Painting pleather

"Portrait of a Young Man," 1550-55, Bronzino

“Portrait of a Young Man,” 1550-55, Bronzino

My reference photo for my current painting is extremely low-resolution. The husband’s suit was a standard dark-blue wool, which presents no real challenges. The wife, however, was wearing black wool. It acted like a black hole. Nothing appears in the photo but the silhouette.

I spent Monday attempting to create an outfit for her out of my imagination.  It was fun, like playing Barbie dolls with paint. It wasn’t, however, very productive.

When I’m stymied like this, I often do Google searches, but “women’s black suit,” gave me high-fashion options on size 00 models. I thought I could work with one of these, but by 5 PM I had managed to clad this dignified lady in a skin-tight suit made apparently of Pleather. Back to the drawing board.

Right colors, it no longer looks like Pleather, but I can't finish it without real fabric to look at.

It no longer looks like Pleather, but I can’t paint the folds without real fabric to look at.

Yesterday I woke up thinking of the great Florentine Mannerist painter, Agnolo di Cosimo, also known as Bronzino. Nobody has ever painted blacks like Bronzino. The only rival he has for painting textiles is Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man, above, is wearing a gown of either heavy silk crepe or lightweight wool. Bronzino carefully delineated the folds by using shades of dark blue and green. Even the flat front panel is carefully defined by hue. There is very little blending in the paintwork; Bronzino emphasizes the quality of the fabric through its flat deep folds.

$159.99 a yard? I don't think so.

$159.99 a yard? I don’t think so.

Fiddling with this, with various levels of chroma, I came up with a color scheme I liked. I couldn’t, however, figure out a draping structure. Late in the afternoon, I messaged textile designer Jane Bartlett, who suggested that I stop painting until I can find a piece of good silk crepe for reference. That seemed reasonable to me, so I will check online.

The hands are the centerpiece of the portrait I'm working on, and they're coming along.

The hands are the centerpiece of the portrait I’m working on, and they’re coming along.

I’m taking a break anyway. This morning I’m heading down to Grimes Cove in East Boothbay to paint with Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME). I’m both terrifically excited and a bit nerved up, since it will be my first introduction to a new group of painters.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.