Tahlequah Daily Press


April 13, 2012

Artists imitate ‘Old Master’ portraiture

TAHLEQUAH — Award-winning Cherokee artist Sharon Irla uses painting techniques of the Old Masters to depict a subject’s true nature.

With a three-layered “road map” of colors, a presence of realism is established to almost tangible proportions, said Irla, who is teaching a five-day portrait painting class featuring the Mannerism approach of Italian artist Caravaggio at the Cherokee Arts Center.

“The first stage is the underpainting of the color brown,” said Irla. “Then once you get the figure in place, you layer on shades of gray. You work on that for quite a while. The third step is to add sand-colored glazes. The brown and gray is the road map. When it gets to the color state, you’re putting that on in thin glazes.”

The term “Old Master” refers to either a European painter of skill who worked before what’s considered to be the “modern” period, or a painting by such an artist.

An Old Masters artist, in theory, is a fully-trained individual who was a “master” of his local artists’ guild and has worked independently.

Irla, who is self-taught, embraces the technique used by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who was an active painter in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily between 1593 and 1610, because his paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physically and emotionally, with a dramatic use of lighting.

Caravaggio’s style had a defining influence on the Baroque school of painting.

“To give it that three-dimensional look, you add on layers of gray tones,” said Irla, noting the tenebrism style used by Caravaggio. “If you do that right, by the time you reach the color state, most of your work is done. You actually get more realism from the painting in this process. My goal is to give it that realistic glow with that almost three-dimensional look.”

Painting-class student Sarah Harkins drives an hour and a half to learn from the Cherokee artisan.

“We think she’s so good we drive all the way from Eufaula,” said Harkins, who carpools with Linda Johnson.

“Yes, we do,” Johnson agreed.

Students like Harkins and Johnson remind Irla, who is the founding member of the Cherokee Artists Association, that her decision to leave a commercial arts career to become a professional artist was the right decision.

“That kind of dedication makes me want to do the best job I can,” she said. “I enjoy they can take what I call a bag of tricks and create the same look. It just takes a little practice. Usually by the third workshop, they’ve got it, and it’s clicking. They can stop thinking about it and just do it. The roadmap. That’s a big key.”

Get involved

Irla’s class, which is open to the public, began April 9 and will conclude April 19. Students participating in the class paid a $150 fee, which included all materials. Individuals interested in upcoming classes at the Cherokee Arts Center or to enroll  in a class need to contact Valerie Diffee at (918) 453-5728 or valerie-scraper@cherokee.org. Irla’s website can be found at www.sharonirla.com.

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