Evolution of a Portrait

2:54 PM

This is my nephew, Gage. Isn't he a cutie? Just look at that face! 
As you know, this past fall, I took my first painting class - inspired to do so by the work of my painting hero, John Singer Sargent.

Looking back on the drawings and sketches that remain from my elementary, junior and high school years, it only seems natural that I gravitate to portraits because I have been drawing faces that long. 

I love faces. I love people's expressions, their individuality, the facets, shadows, gleams in eyes, quirks, ears, lips, drool...

And when I received Gage's birth announcement in the mail, I knew instantly that I had to paint that face. I loved the depth, the shadows, the quirked brows, the look of intensity, the drool on his chin, his expressive eyes. I knew it would be a challenge, but such a fun one! 

Just for funsies, before I started working on Gage's portrait, I decided to try out a different brush stroke style than I've used before - faster, sloppier, quick and messy, but using the same principals of building a face with cool and warm fleshtone colors. I was actually really pleased with the results. I may explore that more later on.

Phase one of painting for me is the sketch. I have used a projector before, but something in me would rather everything be by my hand. I'm not a purist TRULY in that sense, but if I can, I'd like to attempt to sketch what I see before I paint it. Here is one sketch. I ended up actually doing three. A small one in my ideas sketchbook, this one and then the one on the canvas.

To transfer the sketch to my canvas, I did something I've never done before - used a grid. It worked, although I ended up improvising slightly just because you don't always see things the same way every time you look at something. I kept seeing different things every time I looked at Gage's picture.

This is the basic sketch I began with. His arms and lower body, I just loosely sketched. I figured that would be the easiest part to paint.

Here's a closer look at one section of the canvas sketched in.

Once I get the bug to paint, it consumes me. It's all I can think about or dream about and I forsake all else to paint. I'm sure this must be pretty normal among painters and artists.

So this painting began a few weeks ago, on a weekend when Kyle was stripping ivy from the front of our house and the kids were asleep. I sketched and did what I always do first: the eyes.

 To me, when I see that person looking back at me, I know the painting will flow better. And although everyone's approach to painting may be different, the person looks back at me with their eyes. Without them, it's just hollow! There is a point at which suddenly, I say to my canvas, "Aha! There you are! Hi! It's so good to see you!" (I actually converse with my paintings, it's true. We have a relationship. Don't laugh. It's a product of my soul and therefore, part of me!)

That first brushstroke, is for me, both thrilling and terrifying. I imagine it must be somewhat like writing is to an author - you are largely out of control of what your hand and mind will do. In fact, the more you try to control it, the worse it turns out. There becomes a stream of energy and connectivity between your eyes and your fingers and hand that your mind must not screw up. I find I work best to music blaring when I can zone out and just let the painting happen. 

The second time I tackled this painting, it was the Monday following the Sunday I began it. And having begun the painting, it was haunting me. My beloved husband sensed an urgency in me and offered to clear the house for me that night.  He took the kids to the gym and then somewhere else, I don't remember where. I was just all in. I won't even tell you what time we ate dinner that night. 

But I will say I was thrilled when Kyle walked in to see what I'd accomplished and gasped with delight at what I had done so far. And I'll say this - it's the fastest I've ever painted. 

It took me almost 6 weeks of classes (3 hours per class) to do Brooklyn's painting. Half that for August and less for my tree painting, so I'm clearly getting better and faster. But this was surprisingly fast for me.

I am also currently painting with acrylics and so I was determined to not have to mix up multiple palettes of skintone if I could help it. That is so time-consuming. Not to mention that each batch is slightly different, so the more you touch up and change things, the more you have to touch up and change simply because you're working different colors into the painting. 

I stopped short of his mouth because that alone is a project. Mouths are so fun, but tricky. You have texture, depth, softness, moisture to convey...and in this case, a drip down his chin. As you can see above, that drip has yet to be painted in. 

Here's what my palette looks like when I paint: the left side is my cool colors and the right my warm.
Cool colors recede and the warm jump forward, making your painting 3 dimensional. No flat faces on my canvas.

I'm sure my skin tone palette will be different every time, but here's my basic recipe:

Cool palette
Cadmium Red Light (a little)
Raw Sienna (a lot)
Mix in some Raw Umber (this is your "cool" element)
and Titanium White to create the varying degrees of that tone.

Warm palette
Cadmium Red Light (a little)
Raw Sienna (a lot)
Titanium White mixed in varying degrees to create a progression of shades.

My Mother's Day present from Kyle and the kids was to absolutely leave me alone for as much of the day as possible to let me paint. Is there a better present? I think not.

I was able to paint unhindered for about 6-7 hours. Wow. Here is a zoomed out version of him all fleshed out! Even the drip! 

Hi, Gagey-Fred!

My camera was on a weird setting that showed every grain of my canvas, so this isn't a great representation of my picture, but oh well. You can see the mouth and its gleam and the drool!

More of the same.

Slightly different view.

I was very pleased with his nose. 

There are certainly things I think I could continually work on, but as my first painting instructor, Endia Gomez told me, there is a point at which you see the person you're painting and you stop. 

And I saw Gage and I was happy with him.

More of my favorite drool spot.

For me, oddly enough, the hardest part is picking a color for the background! I've been known to repaint backgrounds multiple times! 

I ended up going with a blackish blue. There is more blue than this picture conveys, but it's lost in the reflections. I liked the way it made him jump out from the canvas and how it matched his eyes. And my signature on his arm looks very much like a tattoo! 

Here they are: my first three portraits. Brooklyn was my first painting, August my second and Gage my third. 
I can see definite progressions on each and a comfort in my style and technique. I've also learned so much with each! I intend to take a portrait painting class this summer in which I will switch to oils. I think that will greatly enhance my painting style since oils mix so much differently and the drying time is NOTHING like with acrylics. 

So, here he is:


I hope you like him! 

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