ASSOCIATED POSTS: “PORTRAIT PAINTING EXPERIENCES” & “TONY LA SPINA – ARTWORK”
A couple of sketches to get you in the mood for portraiture…
Hello and welcome!
Firstly, Tony and I would like you to think for a moment about the value of portrait painting as opposed to photography. As portrait artists, we attempt to portray far more than a photograph – to reach for the character of the sitter in a more meaningful way and include an ambience that suits their personality. To paint photographically to us is pointless – it has to be more, otherwise we may as well just take a photograph.
Painting to us is a journey into the unknown. An adventure! Only so much can be planned and then we become lost in an exploration of worlds of colour, texture, tone, line, shape and form plus the emotional impacts of these in combination. Preconceived ideas often go by the wayside as paintings evolve. Each step is analysed by our stepping well back to assess the overall work, often turning the painting upside down to analyse the overall composition, before carrying on.
I would like to include here some methods Tony and I use.
Pease bear in mind that there is no one “right” way to paint and Tony and I here are simply sharing with you what works for us. Art is very much a journey of self discovery, trial and error and running with what works for you from all the myriad of advice available.
Tony, for instance, works only from life with the model sitting for him in a number of 1/2 hour sessions. I on the other hand prefer to work from my own photographs of the subject.
You can view a record of our portraits on the Posts “Tony La Spina” & “Julie Duell – Portraits” but this Post is devoted to showing step by step methods, so here we go..
1. The first example is a portrait Tony did of myself in 2008. It won a Highly Commended in the Waterford Art Exhibition, Kincumber, N.S.W. and we are both very happy with the way it turned out – colourful, soft and informal. Tony achieves an excellent likeness and works quickly & energetically, standing up and stepping back to view progress often. Notice that he leaves details until last.
The sitter Tony gets ready Acrylic palette for underpainting
At this stage the underpainting is finished and Tony switches to oil paints once the acrylic is dry. Here is his layout of oil colours leaving plenty of room on the large palette for mixing as he goes along.
Tony now gradually approaches detail and creates a peaceful atmosphere with dappled sunlight and a bushy background, since that is where I am most at home. My hands require a separate painting/modelling session as they take as much care and time as the head study.
Finally the portrait is finished:
Whether you choose to paint or sketch your portraits, you will need to be aware of where the tones are – whether your subject will be portrayed dark against light or light against dark. Here are a couple of hints on using block pastels & conte’ crayons:
The next sitter is Raymond and Tony completed a head study in acrylics as a 2 hour class demonstration.
DRAWING OR PAINTING A CHILD & GETTING THE PROPORTIONS RIGHT
The following shows 3 stages of my painting of my step Grandson, Joel, then 6 years old. I started with an overall sketch in which the centre line of the face and eye line are critical to the angle of the head. If you are sketching children’s heads, be aware that the eyeline will be much lower in the overall height than in an adult. This is because the jaw has yet to fully develop.
After sketching in an “egg” to establish the size and position you want the head. Next position the centre line of the face and the eye line. Use these to establish the positioning of the eyes, nose and mouth, hairline, brows etc.
The next step is to “map” the shadows on the planes and features of the head. All of this is underpainting so don’t continue until you feel it is correct.
Now the final stage of applying undiluted oil paint boldly but with softened edges for the roundness of a child. With elderly people and the more rugged male face, one can be bolder with the shadow patterns but with a young person it is all too easy to make them look older unless edges are blended and softened. The colour palette I used is the same as for that of Julia below.
Now I would like to share with you the stages in painting an oil portrait of 5 year old Julia. I began by sketching lightly with soft willow charcoal (which can be dusted off with a piece of soft rag used as an eraser) until I was happy with the size, proportions and positioning of Julia on the canvas. Because my reference photograph was quite small, I enlarged the critical part (being the head) on the photocopier in black and white. This helped tremendously with getting the proportions right.
I then sprayed the charcoal sketch with fixative and then proceeded to mix a colour range in oil paint. These days, we no longer need to use smelly Turpentine to wash brushes, so I use an odourless solvent instead. If any paint needed to be slightly diluted, I added just a drop of this to the mix. Of course, the pigment in the tubes is already mixed with Linseed Oil and that is what denotes it as “oil paint”.
I would just like to share with you my favourite oil Portrait colour mixing method, which seems to suit people of all skin, hair and eye colouring. It gives some lovely harmonious choices for backgrounds and clothing also.
HInt: It is easier to put a thin wash of colour over your entire painting surface (similar to the beige background on the palette shown above). If you do this before you start, you won’t be comparing your colours and tones with stark white as you go along.
In mixing a colour range such as the one above, you find beautiful harmonious colours to use in your backgrounds. Don’t forget the background doesn’t have to be one colour or tone – you may wish to contrast one side of the sitter’s face for example and play down the other – so your background can blend gently from light to dark if needed. Here is a photo of my palette used for Julia’s portrait:
Attention is now given to the hair, face and arms…
then the dress colour is added…
This flash photo inspired the addition of a fairy in a light, since Julia loves fairies!
so here is the fairy, softly suggested…
Julia also loves flowers, so they were added too…
Now here is the finished portrait of Julia Claire, aged 5.
Now in response to requests, I am adding some learning aids giving some of the many approaches to drawing and painting portraits….so here they are. These ‘average’ proportions apply to fully mature adult heads. As shown previously, the brow or eyeline of a child will be lower, with shortened ‘brow to nose’ length and ‘nosetip to chin’ areas.
Notice in the example below that the browline is around half way down from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin, as opposed to adult heads where this measurement if around one third.
In head studies you will need to study the neck a little in order not to “fudge” it by adding scarves & collars etc! Suggesting the shoulder line is important too – look carefully at your subject to see where it is in relation to the head. You might be surprised! For instance if you are looking down at your subject who is seated, the shoulder line might be at ear level!
Here now is a step by step method I use for a head profile – first a fast animation, then a slower one with instructions:
It is worth spending some time before you start a portrait, deciding on your best angle.
There are many choices… front on, profile, three-quarter view, looking up at them, looking down if you are standing and they are seated, having their head at the same angle as their body or turned at a different angle etc.etc. (Be careful withthe last option that your sitter doesn’t get a sore neck!) Some quick thumbnail sketches can help you decide or even take some digital photos from different viewpoints and study them first.
Consider using arms and hands to connect shapes and improve the composition – they are a powerful tool.
ARE YOU PLANNING TO PAINT A PORTRAIT FROM A PHOTOGRAPH OF SOMEONE? HERE IS A WAY TO MAKE SURE YOU GET OFF TO A GOOD START!
This will never replace developing your own perception and ability to draw well, but it is a shortcut you can use to make sure you get the proportions right when you begin a portrait.
TAKE A PHOTOCOPY ON ORDINARY COPY PAPER OF THE PHOTOGRAPH YOU PLAN TO WORK FROM – ENLARGING IT TO THE SIZE YOU WISH TO PAINT. YOU REALLY NEED JUST THE HEAD AND SHOULDERS FOR A HEAD STUDY, SO CROP IT IF YOU NEED TO. THE PHOTOCOPY CAN BE IN COLOUR OR IN BLACK AND WHITE. I HAVE USED A COLOUR PHOTOCOPY IN MY DEMONSTRATION HERE.
TIP: IT IS BEST TO CHOOSE INITIAL PHOTOGRAPHS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN TAKEN WITH A FLASH AND THAT HAVE SOME SHADOWS ON THE FACE TO INDICATE THE MODELLING OF YOUR SUBJECT.
PLACE YOUR PHOTOCOPY FACING AWAY FROM YOU AGAINST A WINDOW WITH SUNLIGHT BEHIND IT (OR USE A LIGHT TABLE IF YOU HAVE ONE). THEN WITH WILLOW CHARCOAL, MAP ALL THE DARKER TONAL AREAS, BEING CAREFUL TO CLEARLY DEFINE KEY THINGS LIKE THE CORNERS OF THE EYES AND MOUTH, POSITIONING OF THE EAR AND THE OUTLINE OF THE OVERALL HEAD AND SHOULDER LINE. PUT PLENTY OF WILLOW CHARCOAL ON, USING IT QUITE THICKLY…SEE EXAMPLE BELOW:
HERE IS THE STRONG DARK CHARCOAL TONING I DID ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE PHOTOCOPY. YOU CAN SEE IT MORE CLEARLY HERE BECAUSE I HAVE TAKEN THE PICTURE AWAY FROM THE WINDOW AND PUT IT ON THE TABLE WITH NO LIGHT BEHIND IT.
THE NEXT STEP IS TO PLACE THE PHOTOCOPY CAREFULLY RIGHT SIDE UP ON THE SURFACE YOU PLAN TO WORK ON, MAKING SURE IT IS PPOSITIONED WHERE YOU WANT THE HEAD TO BE IN THE FINISHED WORK. TAPE IT DOWN ALONG ONE EDGE SO THAT IT WILL NOT MOVE. IF YOU HAVE A ROLLER, USE IT TO FIRMLY TO ROLL ALL OVER THE PHOTOCOPY, TRANSFERRING THE CHARCOAL SKETCH ONTO THE SURFACE YOU PLAN TO WORK ON. IF YOU DON’T HAVE A ROLLER, SCRUNCH UP A RAG AND RUB FIRMLY AND SMOOTHLY ALL OVER.
LIFT THE NON-TAPED END OF THE PHOTOCOPY TO CHECK IF YOU HAVE PRESSED FIRMLY ENOUGH BEFORE REMOVING THE TAPE AND THE PHOTOCOPY. THE MAPPED AREAS OF TONE AND LINES IN CHARCOAL SHOULD BE ABLE TO BE SEEN CLEARLY ENOUGH TO USE AS A GUIDE.
I HAVE FOUND THIS METHOD TO WORK ON MOST SURFACES EXCEPT PERHAPS VERY COARSE CANVAS.
CAREFULLY REMOVE THE PHOTOCOPY AND YOU SHOULD HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THE GUIDE BELOW TO WORK OVER.
SPRAY THIS CHARCOAL UNDERSKETCH WITH FIXATIVE BEFORE YOU PAINT, TO AVOID ANY BLACK COMING UP INTO THE PAINT.
PORTRAITURE IS ONE OF THE MOST EXACTING FORMS OF ART, WHEN YOU CONSIDER HOW MANY FACES THERE ARE IN THE WORLD THAT ARE UNIQUE! SO THIS IS A SURE-FIRE WAY TO AVOID MANY OF THE PITFALLS IN THE INITIAL DRAWING – THEN YOU CAN CONCENTRATE ON DEVELOPING ALL THE OTHER SKILLS THAT GO INTO PORTRAITURE. IT CAN BE VERY DISAPPOINTING TO FIND THAT AFTER A LOT OF PAINSTAKING WORK, SOMETHING BASIC AND VITAL IS WRONG IN THE INITIAL SKETCH. I WISH YOU LUCK AND HOPE YOU ENJOY THE JOURNEY OF LEARNING.
I hope you find these hints helpful. I know I would have been so grateful to have this kind of guidance when I was struggling to learn portraiture at home without tuition back in the 1970s. No computers then! Isn’t the internet wonderful for information access and sharing!!
Please feel free to post a comment or ask questions. I am not setting myself up as an expert – just sharing what works for me in the hope that it might help you – especially since I am told that many drawing basics are not covered much these days in the courses available.
Happy painting everyone!