Portrait of Hannah from Sketchy

Hannah W from Sktchy, 14x11” oil on Arches Oil Paper.
Hannah W from Sktchy, 14×11” oil on Arches Oil Paper. 

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.

Video of painting and correction process
Hannah Portrait Painting and Correction Process

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!

Facebook Thinks I Should Know Him Portrait #8

Facebook Thinks I Should Know Him #8
Facebook Thinks I Should Know Him #8, Oil on Arches Oil Paper, 11×14″

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.

L: Traced photo on top of painting, R: FB photo
Left: Traced photo on top of painting, Right: Original Facebook photo

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).

Initial drawing in thinned burnt umber paint
Initial drawing in thinned burnt umber paint

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!”).

Embarrassing video of the process created from photos taken at the end of each afternoon's painting session.
Embarrassing video of the process created from photos taken at the end of each afternoon’s painting session.

*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.

Roses with Blue Cloth

Roses with Blue Cloth," oil on Arches Oil paper, 12x9"
Roses with Blue Cloth,” oil on Arches Oil paper, 12×9″

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.

Clockwise from top left: Photo of roses day 1, Photo of same roses day 2, finished painting, WIP day one with setup.
Clockwise from top left: Photo of roses day 1, Photo of same roses day 2, finished painting, WIP day one with setup.

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.

Clockwise from top left: Reference photo, WIP: initial drawing and block-in, second rose added, leaves added.
Clockwise from top left: Reference photo, WIP: initial drawing and block-in, second rose added, leaves added.

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.

Working on the background and vases, retouching the flowers
Working on the background and vases, retouching the flowers

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). 

Mr. Grumpy’s Cheery Roses

“Mr. Grumpy’s Cheery Roses”, painted from life, finished from photo after flowers died, oil on canvas, 12x9”
“Mr. Grumpy’s Cheery Roses”, painted from life, finished from photo after flowers died, oil on canvas, 12×9”

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.

Clockwise from top left: Photo of flowers when I started, acrylic underpainting, getting started with my focal rose, then some darks and leaves
Clockwise from top left: Photo of flowers when I started, acrylic underpainting, getting started with my focal rose, then some darks and leaves

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….. 

Flowers and leaves blocked in, background and glass and stems added, darks and lights restated, final.
Flowers and leaves blocked in, background and glass and stems added, darks and lights restated, final.

“What, Me Worry?” (People Facebook Says I Should Know #7)

"What, Me Worry?” (People Who Facebook Says I Should Know #7). Oil on Arches Oil Paper first covered with acrylic matte medium to reduce absorbency, 10.5 x 10.5 inches
“What, Me Worry?” (People Who Facebook Says I Should Know #7). Oil on Arches Oil Paper first covered with acrylic matte medium to reduce absorbency, 10.5 x 10.5 inches

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. 

What Me Worry? Image of Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman
What Me Worry? Image of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman

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. 

Sketch and value structure underpainting in burnt umber and beginning of adding paint
Sketch and value structure underpainting in burnt umber and beginning of adding paint

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.

iPad with photo reference and palette and WIP including taming his ears
Photo reference, palette and work in progress including taming his ears

Allergic to Peonies

“Allergic to Peonies”, oil on Gessobord panel, 12x9 inches
“Allergic to Peonies”, oil on Gessobord panel, 12×9 inches

I was excited when I found these peonies at Trader Joe’s and wanted to try to paint them. Maybe they’re not native to the Bay Area since I’d never seen them in person before, only in other artists’ paintings.

Preliminary sketches, block in of flowers then background, then vase
Preliminary sketches, block in of flowers then background, then vase

I got started and all was well at first while they were newly opened. I got them sketched out and blocked in the first afternoon of painting. By the end of the second afternoon when they were fully opened, their scent was killing me, making my throat and eyes itch and I started sneezing and coughing. I gave the bouquet to my neighbor.

Working on the flowers then the background and the vase to strengthen shapes and values
Working on the flowers then the background and the vase to strengthen shapes and values

The next day I finished the painting from a photo which isn’t nearly as much fun as painting from life. I also didn’t particularly enjoy working on Gessobord which is kind of dry and absorbent compared to the wonderful Yupo I’d been working on lately but I stopped using it because of some possible issues with mounting or framing Yupo.

Photo reference

White Roses, Grandma’s Vase (and a Great Little Still Life Lamp)

White Roses: Spring Rose Series #7” Oil on Yupo, 12x9”
White Roses: Spring Rose Series #7” Oil on Yupo, 12×9”

I was happy that I met my two goals for this painting: 1) to keep it light and airy and 2) to draw and paint the flowers quickly before they changed or died.

I did the drawing on the first afternoon; painted the flowers and the background and began the vase on the second afternoon. I completed the rest of the painting the next morning, knowing it was my last chance before I’d be out of the studio for a few days. You can see the steps in the process photos below.

When I returned three days later the flowers were quite dead. Although I had a reference photo I could have used to “touch up” a few things, I felt that I’d said what I had to say and for once was willing to let it be as is instead of endlessly trying to perfect things.

Set up with clamp on LED 3-color lamp
Set up with clamp on LED 3-color lamp

One thing that made the painting really enjoyable was the discovery of this inexpensive and wonderful little clamp-on LED light that can be set to provide warm light, cool light or medium temperature light. It provided a perfect amount of directional light for lighting a still life and was easy to clamp on to my foam-core still life shadow box. The side of the box wasn’t quite tall enough so I just clamped on another piece of foam core and attached it to that. Since the light doesn’t weigh much it didn’t need anything more sturdy. No more clutter from a standing lamp or glare in my eyes from big heavy clamp on lights.

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