maybe I ll try a copy this week end, but I'm not really good at copying though. My copies always look like my own paintings :lol:
Cupid on the dolphin would be interesting. However, I can't help but trying to find out what he is carrying on his shoulder (his left one):confused:

09-15-2013, 09:25 AM
Hi Friesin! I remember the last time I saw you post was in the Hans Memling thread 2011! Welcome! I believe the thing on cupid's left shoulder is a back quiver used for holding arrows.

Here's a helpful pic I found which backs up my painting method for this project. This is a study of 'The Three Graces'. You can see how confidently and loosely the faces are painted, however, if you focus your attention on the legs (and this is why I have provided a large image, although if you check it out on the Google Art Project the resolution is much larger) you can see more shifting around of the legs. The white is very transparent which allows us to see the initial outlines.

Even someone as experienced as Rubens never got the outline right the first time, and although the overall picture is loose, he still wanted the figures to stand properly in space. Take your time getting the forms in their right places.


09-16-2013, 09:30 PM
I started painting wet in wet with the Old Woman study. My palette consisted of Titanium White, Nickel Yellow, Red Oxide, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue and Ivory Black. My choice of blue was crap because it didn't really fit in well with the colour scheme. Anyway I had to move her left eye down a fraction because the anatomy was off. Parts of the shadows on her jawline were revealed using a small sponge.

Here's the medium which was used, sparingly: 1 part Walnut oil, 1 part Linseed oil, 1 part Gum Turpentine.


09-17-2013, 08:25 PM
Here's an oil sketch I'm doing of the Rape of Deidamia. I toned an A3 sheet of acid free pasteboard with raw umber and raw sienna. The blocking in was done with raw umber then I sculpted the forms with colour after it dried.





09-17-2013, 09:17 PM
Thought I'd cheer it up with a bit of blue. I probably won't do too much more to it (other than fixing the shadows) to avoid destroying the spontaneity. Thanks for looking.


09-18-2013, 03:49 AM
You are so busy, everybody :thumbsup:

How long will this challenge go? I' m a little bit out of time just now....

09-19-2013, 10:08 AM
The thread is stickied up until October, Friesin! I think you have plenty time to at least make a sketch :thumbsup: Pick any Rubens you like! Any size, any surface, any THING you wish to do it on!

09-25-2013, 08:24 PM
So I'm closing in on this one, slowly but surely. My palette for this layer was titanium/lead white, nickel yellow, yellow ochre, perm. rose, trans. red ochre, prussian blue and ivory black. The faces will be the very last thing I complete, as a treat (I'm imagining Rubens walking in on his apprentices to do the hands and faces).

The final picture will be coming in the next two days, stay tuned ;)


09-30-2013, 09:13 AM
I think I've done as much as I can with this layer, the flesh tones are getting all muddy. Time to dry I say!

I guess my time's up here. Thanks to Journeyman for joining in! Only wish there could've been more participants! I gave it my best shot. Thanks for looking, the compliments and I hope you could all take something positive from this project.

Here's one last detail shot of my Judgement of Paris copy.

Until next time ... Stop thinking, Start painting! :thumbsup:


10-01-2013, 02:54 AM
You ve produced really beautiful works. Journeyman too! Great subject this month. But the title should be: rubens , master of drawings. I would hae produced something if i saw it earlier

10-01-2013, 11:59 PM
Thanks mate. I'll take that into account for next time.

10-02-2013, 02:08 AM
Poooh, those multi-figures-paintings drive me mad :eek: Completely.:lol::lol:

My persons either get far too thin and slim, or too short and round. Seems I ' ve got to practise drawing once again after a period of not drawing persons in extenso ;)
Hope I can participate in this challenge nevertheless....:confused:

10-05-2013, 02:38 PM
weeeelllll... Tonight I m going to gather all my courage and show you my drawings. Ähem.
Seems I can't help painting "modern" looking persons.
At least my little cutie doesnt't look a Balinese temple dancer any longer LOL :lol: :lol:

Sorry, Herr Rubens, she looks a bit awkward nevertheless :o



ianos dan
10-06-2013, 02:17 PM
Hello guys! Beautiful thread!
l made today a small sketch after Rubens ,the first one,Alexander and Roxana,because l liked the looseness of the drawing an the application of paint,and tried to capture a little bit of that .
l simply love his drawings and preparatory sketches ,because of his richness of line ,volumes ,texture ...ans so on
Luquitex ink on watercolor paper:wave:http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/06-Oct-2013/1165823-rubsketchpsd.jpg

10-06-2013, 07:51 PM
Friesin, I like your second drawing the most! I appreciate you taking the time to join in the challenge! Are those words on her clothing and head?

Ianos Dan, great drawing! You make me want to get out the pen and ink! You've captured the light and shade brilliantly, I love this method! I particularly like the quickly sketched faces ala Rembrandt. Well done!

ianos dan
10-07-2013, 12:25 PM
Thanks ,it's all what l can do for this thread ,but it's an opportunity to draw more ,and to keep this very nice idea alive .the idea of drawing after the great masters.
l made another ink drawing ,on watercolor paper ,this time ,after The judgement of Paris .the first figure will be painted with some washes of ink http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/07-Oct-2013/1165823-red1.jpg

10-12-2013, 10:03 AM
Still working on my two Rubens' ;)
@Edgah: yes, those words were to indicate the colours of the clothing to me. But with my underpainting they disappeared, as I had suspected. As my studio is upstairs and as I am too lazy to run up and down all the time during my painting sessions, I will reorganize the writing on the underpainting. So stupid of me :lol:

10-19-2013, 06:36 AM
here's my version of the woman, but... it 's ... well... my version.
I simply can't deny my Friesian style and pretend I am Rubens' greatgreatgranddaughter :lol:
I changed the background deliberately to something more landscape-like


10-19-2013, 07:39 AM
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ........

ianos dan
01-15-2015, 06:19 PM
Why this thread is not active anymore ?
Such an interesting thread!
l will definitely do some more sketches on this subject !
friesin ,you should try to make a kind of monochromatic version ,and see what's happening !Also ,try to stick to his style a little bit more ,l think you need some geometry on your painting ,shapes ,volumes ,and then ,you can go with the colors.
Keep on working!