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!

Back to Sktchy, a Gouache Portrait

Portrait of Dennis J. from Sktchy, Gouache, 12x9 inches
Portrait of Dennis J. from Sktchy, Gouache, 12×9 inches

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 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.

“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

Cute Grandma and Baby: People Facebook Thinks I Should Know #5

Cute Grandma and Baby: People Facebook Says I Should Know #5.” Gouache, 6.5 x 6.5 inches
Cute Grandma and Baby: People Facebook Says I Should Know #5.” Gouache, 6.5 x 6.5 inches

Unlike with oil paints, there’s a point with gouache where it just gets nasty if you try to add one more layer or brush stroke. The positive side to that is that it encourages me to try to get the color and value right as quickly as possible; to put a stroke down and leave it, not thinking “close enough, I’ll fix it later” like I tend to do in oils (a lazy, bad habit).

On this painting I passed the point of no return on the woman’s face and have to admit I did a wee bit of softening/smudging in Procreate before I posted this to fix the lumps too many layers of paint made on her nose. Even so I didn’t do justice to how cute both she and the baby actually are in their photo.

Guys with Hats: People Facebook Thinks I Should Know #1 and #2

Facebook "People You May Know #1", Procreate digital painting
Facebook “People You May Know #1”, Procreate digital painting

Every time I open Facebook it shows me photos of random people it thinks I might want to know. Many of them are in curious settings or have interesting faces so I’ve started saving them to paint or draw. Above is the first one, done in Procreate on the iPad, where I tried to simulate an oil painting digitally.

Since I don’t have permission to use their photos I won’t post them here but it will be fun to see if anyone recognizes themselves or their friends, given the small world we live in now.

Facebook "People You May Know #2", watercolor, 7x7 inches
Facebook “People You May Know #2”, watercolor, 7×7 inches

I tried painting with watercolor (above) over the graphite sketch below in a Stonehenge square sketchbook. I discovered that I am very rusty with my watercolors and this sketchbook is apparently NOT watercolor paper, so this is kind of a mess. But an interesting mess.

Facebook "People You May Know #2", graphite, 7x7 inches
Facebook “People You May Know #2”, graphite, 7×7 inches

I realized I need lots more drawing practice, after trying to paint a life-size three-person portrait in oils over several months and failing again and again. I put the project and the four failed canvases in the closet to try again another day after I improve my portrait drawing skills.

Cool Portrait in Gouache

Gouache sketch of "Ms. Red Rose" from Sktchy App
Gouache sketch from Sktchy photo of Ms. Red Rose, 10×8 inches

I had to make myself stop or I would have worked on this one forever because the colors and expression in the Sktchy photo were so fascinating (and challenging) and fun! I again tried to focus on painting the planes of the face using mostly cool colors with some warm colors to help create dimension. The lighting really helped show the underlying structure of her face.

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