Definitely struggled a bit with the first one and getting proportions right and so forth. I've always had issues capturing the facial features just so. I took about 1.5 hours instead of one on this. I hope I'll be faster with the next one. Gonna push myself to hit that mark a little more... Anyway...
Head of a Negro by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
I read that Sir Peter Paul Rubens met the man at some docks and was fascinated with the man and his bronze complexion. I studied the emphasis of this piece and particular and where Rubens decided to put most of the detail and effort: on the lips, and nose, particularly, highlighting and contrasting the fullness of the man's lips and the contours of his nose. The shirt and hair were only lightly rendered, keeping a simple economy of work, while putting the most detail in the eyes, nose and lips. He spent very little time on the facial hair, which begins to blend into the background. Dark pools of paint are placed behind the man's head to increase the contrast and add balance. With a dark-skinned subject he could have chosen to put a light background behind the man, but instead chose a nearly black one so that the man could "glow" against it instead.
Loved this picture, and I loved doing this study, even if I messed up the proportions a bit.
I noticed an interesting use of repetition and pattern in this piece. At first, I thought "Why bother painting the wallpaper? It's so busy!" On second look, and as I worked though the piece, the repetition is used to hold the eye on the left side of the picture, where the focus is - Erasmus's interaction with the book. The right "back" side of the painting has no pattern at all, and his clothing is dark and smooth in comparison to the busy front, which doesn't hold the eye. Rather people will focus on his smooth face standing out of the busy background, and on his hands on the page.
Ok great to see where you are at. This is a very very good start.
When you are first getting started it is very important to really focus in on the mapping out of your shapes as accurately as you can possibly get them. If you put a shape in the wrong place and commit you end up having the other shapes off and require fixing, which increases painting time. By taking just a few extra minutes early on to measure out your shapes, to compare your shapes, and be sure they are placed and drawn accurately will make the rest of the painting process, working out your values and edges, much much easier.
You should flip the images horizontally and vertically so that you see the shapes with fresh eyes. This should be part of the process and if you are already doing that, keep doing it more. The professional artists will often flip images or use a mirror to see with fresh eyes as many as three or four times a minute as they are working when things really get flowing. You can also back away...actually get up and back away...and doing this works for shapes as well as checking values and edges.