This commissioned portrait of a darling little girl was really fun to paint but had some challenges, like trying to invent the pajamas hidden by the highchair straps. It took several drawings (including one of a baby skull I found on Google) before I was ready to move ahead with the painting as you can see in the process steps below.
Emi’s face was actually easier to paint than the pajamas, and I was tempted to keep working on them, probably forever, but the friend who commissioned the painting was happy with it as is, so I am too.
Below is some of the work in progress steps. Please note that the lighting changed the colors in some of the photos.
I’ve had so much fun painting and sketching the lovely Dayris from Sktchy in oil (above), and before that, in pencil and then doing a digital sketch in Procreate (below). Also below you’ll find a slide show of the work in progress. Doing the two initial drawings really helped me quickly get a pretty accurate drawing for the oil painting. You can see her reference photo on Sktchy here.
Below are the steps in the process of making the portrait.
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, going directly to drawing with paint and then correcting, correcting, correcting.
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.