Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Santa Fe artist Francisco Benitez shows how he recreates an ancient Fayum or ‘mummy’ portrait using Ceracolors-a new water-soluble wax paint by Natural Pigments.

George O’Hanlon and Tatiana Zaytseva recently gave their Best Painting Practices workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico and at the end of the workshop I did a demo for them with their new Ceracolors line of cold wax paints. These are probably the closest approximation to the ancient waxes of antiquity. With George and Tania’s urging, I documented the creation of this imaginary portrait.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I started with a wood panel with no preparation. The artists from Fayum in ancient Egypt would normally work on a panel with a layer of rabbit skin glue. Since these are waxes the artist can choose to use a size or not.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Under different lighting conditions. I add the Ceracolors wet, allow it to air dry, then add a transparent layer of Ceracolors Gel, before using the heated tools to manipulate the paint.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I found that the Sta-Wet palettes are fabulous for Ceracolors. Since they’re water-based, the palette keeps the paints wet for a long time. The colors I used in this portrait are Titanium White, Yellow Ocher, Mars Red (Yellow Shade), Mars Violet and Carbon Black, all colors used by the Greeks. Even Titanium White is believed to be similar to the ancient Melinum—a naturally occurring titanium-kaolinite mineral.

Creation of Fayum Portrait

I used R&F’s heated handle and horn to do the characteristic zig-zag marks found in Fayum portraits.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I add more paint wet, let it air dry with or without the assistance of a heat gun, and then add generous amounts of Ceracolors Gel, which I also let air dry.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I fuse the tones into the flesh layer underneath using a heat gun.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I continue to refine the flesh tones with many thin layers of Ceracolors and Ceracolors Gel.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I start using a “cestrum”—a heated tool—to make fine adjustments in the eyes.

Creation of Fayum Portrait

I continually work on the face, adding paint, transparent wax, and fusing with the heated tool.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Adding more highlights.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

I add hair and background.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Add the drapery using the gorgeous violet red earth (Mars Violet), an historical color used by the Greeks and Egyptians.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Once the piece is finished, it is best to do one final fuse with a heat gun.

Creation of a Fayum Portrait

Creation of Fayum Portrait

In raking light one can see the surface texture of the wax portrait.

The finished piece, which I entitled, "Aratheia", based on a comic character I developed years ago.

The finished piece, which I entitled, “Aratheia”, based on a comic character I developed years ago.

The finished piece, which I entitled, “Aratheia”, based on a comic character I developed years ago.

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About George O'Hanlon

George O'Hanlon is technical director of Natural Pigments and executive director of Iconofile, an nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting understanding of sacred art. George received his fine arts education and apprenticeship in Mexico. Upon his return to the United States, he worked as art director and then creative director for advertising agencies in Silicon Valley, working on such major accounts as Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Ricoh. He then established a marketing communications firm that was later acquired by the Japanese chemical giant, Shin-Etsu, where we was retained as president of U.S. marketing operations. In 1992, he left this post to study traditional art techniques and then in 2001, he founded Natural Pigments and Iconofile to promote an understanding of these techniques among contemporary artists. Since that time he has formulated hundreds of artists paints and materials, including Ceracolors, a water-soluble wax paint.

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