Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Take the Slow Boat: Measure. Then Measure Again.


It's how you do it in residential spacial design. It's how you do it in portraiture.

In the shower at six thirty AM, I thought, 'The trouble with Zac is he is all mid-tones and darks. And I didn't paint him that way. I've been seeing him as light. I've been seeing him all wrong. Bazinga!'

 I went down stairs thinking, 'I was also not getting his tilt and the common points, the shared measurements, between father and son. I needed to analyze. I needed to take the slow boat.'

And so I did. First with charcoal:
Top of Steve's orbital cavity on line with bottom of Zac's nose; Zac's chin
on line with Steve's lower lip. You can't check measurements too much.

My thinking on values was correct. Likeness was the least of my concerns. I was looking for shared values and how features matched up between them--in particular, Steve's lower lip on horizontal line with Zac's chin--the nemesis of this little project. (I don't want to change the pose to make it easier on myself. I want me to get Zac just the way he was mugging for the camera. That's what I liked about the photograph). I drew a lot of lines through the reference photo and through the charcoal drawing. Spent the morning noticing everything.

 Then in oils:

Limited palette. Measuring all the way hopefully home tomorrow.

I still had raw umbra, burnt umbra and white on the palette. I used the raw and the burnt and the umbra wash to register the medium, dark and light areas. Instead of mixing a mid-tone between a totally saturated color and white, I used colors that fell into those categories. This was how I did it years ago. I always used the canvas wash as the light.  Not ever white. The Zac of yesterday was the wrong way to go. And no white is why Steve came out so much better.

 A whim, a need, an intuition got me to add two more colors to the palette, sap green and transparent red oxide. I was set to carry this portrait, good likeness or poor, through to finish--where one more act would push the painting over the edge, (Vianna Szabo's definition).

Meanwhile, a gal, from the workshop returned my call telling her I registered for the pastel course, to tell me she did too, as did another gal I was chatty with. I like the camaraderie of artists. That was the other reason I left my comfort zone down in the basement. 

17 comments:


  1. A great work of analysis,Linda!
    The composition according to the values​​, contrasts, color harmony is the structure on which the likeness comes out naturally and with its expressive power.

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    1. Thanks Rita. You've just listed all the things that do come into play in all paintings, but I think portraiture places particular emphasis on measurement and relationship of points and planes. A rose is a rose is a rose, but a person is not a person, a person, a person. Each of us has our own unique points and planes that make us us:)

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  2. I think you're really on to something with this one! Great values, the picture is unified, and the colors are good enough and so wonderful to look at that if you choose then for your final it'd work. Great job!

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    1. Thanks Dan. Me too. Actually, I was surprised how well the oil was turning out after the two charcoals where I kept missing. A third charcoal is definitely in order just to bore you guys and to hone my midtones. Maybe not. That sounds boring to me too.

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  3. (Sorry...typo in earlier comment).

    Excellent work..these are things I am thinking about in the landscape too. I am surprised sometimes to look at my painting and how much it differs from a photo I take of the scene at the end of the session. Oh look...that tree I painted is about 1/4 the size than how I painted it. Sigh! Everything is relationship.

    I am always impressed by your double portraits!

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    1. I hate typos too. I've tried to let them go, but have eventually edited them out of posts (updated). I'm trying to relax with them--it's only blogging after all.

      Thank you. I like double portraits. I like the inter-relationships of points and planes. Challenging. I like Zac's distorted mouth and chin. He was probably caught saying some smart-ass kid thing at the time I clicked the camera. Adorable. The stuff only a parent/grandparent can love.

      Artistic licence is fine with trees, not so with kids:)

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  4. BAZINGA!!! These two studies look so much better. I think you've got them. :)

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    1. The second one is not a study. That became a work in progress as soon as I added sap green and transparent red oxide to the palette. Wish me luck. (I've already made one error with it. I didn't allow an clear inch all around in case it is stretchable. It will have to be framed mounted to a back board). And what am I going to do with the taped off corners to catch them up? Ah the problems we set up for ourselves!

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    2. Uh-oh, I didn't notice the taped-off corners till you mentioned them. Hmmm ... ???

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    3. I'm going to wing the top area. I'm going to remove the bottom pieces of tape that involve the figures.

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  5. This is looking good, and you really make me think I ought to more studies without any purpose to have a finished painting.

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    1. Oh I don't know. If you've found the subjects that please you the most and art is your livelihood, time to experiment is limited; production is key. You're doing that and doing it very well.

      I have just found the subject that interests me most and the medium I think is appropriate for it. I need some learning time. Happily, my livelihood is covered by my spouse, which affords me the luxury to take the time to experiment to see what gets the job done fastest. I suspect this method I picked up at the WS is it.--YET, my new guru says, there are six ways of starting a painting. A curious gal, I was torn between finding out what they were or familiarizing myself with pastels, which I think may be excellent for portrait preparation sketches if not finished pieces. (My new guru, is highly respected nationally for her work in pastels. Her career has taken off and her teaching time is short. I want to take advantage of her knowledge while I can). No matter what you know about anatomical points and measurements, (I know them all), with each pose, they shift. Throw a kid in there making faces or caught in mid sentence during the shot, than there's some work to be done to see what the distortion did to his points and planes. Distortions are not appreciated by the subject's loved ones. Portraiture is a risky business. There's plenty of interaction with the client, the buyer. Yet distortions are one of the things I find interesting in portraiture,interesting in kids. I like catching kids in action. They're fascinating and full of life. And their relatives do like seeing that caught on the canvas.

      Now pastries, that's another story. Nobody cares that the strudel looks exactly like strudel. Those paintings I could knock off daily. I find those the most fun. Exactness doesn't count. There's really no challenge with this genre. There is a lot of challenge with portraiture and satisfaction.

      The most interesting part of last week and these few days is that I have learned to work small--9 x 12 and smaller. I learned which brushes will do the most for me. I've learned how to work the oil palette. Through my "studies," I've learned I do have a knack for portraiture and knowing that has reinforced my self confidence. Pretty valuable stuff in a short period of time.

      The only way you're going to find more subjects that interest you, is by trying them out, experimenting without fear of making mistakes. Get the canvas pads for this--or a bolt and cut your own. Do allow at least an inch all around JUST IN CASE your experiment is worthy of stretching and framing.

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  6. Hello Linda, I greatly admire your approach to painting and portraiture in particular. I must admit that I'm not able to do the same and this makes the difference between an artist (you) and an amateur (me). I find very beautiful your portrait studies. There is to learn! Hello!

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    1. Thank you so much Tito. But I could say the same. I cannot do what you do. I have chosen a difficult genre, but I do love a challenge and accept that mistakes, failures, are going to be with me throughout my pursuit.

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  7. Your basement comfort-zone comment made me smile. I do believe that the magic happens outside one's comfort zone :-) That being said, your study is looking real good, in my humble opinion :-)

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    1. Thanks Agnes.The study became for real when I added two more colors to the palette. Only problem is: I'm not painting on a stretched canvas. I'm painting on canvas from a pad, which is good stuff, but adds some difficulties to framing. It has to be mounted and framed like a photograph minus the glass. Who knew? But after buying a stock of stretched little canvases, I decided the canvas wasn't as good as pad canvas with regards to tooth. And the stretcher bars were cheap, not up to the 3/4" measurement, the minimal. This seems to be an intense learning period I'm in. The moon must be sending out vibes. It's exhausting. :-)

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  8. As usual thoughtful and wise. You always give me pause for reflection.

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