Portraits are a treasure hunt… searching… searching…
I am always amazed at when I look back at the developmental photos of a portrait that I can see so many changes. Not only in the painting itself but also in my apparent mental state at different stages. Sometimes I refine slowly. Creeping along. Sometimes I dash in marks and colors. So I thought it would be fun to take one of the kids from the current commission and go through the developmental shots. My portraits go through a lot of stages. They have growing pains, become wonky at times and then hopefully get resolved. I have to giggle to myself when I have students in my classes that complain about how long a portrait takes or how many hours they have to put in. I laugh to myself and think…
you have no idea…
So this is the youngest child from the commission. She is just over a year old and is just beginning to toddle around. The goal with her was to keep her fresh and very young and feel that slightly off-balance newness to her walking.
After the beginning drawing I start to block things out. What is lit and what is not? Here I run some yellow underneath the coming layers to “set” the light. I deliberately make the heads a bit too big so I can cut into them with the background. I dash in a few local colors to start to register them.
Features are just marked in with dashes. No details needed. Painting eyelashes now would be silly. I still have so much to figure out.
I add more dark marks… Hopefully to find her… I feel like I ask myself constantly, “Where are you?”
Once the structure is more solid, I start to refine. Soften… still no eyelashes…
You can see more of the textures in this shot below… the surface as I mentioned before is UArt, so it will take a beating and as many layers and as much abuse as I can heap on it. Thanks UArt!
And remember, even though the painting is 42″ tall, the figures still worked out to be rather small. (oh, what did I do to myself…) And if you know me and my work you know that I like to work at nearly life-size. So this was the ultimate challenge for me. This is the size of her head compared to my hand… yeah… pretty small. From early on I started to have to use my mahl stick so I could place my marks very carefully and deliberately. Tough on the shoulders for hours at a time…
And the main thing for me to keep in mind is that the painting will be hung high above a fireplace. So the bottom of the frame of the painting starts at above 5 feet. This means that the heads have to look correct from far away. No one will be able to put their nose up against the painting since it will be hanging too far away. So it has to look good from 10 feet way while sitting across from a dining room table. It is a different way to paint. The impression of her is more important than the details of her.
This means that I backed up and walked away a lot from the easel. Always a good idea.
And yes, if you were wondering, I painted the entire thing almost completely while standing.
So many tiny marks and textures… so many hours. This is very painterly for me and very fun. I can see how my painting in oils for the past nine months has adjusted my pastel handling. Each day for three weeks I spent around 9 hours painting. So my eyes got a bit tired by the end of the day.
And then the final search and hunt… peck and dab. Redo the tiny nose ten times more, Swear, throw a stick and redo again… until you call it done.
More on the entire family next week.
I love reading your blog! I chuckle and enjoy your honesty so much!
hehe…as Popeye once said… ” I am what I am…”
Thank you for showing us the step-by-step. It really helps to understand the method.
hehe… sometimes I think my method is fly by the seat of my pants….😁
You paint 9 hour days for 3 weeks straight?? Wow. I. Tired after 3 hours
yup! and my shoulders…..ow…..
So very encouraging for those of us who do portraits! I’m struggling right now with one of my granddaughter with a big fish she caught. So it has elements of the landscape too, which is not my strength. Yes, many hours, many refinements, moments I want to quit, but begin again the next day with fresh eyes and energy. I’m working larger than my normal, 18×28– can’t imagine going up to your size and then having it elevated too. I chuckle too as her fish has gotten larger . . . But don’t we all want a good fish story so I’m leaving it that way!
Your work always inspires me. I will get to one of your workshops one day, I pray. Stay well and take good care of your eyes.
yes, you are telling a great fish story! good luck with it!
I loved your elaborating on your process, Christine. Sometimes I repaint a feature that isn’t quite right many many times. Now I feel like I’m in good company! Thank you!
oh yes… repainting is my middle name!
Wow! If only it were that easy!
nope! not easy! This was meant to show that a commission and the many adjustments are NOT easy! 😁
I’ve seen some of the masters, in my art history books, block in the features like you just did (with yellow ochre). Oftentimes, when I tried and tried to do it, I wondered, ‘how did they?’ Yes I understand you worked hard with anatomy, color theory, etc. etc. I did too. But you have what I and many other don’t have. Talent. A talent for 2-dimensional work. As cliche as that sounds, sometimes it just boils down to a gift some of us get from the universe or God or what have you. Honestly, Christine, I have never seen anybody as good as you in Pittsburgh. Some in California, but even they are few and far between. Keep up the fabulous work. What am I saying? You already are. Keep yourself safe, then. The human race needs more masters of beauty.
I am so overwhelmed with this beautiful response. I will treasure it always. thank you.
Wow, what a transformation! I don’t know how you get that kind of detail with pastels on such a small face! I love my side 00 paintbrushes for portraits in oil. Such skill to be able to paint such minute changes with a stick of color! Thanks for sharing your process, so fascinating.
hI. I will be talking about that next week I think. Pencils can only take you so far. You need the sticks for layering and richness in color.
I love this progression. I’m only doing life size head shots of individual kids, so nothing like this. I have so appreciated your YouTube video where you burned the painting at the end. It was the use of the pastel pencils at the outset to indicate the light that has helped me SO MUCH! Thank you!
yay! Happy to help. 😁
Coming along so beautifully. Look forward to the others!
It’s also nice to know that other portrait artists struggle too… the finished product always looks as though it was so easy!
true! It is not easy and it is a lot of work. For everyone.
You are nothing short of meticulous and very amazing.
Your process of the treasure hunt is wonderful Christine! Thank you for sharing it. It is astonishing how many problems you must solve too. What a beautiful portrait!
It’s amazing to watch your progress. I was worried you were not going to have her smiling. So interesting how you’re able to change that look.
Thank you so much, Christine, for your step by step. You are a master, and it is so helpful to see how you refine your images.
Your process is amazing, and the way you pick out and elucidate each stage is really helpful. Thank you for sharing your insights.
you bet! 😁