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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Portrait Painting Photographer

The friend of the lady in the polka dot beach dress, graphite, Thirty minute daily drawing series
The erasure you see is the lady in the polka dot dress.  You'll be seeing these gals again. I liked their
volume, their casual stance--and when I met them over a drink, I liked them even better.
This morning's drawing session showed me how much more I needed to experiment  with photographing backlighted subject matter with the telephoto lens. In Mexico, the folks on the beach are all backlighted. The beach and horizon of the sea are East of the hotel. For most of the day people are either facing into the sun or have their backs to it.  My camera sees them with their backs to it. My lens is shooting into the light--not with the light--a rebellious action in photography.

 This gal's beach dress is black, the candid photographer's nightmare. There is absolutely no useful tonal information in that dress.  Should I want to paint .her in this pose, my anatomy education has to take over.  Had I gone closer to her, I could have used my flash, and that would have done a satisfactory job EXCEPT I would have had to have been up in her face for my flash to be effective, but the perspective would have been all wrong and  the shot would no longer have been candid. My presence would have spoiled the spontaneity.

Portrait artists must know the ins and outs of photography and use it to aid their work.  Live subjects wilt under the lights while asked to hold  fixed poses too long. I've watched it happen and threw down my brush. For that reason plus a preference for candid expressions, I prefer to paint people caught off guard. The only way to do that is with photographs.  Drawing beach people over the last weeks has pushed me into seeing exactly what this camera can and can not do.  Sadly, after the fact of being at the beach, I discovered three settings I could have used all at the same time:  backlight, speed and continuous shot.  Not only are my subjects backlighted, but they are most always on the move.  I need a field trip to try each of these settings out to see which to use and which to sacrifice.

Tony Paul, photographer, painter and author, of How To Paint From Photographs, recommends drawing from life  and from photos.  He knows, as I do, the camera is an invaluable tool. Photographs can freeze the light for the plein air painter. They are invaluable to painters who are old, infirm and home-bound. But.they also have shortcomings: 'they compress views, distort perspective, [flatten space], distort color,[ my camera leans toward blue, others towards red], and  extremes of tones [like black beach dresses]  are often totally devoid of information and impossible.' The painter who uses a camera must address these flaws and make corrections. I think I blew this gal in the black beach dress by not doing a quick thumbnail to register the value variations in her dress AFTER I took the shot. 


Ruby's Hand, graphite, Thirty Minute Daily Drawing (TMDD)

Yesterday I got down to doing the contour of Ruby's hand  on canvas and immediately knew I had to blow it up and take a closer look. It's a very important element in this complex painting. Even though cloaked in shadow, it holds her weight and gives meaning to her pose--and the painting.  It was the subject of this morning's drawing session.



  1. Great preparation for painting the hand, great thoughts on photography and your lovely holiday acquaintances, all make for another great post. Wish I'd got to know your friends, they sound like real fun.

    1. I did like the ladies. We met them for the first time this last holiday. I can't recall whether it was before or after I photographed them on the beach? As for Ruby's hand, I haven't committed to the painting yet. Doing the initial drawing carefully in pencil points out where the challenges will be once the painting process begins. I still have the option of rejecting this subject. After 'sketching' her hand, I have a better idea of how her hand is clutching the edge of the arm of her chair, but I'd like to do another drawing of Ellis' hand, a hand drawing from life. I want to know what the lower phalanges are doing--even though they would disappear into the shadows in the painting. Convincing him to model will be difficult.

  2. That is one masterful hand. You did a really good job at it.

    1. Thanks Shellley. It was not a piece of cake. My reference went blurry when I enlarged the original.