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.

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

Spring Rose Series #6

“Spring Rose Series #6”, oil on Yupo, 12x9”.
“Spring Rose Series #6”, oil on Yupo, 12×9”.

I was careful to get these roses painted in one afternoon, after spending a couple hours arranging the still life and getting the drawing down because I knew the flowers would keep changing. On the second afternoon I worked on the leaves and background. I saved the vase for last, thinking it wouldn’t change. But of course it did, as the flowers slumped and the water level dropped. I wanted to paint it from life, but had trouble making sense of what I was seeing and ended up wiping it off. 

By the next day I had to toss the flowers so I used a photo reference on my iPad of the vase. Two more days of fails and wipe-offs followed. Finally I got to a point where I was willing to declare it done. You can see some of the steps in the process below.

Photo reference and initial block in stages
Photo reference and initial block in stages. Worked on flowers first.
Worked on leaves and background. Tried and failed repeatedly with vase.
Worked on leaves and background. Tried and failed repeatedly with vase.

Spring Rose Series #5 (and #2-#4)

“Spring Rose Series #5” Oil on Yupo, 12x9”
“Spring Rose Series #5” Oil on Yupo, 12×9”

I was happy with this painting of my roses, done from life in 2 1/2 afternoons, especially after having tried and failed several times to paint my neighbor’s pink roses. (See below for photos of the process).

I’d read that oil painting on Yupo paper worked well and was archival so decided to give it a try with a pad of Yupo I’d bought long ago for watercolor. It hadn’t fit my watercolor style then, but I found it very fun to paint on with oils and also easy to wipe off. It’s similar to painting on DuraLar except it’s not transparent.

Photo of setup and steps in the process
Photo of setup and steps in the process of painting above

Every time I tried to paint my neighbor’s roses, I’d get the drawing and block in started, run out of time and the next morning the flowers had slumped or collapsed to the point I’d have to give up, wipe off and start over.

 Roses painting attempt 3 and 4
Roses painting attempt 3 and 4

I finally decided the square oil primed linen panel was jinxed and abandoned it. (Or maybe it was karma? The first bunch I’d taken without permission but even after I’d gotten permission his roses just wouldn’t hold up.)

Rose painting attempt #2
Rose painting attempt #2
Dead Flowers Again!
Dead Flowers Again!
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