Figurative art -
"Allez" by Nanci France-Vaz and Dorian Vallejo

Figurative Art > See what happens when two contemporary artists — Nanci France-Vaz and Dorian Vallejo — share the same canvas in an artistic “duel.”


In 2020, Lovett’s Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had an exhibit called “Duets” —“an exhibition of artists working in concert together” and “a beautiful duet of art, creativity, and skillful collaboration,” as they state on their website.

I was invited to exhibit in their 2020 shows after exhibiting with them for Enigma, Ani Academy. The “Duets” concept is a collaborative between two artists who work in different mediums or the same, have a theme in which each artist creates their interpretation, and paints or sculpts on two different pieces or collaborate on one piece together.

Dorian Vallejo has been a long-time friend that I used to paint with at his Montclair, NJ, art studio 10 years ago. I asked if he would join me in this duet and he agreed. I had three ideas, and he liked the “Allez” concept best.

I always paint women, and I thought it would be very interesting to paint a male artist this time but in a fencing match. My narrative is a duel between a male and a female artist who are painting each other. The word “Allez” means “go” in French, and is the start of a fencing match. We did the photoshoot at Dorian’s studio after setting up the lights and room to execute this. His girlfriend, Kelly, was so generous in giving her time to take the shots for an hour until we thought we had the right mood, light, and natural feel for the concept.

Setup for narrative figurative painting
The original photo shoot for the figurative art collaboration

After choosing the final shot, I went to work in Photoshop, changing the background of his studio in layer masks. This usually takes me sometimes a week to get the right composition, alterations of body parts if necessary, and overall mood and color.

Narrative art how-to
Using Photoshop to create layers and masks for the narrative painting

Narrative art how-to

My final Photoshop file was a loose colored-pencil sketch of his studio, as I wanted to represent what Dorian’s art is about. I love his drawings with charcoal, watercolor, and pen and ink, so I made the environment my interpretation of that.

Narrative painting how-to
Figurative Art > The initial sketch

I start out with a charcoal sketch using nitram hb. I then dust off the charcoal, which leaves a stain on my primed dibond. I don’t tone my panels much, as I like to keep the color strong. I start background to foreground, setting up the values, and keep the paint like a color wash of very thinned-down paint. I always start with the main character in my narrative. Coming from a film background, and writing short stories when I was in school, I always need the storyboard and title to see the end in my mind’s eye. This is what drives my production and creation.

Narrative painting how-to
An initial block-in
Narrative painting how-to
The finished figure of Dorian

Once I had Dorian finished, I went in to the background to bring the details together. I often do this to pull the composition, color harmony, shapes, and overall value design together. I do have the background values set up from the beginning to correctly paint the right value relationships and color temperatures in the figure, especially the flesh!

I do not see value in painting the figure first against white without seeing it against the proper relationships. Through this whole process, I had no idea what Dorian would do to my figure and hand and that made me a bit uneasy, as I did not know where he would put my hand and my brush! Ahhh, the challenge of the unknown could be fun!

Narrative painting how-to
Dorian’s painting of Nanci

I then sent the painting to Dorian to paint his idea of the concept. He was Zorro, my nickname for him, and had it done quickly. When he sent me the final, I was so pleased as I felt our personalities of who we are as artists really shows through the style and energy of the painting. I did change my background when I saw what he did, to pull it together as a whole.

Contemporary realism portrait
Detail of Nanci’s portrait in the narrative painting

What fun to paint with another artist on the same panel! (See the finished painting at the top of this article.)

Nanci France-Vaz:
Dorian Vallejo:

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