Realistic portraits that capture acrylic art. How many of his decisions when she was in her twenties have stood the test of time? How many of us knew what we were called to do as our life’s work at that age? Danielle Richard knew it. She knew that painting was her vocation: painting with a realistic style despite feeling like the black sheep of art school when abstraction was the genre to follow. Richard humbly says I stayed true to what mattered to me. And that was painting realistic portraits when abstraction seemed to be the only popular method in art school. I received my first solo exhibition right after college. In 1980, and I have enjoyed many shows over the years. Never having to ask once, but always being invited. It is a confirmation for me that I have chosen wisely.
True to themselves
Although his style of painting has not realistically varied over time, his subject matter has changed. In the early years, when children surrounded her, her work became more focused on them. Today, Richard is best known for his portraits of women in tranquil outdoor settings bathed in golden light. Although the French-Canadian artist’s work is often described as romantic, much more to the women he paints. They do not represent a romantic moment of a harlequin novel. These are real women, in real-life contexts, dressed in their everyday casual clothes. They are captured in a perfectly lit moment that lets their femininity shine through, explains Richard. These are the simple and pleasant moments of life and not a fictional version of reality.
The Portrait Society of America has recognized his art as an outstanding work worthy of inclusion in the Inspiring Figures exhibition at The Butler Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, in 2009. In addition to museum exhibitions, his works have also been used for numerous books and magazine covers over the years. The women he paints resonate with viewers through various mediums.
Richard is a self-described hunter of light. He has perfected the ability to notice and capture points of light as he takes reference photos of him; he takes hundreds of them. I never work with a single reference photo. Although he admits that he has a keen eye when photographing his subjects, Richard says that it would be impossible for one shot to capture all the nuances of a scene that he could then reproduce in a final painting. The last piece is, therefore, a combination of many photos and the artist’s imagination.
He names Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida and Andrew Wyeth as teachers whose work inspires him. Both artists focused on painting their subjects in everyday contexts, and Sorolla was particularly fascinated by light capture. Richard says: I base my painting technique on that of the masters: enamels on layers of colors. The light comes from the lower luminescent layers of the painting. He doesn’t always get it right the first time and says, sometimes I go to bed in white and start over if there is an area that is not bright enough.
Delicate and strange
Richard has forever had a choice for backlit displays. They permit you to cut shapes and a variety of colors and highlights. He finds these scenes more delicate and somewhat mysterious. The mystery may arise because a backlit scene often leaves a lack of information on the subject’s appearance. However, Richard has produced some methods over the ages to explain this while still capturing the sunlight in his signature method.
For example, Fiddles was built from photos taken ages ago on the terrace of the artist’s summer home. The evening daylight coming in is so deep that the tree in the upper left almost fades, and the tops of the hydrangeas on the table are almost blinding. Such a bright light should project the figures’ backs into the dark shadow, but Richard manages to illuminate them. His trick here was to notice the light reflecting the house behind the statistics and then naturally decorate them.
Sometimes Richard keeps the story provided by the deep darknesses of the backlight rather than finding a way to illuminate the display. Possibly the most strong example of this can view in Canon Docile. The brightest thing about the painting is the woman’s hair, fiery orange in the sunlight. On the contrary, everything else looks darker and a little darker. This result, coupled with the state of the woman’s title, gives the painting the same pensive calm found in many of Richard’s works. This painting earned him awards from the Portrait Society of America and the Bold Brush Painting Competition.
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The painting process
Just as his subject has changed over time, so has his technique. Today I am more aware of limits and values. I squint to see the value models and judge the edges. I see more clearly that way. Now I use a more limited palette, which gives my paintings a greater balance and harmony of colors. She decides that using a restricted palette of warm and cool simple colors gives her the best results.
The canvas she paints on is prepared in chalk, but Richard adds two thinner layers of Daniel Smith stone gray chalk to the canvas. He moves the canvas to the ground for this step, even if he prefers to work at the easel. Before making any marks on his canvas, Richard sketches on paper to plan a balanced composition. They are not detailed sketches but only capture the essential lines. It points to his plans, going back and forth within the cool drawing ideas and his easel, while he gives his idea to the cover with a charcoal line.
Richard painted on cloth or canvas spread and stapled onto 1⁄2-inch plywood set on her easel, and she likes to design big. Most of Richard’s compositions have a total size. Large covers allow for clear, obvious brush boxes and big brushes. Of course, he keeps the detail work at the end. Even this detail work, however, is often rendered with brushes larger than 2 inches. Using a large brush simplifies strokes and eliminates busy details.
On top of her base sketch, Richard lays multiple coats of light background paint consisting of Van Dyke Liquitex Red, Tan Gold Sienna, and Ultramarine Blue. She dilutes the colors with water and works them almost like watercolors. While the undercoat is still wet, he uses a cloth to lift the areas where the paint will reveal the brightest light: the focal points. Even if she does this right after placing the undercoat, she sometimes has to moisten parts of the canvas again with a brush to lift the focal areas.
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