Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jordy - Drawing Eyes

As a teenager, I remember being told that the vocations of motherhood and serious artist are pretty much mutually exclusive. But, being passionate about my art and, also, of an equally passionate maternal disposition, this notion didn't sit well with me. However, after twenty years of motherhood, I have to admit that there is some truth to this, after all. With a nearly two-year-old to nurture and seven other children still at home, my drawings have to fit around the needs of the family, and progress can sometimes be positively snail-paced. This has meant that I have been unable to take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to me, as an artist, and, being unwilling to abandon my passion completely, I plod along with slow, but sure and steady, progress, satisfying my own deep creative desires and attempting to combine my love for my family and my love for art in such a way as to neglect neither, but to tend to both, in the most happy realisation of their individual potentials.

This may be the reason why I am enjoying this portrait of my youngest son so much. I love bringing his little face to life on paper and I, also, have the luxury on working on a project, out of pure love for both my subject and my art. There is no pressure to meet any outside expectations and I can proceed at a pace which suits the needs of all my little ones.

Having said that, it should come as no surprise to find that I am still at a very early stage in this picture.

I have started with the eyes, which is something I am doing more and more rarely. It makes sense to lay down the initial washes for the skin first because the eyes can only be taken to a certain point before the skin of the eyelids, etc, must be incorporated into the surrounding areas. I, also, don't like to put undue emphasis on any one feature or part of the face, as I find that the whole must be taken together to avoid an imbalance and to keep the relationship between the different parts in harmony. However, I was itching to start on these sweet eyes so I began with the eyeballs, and, then, applied the washes when it became time to work on the skin around the eyes.

At this stage, the eyeballs still need defining shadows and some tweaking, but the colour of the irises has been laid down. The irises are exciting to render. A combination of scribbles, hazy blending, sharp highlights and soft, dewy tones will result in an element of realism. It is important to recognise the shadow which the upper eyelid and the eyelashes impose upon the eyeball, as to omit this simple stage will destroy all realism.

Also, note that the white of the eye is never just white. It may look grey, pale blue, beige or a combination of several colours. It may, also, reflect the colour of the skin and appear pinkish. When applying colour to the whites of the eye, it is necessary to be aware of the roundness of the eyeball and to shadow the contours accordingly.

Take note, too, of the inner and outers corners of the eye. The inner corner often has a moist highlight and is usually a darker pink than the surrounding skin. The outer corner is often shadowed by the brown of the eyelashes, before turning to the pink colour of the lower lid. Where the upper lid shadows the eyeball, the lower lid usually reflects the light that falls upon it from above. At the point where the iris meets the lower lid, there is often a mergence of reflected colour.

Because the centre of the eye is closer to the viewer, due to the contours of its form, it is often shadowed less than the corners, so I use a lighter touch here. The corners of the eye, by contrast, are more shadowed, so I use darker tones and, often, a heavier pressure.

Here the basic form of the eyeballs as been applied.
I have begun, now, to lay down the greys, blues and violets of the irises.
The pupils have been rendered, using pure black and a heavy pressure. More grey and a little black has been applied to the irises. The eyelids have been marked with a pink pencil and the whites of the eyes have been rendered using pale blue, violet and peach.

The deepest tones need to be intensified and highlights will be lifted, using a putty rubber and Blutak. The rendering of the shadows will add much to the realism and the careful rendering of the eyelids and eyebrows will be invaluable to the successful depiction of the character of the subject.

I am at an exciting stage. Next time, I hope to show you more of this little guy's personality, as I work on the defining features of his impish face. In the meantime, it's back to my labour of love!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A New Project

This is Jordan. I've drawn him, before on this blog - as a newborn and, also, as an 11 month old baby. In this photo, he is about 20 months old and he's grown into a very active toddler.

This time, the quality of the photo isn't too bad. I can see quite a lot of detail and I have the great advantage of having my subject close at hand, in real life. I know his little face like the back of my hand. In fact, this is how I can tell that the mouth isn't quite right.

A photo shouldn't lie but, in reality, it often does. Jordan was pursing his lips in an uncharacteristic expression, in this shot. The result is that his mouth looks smaller than it really is. So, I had to make a decision - was the photo worth using? Especially, as my subject was readily available to sit for another photo? If I hadn't been so familiar with his face, I would have said 'no.' But, as it is, I'm quite confident that I can improve the likeness with my real life observations - and I like the photo, so I'll go ahead.

The other reason for persevering with this picture is that good photos of toddlers are hard to come by. Little people rarely stay still, for a moment - and, this particular toddler is especially active. I have a great many photos of the back, top and sides of his head. We, even, have photos of him sleeping and, by contrast, snapshots of him blurring, in rapid motion, through the picture frame. But, a photo of him looking candidly at the camera is like gold dust.

Why I would want him looking at the camera is a further point of interest. Normally, I don't like my subjects to be staring at the camera, in what I see as an unnatural pose. I prefer them to be engaged in a characteristic activity or contemplation. This time, however, I was interested in a study of the eye - partly, as a step-by-step tutorial and, partly, because the big, wide eyes of infants are delightful to observe and equally delightful to depict in coloured pencil.

I'm really looking forward to doing this portrait of one of my little guys!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Concept Art

This is a picture by Carrie, which she drew on her iPad.

Unlike Megan and myself, Carrie has used colour from the start, and she has drawn from her imagination. This has allowed her to use bold, confident strokes and to develop her own style, without being unduly inhibited by imaginary or perceived standards.

Interestingly, though, Carrie is now turning to realism and is experimenting with graphite pencils. I encourage her in that, as basic drawing skills are very useful, regardless of style. Having developed her technique in reverse order to my own, won't disadvantage her learning, as I can see that, even in her experiments with realism, Carrie retains her individual style, which is almost ethereal, at times.

It is interesting to compare and contrast Carrie's style to her personality. Like the characters she portrays, Carrie is a strong and independent girl, but I have to say she doesn't possess the attitude that some of her pictures might imply.

Here is some of her recent work.

This is a concept picture, drawn as an assignment for Carrie's course in film production.

This picture shows Carrie's interest in animation. Carrie loves Disney and Pixar movies, and hopes to work as an animator, one day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Portrait of the Artist

I couldn't resist sharing this portrait with you all.

It's not one of mine - it's actually a portrait of me, drawn by my daughter, Megan. And, of course, I'm a proud mother!

I have to say that I have had no direct influence on Megan's ability as an artist. Other than provide her with examples of my own work to study, I had little to do with her progress and, certainly, offered her nothing in the way of formal instruction. So, at first, it was a bit of a surprise to see her following my interests and, in some ways, mirroring my own style.

Here is another portrait that she drew of her youngest brother, Jordan. I love this one!
My second daughter, Carrie, has also taken up art, as a hobby. Unlike Megan and myself, she prefers computer art and specialises in stylised characters, drawn on her iPad - something that I find very hard to do. I'll post some of her work, soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Nun is Done

More or less finished - and looking a bit grainy in the photo. Only a couple of little touch-ups to go.
Here is the original photo to compare.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Style of One's Own

At certain stages of my learning, I have been tempted by the challenge of photo-realism. It would seem that my pride and vanity would be justly rewarded by the ability to produce a 'wow' factor in the minutely accurate imitation of observable reality. However, while I gain great satisfaction in producing representations of the real beauty I see around me, I find little satisfaction in spending countless hours reproducing an image which a camera could snap in a second. For me, art is more than a visual record of a material reality. It is, in addition to this, the interpretation of a subject, the revealing of a character, the defining of beauty and so much more besides.

It is, also, for me, the ultimate form of self-expression. I'm not implying that artists who specialise in photo-realism are lacking in these qualities or are, in any sense, artistically inferior. Or, even, that photographers are not creative or artistic, in their own right. Rather, I am saying that my own creative impulses have found their fulfilment in the development of a style which is fundamentally expressionist and, at times, impressionist, but never solely realistic, in its purpose.

Developing a style which is unique and personal can take time and, in my opinion, should not be forced or consciously directed. Creative freedom usually results in works of sincerity and individuality, if one has the courage to trust in the source of creativity and the integrity to develop an effective technique and personal artistic philosophy.

My own portfolio contains a number of works of differing styles. Some of these have been experimental - adventures in technique which have acted as learning curves for subsequent progression. Others are examples of styles which have provided a lasting means of self-expression and creative fulfilment. The picture above is one such example. It is a simple impression of a character which has been executed quite rapidly compared to my usual, more realistic style of portraiture. I enjoy creating impressions of real images, producing an effect which comes to life as one steps back further from the image and expressing my delight in colour, light, form and character - and the materials themselves - with boldness, fluidity, delicacy, drama, subtlety and any number of other emotions which can be realised by the simple action of pencil on paper.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Religious Sister - Blending

The dark clothing is taking a long time to cover. I don't want to rush this stage as there has been so much work put into the face that it would be a shame to spoil it with a poor background. Also, the habit is an important part of the nun's character. It says a lot about who she is and it substitutes for hair in providing a frame for the face. I have decided, however, to keep the folds simple. There is little movement in the posture of the figure and I don't want to make any folds look contrived by inventing what isn't really there.

The first layers were built up very gradually with light and swirly strokes. See the video below.
Then, I used a Derwent blending pencil to deepen the tones. At this stage, I am halfway through the blending process. The photo below shows the portrait before blending. You can see that the colours are very much more subtle. The blending gives a more painterly feel to the fabric.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Religious Sister - The Habit

Despite saying, in my last post, that I was finished with the face, I spent a whole session reworking it. And, I'm not sure that it's actually much different to what it was!

Anyway, now to the background. At the moment, I am applying the first layer of brown to the nun's habit. Even if the shade of brown is a good match, I will apply layers of different colours so that the fabric doesn't look flat. I will apply some red to warm the tones and, also, some pinks and oranges in the lighter areas. Because the nun is in shadow, there are no distinct highlights in her clothing. I find this to be a problem. A lack of contrast will make it harder for me to achieve a realistic effect, so I will supplement my reference photo with other photos of similar clothing.

This nun belongs to the order of the Brigidines. In the 1960s, when this photo was taken, the nuns of this order wore a full habit but, these days, they wear civilian dress and they no longer live in a convent. The photo shows the sister in her early 20s. She is, now, aged 80 and soon to celebrate her 60th anniversary as a nun.

Because they no longer wear a habit, I was unable to find another suitable photo of a Brigidine nun to use as a reference. The following photo does, however, show a similar habit on nuns of a different order, and, as such, it will be very helpful in determining my colours. For example, I can see from this picture that the brown cloth has pink, rather than yellow, highlights. This reference will, also, help me to achieve a more realistic look to the folds than would be possible by guesswork.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Religious Sister - The Face

The photo's very grainy but it, more or less, shows where I'm up to with this portrait.

The original photo was a bit of a challenge - there was some guesswork needed to get something close to a reasonable likeness. Here's the original photo - what do you think? Is it her, yet?
Seeing the picture on the screen allows me to pick up details that are hard to distinguish up close. Her right eye, for example, looks good on my drawing board, but I can see that it needs repositioning slightly, when I look at it on the screen. It only needs a slight adjustment but it will make a big difference to the look of the eye and it will improve the likeness. Further flaws will become apparent as the clothes and background are completed, but, for now, the face is done and it's time to move on. Except for that eye which is irritating me, though! As always, there will be constant touch-ups and corrections, as I go.

Here is the original drawing - the one that I felt was much too rough. I think the new portrait is smoother and has a better glow to it. Do you agree?
For the new version, I used Prismacolor pencils for the initial washes and Derwent Artist Pencils for the modelling. I, then, used a combination of Derwent Coloursoft and Prismacolor pencils for the deepest tones and soft blending. I will post the exact colours that I use if anyone would find it useful.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Luncheon of the Boating Party

"To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them."

--Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir has been a favourite artist of mine, since I was very young, and his portrait paintings have influenced my approach to my own art and the technique that I use. I wrote the following post for our family's homeschooling blog, after studying one of Renoir's most famous paintings, and I thought I would share my thoughts and discoveries here, on my art blog.


Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party has a special place, in our home. For a number of years, a framed print of this picture sat over our dining table and, now, it hangs on a wall, in our rumpus room, which is a centre for family activity.

Our particular version is quite faded. Like the Old Masters' originals, the colours have become quite dulled, over time. However, unlike the originals, this has not added a mellowed kind of charm to the artwork. Rather, it has left the picture looking very blue and insipid, as the vibrant reds and greens have been bleached by the sun. Looking at images of the original, while I researched for our study, made me realise just how unobservant we have become of our surroundings and how beautiful the original picture is, with its clever use of colour and its depiction of dappled sunlight.

Renoir was about 40 years old when he painted Luncheon of the Boating Party, in 1880-81. At the time, he was anxious to gain acceptance by The Salon, in Paris. This institution held the annual state art exhibition and was the recognised arbitrator of quality art, at the time. It was because of his desire for official acceptance that Renoir began to distance himself somewhat from the more radical Impressionist movement, which was decidedly anti-establishment. He had, already, achieved notable success through painting family portraits of the Parisian aristocracy, and this picture was intended to be his masterpiece. It was painted on a grand, almost life-size scale and proved to be a costly venture, both in time and money. During the six months that he worked on it, Renoir was uncertain whether he would see the project to completion. However, he persevered through financial struggles and frustrating artistic challenges to finish the painting, in early 1881.

The setting for this painting is La Maison Fournaise, a restaurant on an island near the riverside town of Chatou, in the suburbs of Paris. This town had become a popular recreation spot for tourists, who used to hold weekend boating parties here, after the shortening of the working week had freed up their leisure time. Renoir had already painted several other scenes in this location, before he started on this more ambitious project.

Part of the appeal of Renoir's painting is, I think, the cheerful and sociable atmosphere, which is apparent in the picture, and had been enjoyed by Renoir and his friends since the 1870s. The group portrayed is classless, carefree and leisurely. It is represented by artists, writers, journalists, actors, sportsmen and other professionals, and it reflects the eclectic nature of Parisian society, of which Renoir's own circle of friends and colleagues were an important part, during that period.

The painting tells the story of the vibrant cultural life of Paris, despite the fact that Renoir would, later, state:

"What is important is avoid being literary and therefore to choose something that everyone knows--better still, to have no story at all...Under Louis XV, I would have been obliged to paint subjects. What seems to me the most important thing about our movement is that we have freed painting from the subject. I can paint flowers and simply call them 'flowers' without their having a story."

Renoir painted idealised images of his friends and acquaintances, rather than true likenesses. He had painted many of them before and knew them all, personally. In fact, the young woman in the foreground to the left, is his future wife, Aline Charigot. In a clever compositional maneuver, the characters look at one another, leading the eye in a continuous line through the painting. Aline, alone, looks away from the rest of the group, as she gazes at her dog.

Aline replaced the figure of a woman who, along with the seated boatsman on the right, originally, looked directly towards the viewer. This composition would have completely changed the dynamics of the picture, from one where the viewer is a mere observer of the pleasant and leisurely scene to one where the viewer feel inclusion and is, thus, compelled to take a more active role in it's interpretation.

The composition is very balanced, within the scene, despite being complicated by the large number of people, who are each individually characterised and play a role in the 'story'. The two figures, on the left, balance the larger group on the right by means of a tilting floor. Ordinarily, only the tops of the hats would be seen from this angle, so Renoir has altered the perspective to accommodate his unusual and busy composition. Dazzling whites of tablecloth and singlets, also, balance each other by their arrangement in the composition and the triangle of boater hats, in addition to forming a balance, provides a further means of directing the eye around the scene. The awning was added, later in the painting process, to unify the group within its setting and create a more cosy atmosphere.

As in Renoir's other works, different artistic techniques are used which reveal his respect for the methods of the Old Masters, along with his more progressive and innovative experimentation with light and colour. Thick, impressionist dabs of colour were applied in the foreground, while delicate light touches were swept onto the canvas in the background. In another example of his impressionist methods, he has laid down complementary colours side by side to create an impression of unified colour rather than blending the pigments on his palette. This technique has been used to render the fur of the dog, with the result that the impression of reflected light is apparent in a more dynamic way than would be possible using single, static colours.

More traditional techniques were used to paint the people, in order to achieve a smoother blending of tones. This allows for a softer, more attractive depiction of the personalities and is in direct opposition to the dabs of white and red, which create the impression of sunlight, in a balanced pattern throughout the composition.

No preliminary studies or drawings exist for this painting, which is unusual for a work of this magnitude. It appears to be a spontaneous work - the result of continuous development and reworking throughout its execution. Renoir used his friends as models, when they were available, and he made many adjustments - mostly minor but a few major ones - to their poses, as the picture developed.

Despite his progressive, impressionist methods, he looked to the Old Masters for knowledge of technique, as is seen in his treatment of portraiture. He was, particularly, influenced by 18th century Rococo artists, such as Jean-Antoine Watteau, who painted lively scenes of outdoor life amongst the leisurely French aristocracy, in the early 1700s. Watteau's Embarkation for Cythera is a good example of his skilled working of group compositions and his clever depiction of the subtleties of gesture. These were techniques which influenced Renoir and can be seen to good effect, in this painting.

The Luncheon of the Boating Party contains the elements of landscape, portraiture and still life. It succeeds in capturing a snapshot of French life, both in a spontaneous and an historic sense, and I think this goes some way to explain its lasting appeal to the generations which have followed. Not only does the work give us a glimpse of life during a particularly interesting phase of French cultural progression, it also recreates a delightful scene of good humour, companionship and light-hearted discussion, and it appears interesting, stimulating and pleasurable to the viewer, who feels at ease with the charming image.

(Further information can be found here, here and here.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Religious Sister - Starting Over Again!

I've been a bit concerned about the roughness of this portrait. In fact, this is something that has challenged me a lot, since I started using Coloursoft and Prismacolor pencils. They are both very soft pencils and, even on Stonehenge paper with a large-scale project, I find that they need to be handled carefully. The positives are that a deep, intense colour is possible, which gives a realistic depth and vibrancy to the finished picture.

At the moment, I am using smooth watercolour paper and I am working on a small scale project. This meant that I wasn't achieving the delicacy that I desire. I improved the situation, somewhat, by burnishing the skin tones with a layer of pale peach, but it was, still, too flawed to be acceptable. So, I've started afresh with Derwent Artist pencils. These are noticeably harder and I am able to lay down the pigment very slowly, to build up a smooth and flawless finish.

The first step was to trace the old drawing onto tracing paper and transfer the image. I didn't want to go through the sketching process, again, so I merely duplicated the portrait I had already begun. This took about half an hour and I was, then, able to start work on a simple, line rendition of the subject.

At this stage, I erased the pencil marks and replaced them with a pale peach pigment so that the original markings would not show through. Then, I applied two pale washes - cream and pale peach - using Prismacolors. I used the soft pencils for these as they are ideal for laying down even expanses of colour.

Next, I began to model the skin tones and I changed to the harder pencils for this. Using pale pink, peach and pale ochre, I began to build up the shadows of the face. Suddenly, I felt more relaxed than I have since I switched to the softer pencils! The colour is more delicate and I have more control over its application. I will keep applying increasingly darker tones and switch to the softer pencils when I need more depth than is possible with the Artists range of colours.

To achieve anything worthwhile, it is necessary to experiment and push the boundaries - but, I feel that some of my recent experiments with soft pencils have been unsuited to my style. Generally, the softer pencils are considered superior for fine art drawings, but I have been very frustrated that, even with constant sharpening of the pencils, I have not been able to achieve the level of delicacy that I usually aim for. This has affected my confidence as an artist, and it is probably a reason why my last portrait took so much longer to complete than normal. So, while my style is continuing to develop, I think I am taking a bit of a step backwards, at the moment. I am trying to regain the aspects of my style which worked so well for me, before I started experimenting with the soft pencils, whilst, at the same time, trying to take advantage of the qualities of the softer pigments, when the harder ones prove limiting.

The photo above shows the new portrait with its very first layers of modelling. It is very faint, at this stage, and it will take a few more layers before it looks reasonable on the computer screen.

The following photo shows a previous portrait, using harder pencils on watercolour paper and my usual technique. If it is compared to the photo at the top, it seems much more delicate and beautiful to my eyes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Religious Sister - Achieving a Likeness through Indistinct Shadows

There are some important shadows to lay down, before a likeness can be obtained, in this portrait.

Despite the fact that there is an absence of detail, this picture will still need to meet the requirements of any other portrait, as far as achieving a likeness is concerned. Although, the features are indistinct, there is an unmistable impression of character and form, which can be observed in the lie of the shadows. I will work on this and, also, on the colour and texture of the skin, over the next couple of days.

I will, also, need to print out another, larger over-exposed copy of the reference photo to enable me render the mouth accurately. Character shows strongly in the mouth and the eyes so I am concerned that no avoidable mistakes are made in these areas. Over-exposing the photo will lighten up the shadows and reveal previously undetectable features.

Today's photo shows the progress, after about 2 hours of work.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Religious Sister - Building up skin tones

Rendering colour from a black and white reference photo is not as difficult as it sounds. Experience of colour is important, of course, because the choice of pigment, then, becomes straightforward. In this portrait, I am working up through the values in roughly the same order as I normally do. In fact, an advantage of the black and white photo is that it shows the contrast between the lights and the darks much clearer than from a colour photo.

A little guesswork is necessary, however, as I can't see the exact skin tones, so the final picture will be an impression, rather than a perfectly accurate depiction of the subject. The lack of clear detail, in the photo, is another reason why I'm not relying on small details to make this picture work.

At this stage, I still have many layers to apply to the lower half of the face, including the mouth. The rest of the face will need more peach and pink tones to bring the skin alive and to smooth it out. I am using smooth watercolour paper for this portrait and I am finding that, with my style, it is more suited to the harder pencils than the soft. Stonehenge paper, so far, has been the most versatile and pleasing surface that I have worked with.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stylish Blog Award

Sue at Sue Elvis Writes and Stories of an Unschooling Family, has just passed on a stylish blog award to this blog. Thank you, Sue - I appreciate your support and kind comments.

I've replied to this award here on my family blog, as my artwork is a part of my life which extends to friends and family beyond the art world, so my response was not exclusively art-related. However, I do appreciate everyone who supports this blog - hugely. So much time and effort goes into each portrait that the encouragement I receive makes an incredible difference to my work.

So, a great big thank you to everyone who visits here and enjoys my pictures - those of you who are so kind to leave a comment and those who are happy to browse. The readership numbers have been growing steadily, since I started the blog, and I am so grateful for all your interest and support.

(And, extra thanks to Imogen and Autumn for your interest in my pictures - I hope you are encouraged, in some way, in your own creativity.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Religious Sister - Laying Down the Colours

Working on a smaller scale than I'm used to means that this portrait is proceeding a lot quicker than my recent projects. I have only spent an hour or so laying down the coloured pigments, yet I am making progress, already.

This picture is 420mm x 297mm in size. It is, naturally, much quicker to apply colour to a small area than a large one. However, there are different challenges associated with a portrait of these dimensions. Accuracy and a fine touch are so important when the working area is as small as this, and it is necessary to suggest the tiniest, hard-to-see details with impressions that the viewer will recognise as both realistic and characteristic of the subject.

I am enjoying the change of pace with this work. Large pictures can seem long and, even, laborious during particular stages, whereas this small portrait feels very manageable and pleasant to work on.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can Billy Come Out to Play?

Here's an old cartoon. Simple, childlike and, ridiculously silly - so, naturally, it tickles my sense of humour!

The computer can be invaluable for this type of art. In this picture, I significantly altered the exposure to the make the darks more intense and to minimise imperfections. Normally, I would use pen and ink to draw a cartoon, but I sketched this picture in pencil. Using the computer software, I was able to compensate and improve the quality of the rendition, to some degree.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Religious Sister - A Preliminary Sketch

Here's a first sketch of the nun I am working on. The quality of the photo is proving to be quite challenging and I will have to adjust my style to compensate. This portrait won't have the detail of my usual work. Instead, I will have to study the basic form of the shadows and identify the impressions which give the face its likeness. I think it would be a mistake to try to invent detail which isn't there but, at the same time, I need to improve on what is lacking in the photo.

As usual, the picture will take on a life of its own. I will plan only so far, before I begin, and then I will allow the portrait to develop, experimenting with what appears to work and making decisions as I go. A lot of faith and trust is needed, at this point, considering the quality of my reference materials and the divergence from my normal drawing style.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back with a New Commission

Back from holidays, I'm about to start a new commission. It's a portrait of the sister of a very dear friend and it is to be a present for her 80th birthday. The dimensions of this portrait are to be significantly smaller than those of my recent pictures, so this project should be completed in a much shorter time-frame.

However, there are still some challenges to this work. Firstly, the quality of the reference photo is not too good. The picture is small and the detail is indistinct. Also, my friend would like the portrait to be brought to life with colour. I am happy to do this but it does add something to the challenge. A further issue concerns accuracy. I am not, yet, certain of the order to which this nun belongs, so I need to do some research. I will need to obtain a clearer picture of the habit of this order so that I can determine the colour and style of her clothing with more accuracy. I will, also, need to identify more closely the ornament attached to the habit. From the photo, it looks like a medal of the Sacred Heart but detail is important in my portraits, so I will need a much more finely detailed reference to work with.

These are not uncommon challenges when undertaking commissions. I am used to working from several reference photos and to making adjustments to suit the client's requirements. Usually, a client is realistic about the possibilities and it is my objective to exploit the creative potential of fine art portraiture and, at the same time, produce a personalized representation which best fits the mental image visualised by the client.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gone Fishing

Here's the reason I haven't posted, for a few days - we've gone fishing, for a week:)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finished! Newborn Portrait

Finally, it's finished!

I'm sure I could come back and improve it more - that's always the way - but, at this point, it's time to stop and move on.

What do you think? I've left a poll, on the left sidebar. So, please feel free to stop and leave your response. I'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goldilocks Meets her Doom

Art is a serious business. When I am drawing a portrait, I tend to concentrate hard and enter into a peaceful sort of utopia. It's deeply satisfying and enriching, but it's not funny.

Cartoons, on the other hand, can be very funny and, often, offer some very welcome light relief, in the midst of a long and methodical drawing project. Though, the ideas can take time to formulate, compared to a portrait, they are usually quick to compose and, often, provide an intellectual challenge, which can be the means of a different type of self-expression.

I was a little hesitant about publishing the above cartoon, on my website, as it isn't quite politically correct. My cartoons are, however, representative of the type of humour which characterizes my personality and my love of comedy.

Drawing cartoons, such as this, allows me to use much bolder, more spontaneous and, also, more expressive strokes than is possible with my coloured pencil technique. It frees and refreshes my creative abilities and allows my brain to think on a different level. The complete contrast in momentum between the two techniques is enough to create stimluation and avoid stagnation, during a long and earnestly industrious portrait project.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Watercolours - Painting a Wallaby

This watercolour of a wallaby was painted with a few different techniques to achieve the different textures of soft fur, as seen in shadow and light. The reference photo was taken in bright light, which is why the contrast is so sharp, in places. The sharp line of the dark shadow, on the neck, is an example of the effects of this type of light. The bright, white highlights of the legs and the very dark features of the shadowed face are, also, suggestive of bright sunlight. Observing the sun, at midday, when the sun is high in the sky, and comparing the effects with the long shadows of the late afternoon, will bring some understanding as to how a subject changes in different lights.

I began painting the wallaby with wet paint on a dry surface. To achieve the effect of softness, I applied the next colour straight onto the wet surface, without waiting for the previous layer to dry. This wet-on-wet technique creates a diffused look with soft edges. It is a useful method for painting skies and fur.

I, then, waited for the paint to dry, before applying drier pigment to the now-dry surface. This allowed me to render the details of short, rough fur, in patches where the individual tufts of fur are more apparent. Though some amount of detail is effective here, it is important not to overdo it, or a messy, unattractive picture will be the result.

I started with quite diluted paint for the initial washes and added less water to the pigment, with each subsequent layer - I worked from light to dark tones. I used a good quality, sable brush with a sharp point. I chose a thicker, quality brush with a sharp point, rather than a thin brush, because it will hold more paint and keep its shape better. A poor quality brush is likely to drop hairs onto the painting and will not hold the paint or its shape as well. It will be harder to paint fine details with this type of brush.

The picture below shows my progress with the newborn portrait. The photo was taken in fading light, so it is a bit grainy and faded - a consequence of taking my pictures at the end of the day's work! The clothes need some sharpening of the deepest shadows, and some reflected blues, lavender and beige worked into them. After that, I will deepen the shadows on the faces, before moving onto the final arm. The end is now definitely in sight!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Video Demonstration - Pencil Strokes

The plain, white clothes make this portrait look pure and simple, but the creases and shadows mean that there is a lot of detail to consider. There are many different colours in white - and this can take some time to depict realistically. I use very light and short strokes to create the soft effect of flowing fabric. It is important not to use heavy, thick strokes as this will give a hard, sculptured look - so, once again, depth must be built up gradually. The following short video shows an example of my technique - notice how the pencil is turned to keep the point as sharp as possible.
I appreciate the loyalty of the readers and subscribers to this blog, especially, considering that my current portrait is taking so much longer than usual. It's been quite a slog for me and I'm grateful that my regular readers have persevered in their encouragement - some with very welcome comments, but the majority choosing to offer their support quietly (I appreciate this, also).  In an attempt to satisfy my need to be creative and to display the pictures to better effect, I've been experimenting with my blog design. I'm, also, working on mixing up my posts with past works, some of my on-going sketches and more demonstrations. A magazine-type format, with the progress of my current portrait as the basis, may make for a more interesting blog. What do you think? I'd love to hear some feedback.

In my next post, I will be showing a past watercolour that I painted of a kangaroo - a different technique to coloured pencils, but still a delicate finish.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Sketch of my Daughter

This sketch of Melanie was drawn in about three afternoons, nearly three years ago, and it brings back many memories of my daughter as she was, at that time. It has a coloured surface, which gives a different effect to the portraits, on white Stonehenge paper, that I have been concentrating on, recently.

One of the nice effects of coloured paper is the glow, which is achieved by adding a few white highlights, at the end of the drawing process. You can see it here with the shine on the nose. This is my favourite part of this technique - it produces a pastel effect which I feel results in a soft and attractive-looking portrait.

Although, I had been using coloured pencils for a number of years, when I drew this picture, my technique was still quite raw. The picture looks more like a sketch than a finished portrait to me and it has more of a stylised, than a realistic, look. My technique, these days, is not accurate enough to be described as photorealism, but it is, nonetheless, a lot more realistic than it was, only a year or two ago. The challenge to create photorealistic pictures has intrigued me, at some points in my development as an artist, but, on the whole, I find that my need for artistic expression overrides the temptation to attempt to produce a perfect photographic imitation of my subjects.

I am still plodding along with my newborn portrait. I am starting to get excited about finishing it, soon. I have an arm and the baby's clothes to render, and, then, I will be ready to add the final touches. In this portrait, I can see that I will need to deepen the shadows significantly, during the final stage. It won't necessarily take a long time to achieve this, but I will need to be bold with these shadows. Insufficient depth will produce, not only an insipid result, but it will, also, make the portrait look very flat and unrealistic.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Going Back in Time

Progress is steady on my latest portrait, but oh, sooooo slow!
So, here are some of my early graphite pictures to show where I have come from. The one above is a favourite of mine. It was drawn, in short bursts of activity, when my eldest child was just a couple of months old - she's now 20. so it's a pretty old picture! I was only dabbling in colour, in those days.
Marilyn Monroe was drawn, at the same time. I think she looks beautiful, but vulnerable.
Finally, it's Scarlett and Rhett. In this one, I tried to show that 'less is more.' There's minimal shading, partly to give a stylised Hollywood-type of look, rather than a photographic effect, and partly to keep the picture very simple and clean-looking. That was my thinking - I wonder if it worked...
And, here we are, today. The end is becoming apparent, at last! This is the longest that I have ever worked on a colour pencil portrait and I must admit to feeling bogged down and bored with it, at times - though, never when I am actually at my drawing table. I always go into my own kind of utopia when I am in the process of drawing or painting. 

I am starting, now, to see where I need to deepen the shadows. The baby's face, in particular, looks very odd, through a lack of shadowed contrasts. Despite feelings of impatience with this portrait, I never feel like giving up. A lot of work has gone into it, so far, and it would take an irretrievable mistake to tempt me into abandoning it before it was finished to an agreeable standard of completion. So, here I go, chugging along, again...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Newborn Portrait - Drawing the Hair

The hair hasn't taken too long to do, though there are still final adjustments to be made. I will improve the form of the hair by adding to the lowlights and I'll blend the strands further by applying lighter highlights.

 I started drawing the basic strands of the hair using light umber. Then, I applied brown and dark brown to deepen the shadowed areas. Next, came  some highlights, using jasmine, and, then, I enriched the lowlights with terracotta. Further applications of brown, dark umber and, even, a little black increased the dark tones, and a layer of beige sienna was used to blend the strands together and improve the salt and pepper colour of the hair. The photo showed the hair to be a lot darker than in real life, so I used more highlights than shown in the reference photo.

Further improvements will be made, during the last day or two of work, when I reassess and add the final touches, but, for now, I am finished here and am ready to move on to the clothes and the last arm.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Newborn Portrait - Finishing the Face

The skin is, now, at the point where I can move on to the hair. I'll return to it, later, but, for the moment, I'm satisfied. When the hair is done, it will be easier to detect any flaws.

I've started the hair, beginning with the mid-tones. I'm laying down the basic shadows, at this stage, and, once again, will build up depth in layers. It is useful to think in terms of light and dark areas, when rendering hair. Trying to draw individual hairs will only produce a messy effect with insufficient form. However, my style is still quite detailed. I don't want the hair to look like the moulded hair of a Barbie doll, so I use a sharp pencil and follow the flow of the strands with every stroke.

After the midtones, I will alternate between light and dark tones, gradually increasing the lowlights and accentuating the highlights, until the hair has sufficient depth and I have applied the different hues which are representative of the colour here. Hair is made up of many different colours, which change in different types of light. It is, also, reflective of its surroundings and can reveal quite surprising colours to the observant viewer. Apart from the reflected colours, it can be surprising to discover that a child's blond hair may appear to have grey tones - not silver-grey, but often a mousey-grey. Very dark brown and black hair can appear to have blue tones.

The picture shows only the start of my rendering of the hair. As always, there will be a stage where the picture looks worse than ordinary. At that point, I normally feign confidence and push on past the 'hideous' barrier, knowing that it usually comes right, in the end, and, rarely, is a challenge insurmountable. However, to this date, I have never experienced the ultimate goal of being completely satisfied with a work. Perhaps, that is a good thing. To have achieved perfection already (besides being an impossibility), would leave no more room for growth and no more artistic triumphs to look forward to.