After working on this portrait for two months, trying over and over to capture this lovely woman in paint, I have to admit I never truly succeeded. I learned from all the struggles and attempts but it’s about to be a new year and time to start something new so I’m moving on. You can see her reference photo on Sktchy by clicking on the image of my painting here.
Below are two digital sketches in Procreate from Sktchy, done this month while waiting for the paint to dry on the portrait to try once again on a new layer of oil paint to get it right.
You can see the reference photo for the sketch above here and the one below here on Sktchy. Just click my drawing there to see the reference photo beneath it.
Learning to paint (well) for me means a constant but gradual process of 1) learning from my mistakes and 2) having “layers of the onion” lifted from my eyes until I at last can see something that was previously mysteriously hidden from me. (You can see the reference photo for this painting on Sketchy here.)
This painting taught me once again how much harder painting can be when you don’t start with an accurate drawing, as you can see in the video below of all the steps I went through, from quick sketch in gouache—horrible, threw it away—to going directly to drawing with paint and then correcting, correcting, correcting. I use Procreate on my iPad to layer a tracing of the photo over a snapshot of the painting in process to see where I’ve gone wrong and then correct it in the painting.
Getting the drawing right and capturing a likeness can be as “simple” as recognizing the big shapes, contours, divisions of space and observing where things line up with each other. Getting the values right can be as “simple” as observing where the light comes from, how it lands on the large and small planes of the face or any object, and asking myself where the darkest and lightest areas are and how this plane compares. Getting good color “just” means accurately observing the overall and predominant range of colors (saturated or grayed, warm or cool) and then asking is this the spot “warmer or cooler, more or less saturated, lighter or darker.”
I can ask myself these questions over and over, but until yet another layer of the onion is lifted, I just can’t see the answer. When that happens my brain tells me it’s too hard and just jumps ahead with a lazy guess, which then sets off another round or layer of correction, correction, correction. But I do learn from my mistakes and each next painting is an opportunity to put what I learned from them into practice and hopefully remove one more layer until at last I will be able to truly see!
I’m returning to using Sktchy for my reference photos of people for portrait practice since there is such a wide range to choose from. I’m not abandoning my series of “people Facebook thinks I should know,” but those are less useful for portrait practice, which I’m wanting to do right now.
Can you tell those splotches on his face are light coming in from a window through maybe lace curtains? I can’t post the original Sktchy reference photo off that site, but you can see it by clicking or swiping on my Sktchy painting on Sktchy here if you’re interested.
One thing I love about gouache is that it limits me to working on a painting for only one or two sessions. Unlike oils that can go on being repainted forever, gouache fairly quickly says, “Sorry, no more paint, no more layers, you’re done.” It teaches me to get the drawing down, go for the values and then lay down brush strokes of color and let them be.
Facebook was right, this handsome guy is the wonderful European artist and art teacher, Martinho Correia, who I follow on FB now. This painting taught me (again!) how important the initial drawing is to the outcome of a portrait. I tend to start with much gusto and hubris* and just go for it. Then I reach a point where the portrait is nicely painted but something isn’t quite right.
In this case, as you can see above, when I used Procreate on the iPad to layer a tracing of the photo over my painting, the right eye, mouth and ear were slightly out of place and I’d made the t-shirt neckline too low. However, I was also delighted that given the sloppy drawing start, I’d gotten as close as I did (see below).
Of course I should have checked my drawing way back in the beginning, not after I’d so carefully rendered that misplaced right eye. If I’d been painting digitally it would have been so easy! But there’s no “select” and “move” commands in oil painting so I repainted and adjusted over and over until I reached the point of “good enough” (aka “I’m so done and over this it!”).
*Hubris is from Greek, where it meant “excessive pride, violating the bounds set for humans” and was always punished by the gods. We no longer have the Greek gods, so in English it just refers to over-the-top self-confidence.
I made a good start with the drawing and getting the first rose blocked in on my first painting day but sadly, overnight the roses completely changed color and shape, as you can see in the reference photos below.
I had to finish the painting using the reference photo and rediscovered how much fun it can be working from close-up enlarged photos of flowers and glass, looking for all the little nuances and details.
I chose the background cloth rather spontaneously. While it appealed to me on the day I set up the still life, I began to regret how intense the color was. I experimented with changing it, but decided it would be better to just finish this painting and make another painting than to try to reinvent the background colors and keep messing with this one.
Perhaps for my next flower painting I will paint one as a portrait, enlarged, close-up as if I was painting a head and shoulders of a person (like the portrait I’m working on right now).
After taking cuttings from my neighbor’s yard (with permission this time) I painted these from life but had to finish them from a photo after the flowers died. I experimented with starting with an acrylic underpainting but I’m so unskilled with acrylics that it didn’t really create a useful value-study underpainting as you can see below.
I’m still trying to find my way with roses. I’m quite attracted by simplified, more abstract ways of painting flowers, but my own tendencies towards detail always seems to override my intentions. Maybe if I painted really large, I could put in all the details, turning them into abstract shapes? Hmmmm…..
It was fun to get back to this series of portraits of people who Facebook thinks I should know. I have no idea why Facebook suggested this nice, young British chap since we don’t seem to have any “friends” or interests in common.
The whole time I was painting I kept thinking of Alfred E. Neuman (“What, Me Worry?)” from Mad Magazine, which made me laugh. And now, comparing the photos (you can see reference photo on easel below), I can see this young man’s face should actually be rounder, more like Alfred’s.
Above are some steps in the process from the initial sketch through the beginning of adding color. Below is the set up with the reference photo on my iPad on the easel and my paint mixed up and ready on the palette.