Painting Process

Inspiration and techniques of conceptual realist painter Richard B. Hall


Richard B. Hall creates work that is so realistic that, at times, viewers peer around the side of paintings to see if painted objects like sticky notes and tape have actually been affixed to the canvas. (They haven’t.)

Yet, almost paradoxically, the artist uses a host of abstract art techniques (from splashing paint on the canvas to spraying turpentine on wet paint), to create his representational paintings. It is this combination of techniques - along with storytelling and stagecraft - that makes Richard’s work beloved by collectors worldwide.

Storyline

Richard B. Hall antique shoppingBehind every Richard B. Hall painting is a story - it might be a funny (or even slightly naughty!) tale, a slice of Americana, or a snapshot of days gone by - but every one of Richard’s works has a narrative.

Sometimes the title pops into Richard’s head first, leading the artist on multi-state buying trips to find the right antique props. Other times, it is a  beautiful old object  or quirky contemporary one that cries out to be memorialized.

Richard gravitates towards antiques as the stars of his stories, enjoying how the dents and scratches provide a layer of visual interest for the audience. He also loves seeing the reactions viewers have to the vintage objects: At every art show, he hears cries of “I had one of those when I was a kid!”

Staging the scene

After he has an idea for a story, Richard starts setting up the scene. He considers this part of the process just as important as the painting itself, because if the positioning, balance, and proportion of the setting is “off”, the viewer feels the discord.

Richard spends hours - and sometimes days -  setting a scene. In addition to physically moving the objects around, he also uses pencil sketching and computer photo editing tools to try different configurations.

Once he likes the overall composition, the artist spends an equal amount of time with lighting since shadows are often as important in Richard’s compositions as the objects themselves. (Coffee Monster and Let’s Roll  are good examples.) He blends track lighting, spot lighting, and natural light to achieve his desired effects.

Of course, the addition of lighting may prompt Richard to move the  staging a bit and the whole process goes back and forth until he is satisfied.

To see Richard working with set up and lighting, check out these videos for War of the Worlds:

Painting techniques

The overriding aesthetic of Richard’s work is realism - he seeks to offer precise and accurate representations of the subjects he chooses to paint. As a result, he eschews brush strokes or other tactile adornment in his work; instead, opting for a very smooth, lustrous surface texture.

To achieve this result, he paints dozens of thin layers over the course of several weeks , letting each layer of oil paint dry before moving on.

It is in this layering process where Richard injects his knowledge of abstract art techniques. Whether it is the edge of razor, cotton swabs, wadded paper, or balls of tape, he uses a variety of tools to accomplish his storytelling.

>For example, in Star Chaser, the background began as layers of deep blue paint; then, Richard used spray bottle filled with a turpentine/paint wash to spritz on the stars. He continued misting the canvas he achieved the glow of a nighttime sky.

In Block Party, the galvanized bucket was created by daubing the canvas with scrunched up paper. The effect is entirely realistic, but created with techniques that are polar opposite from the realism genre.

To see Richard working with an abstract “chalkboard” background, check out these videos for War of the Worlds:

Finishing

Though Richard may be a realism maverick with his inclusion of abstract art, he is a traditionalist when it comes to finishing his work. Not satisfied with modern canvas finishes, the artist uses a laborious wax/varnish technique popular with the Dutch Masters painters of 500 years ago.

The goal of his varnishing is to get an overall, consistent finish - not glossy, but smooth, glowing, and rich. To achieve this objective, he hand-mixes varnish and wax then strains the mixture through muslin to ensure that there are no lumps to mar the finish.

Richard then applies up to three coats of the varnish/wax to achieve a perfect evenness across the entire canvas. Why go to all this work? To safeguard against any surface flaw that might detract from the realism of the finished painting.

Click here to read more about Richard B. Hall and how a two-year old changed his entire artistic outlook.