Saturday, May 28, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 21 - Improving Depth

I'm still building up depth and colour by modelling layers of varying pressure, using a variety of strokes. I have returned to the face, to deepen the colours as the dark jumper had the effect of washing out the face, making it look faded and flat.

Now, I am working on the legs. I have applied applied 4 flat layers of cream, pale pink, peach and yellow ochre, followed by an orange layer with which I have begun to model the contours of the limbs. On Joel's right leg, I have applied a first layer of blood orange, with varied pressure and curved strokes which followed the shape of the leg. In the following picture, you can see the difference that this modelling has made to the appearance of depth. There are many more layers to be applied before a realistic effect is achieved.
Throughout the process, I return periodically to previous sections of work to improve and develop them. It becomes easier to assess the progress of the work and plan future action when I can view each section in context with its surrounding parts. It, also, helps to come back to a section and view it with fresh eyes, after a few days working in another area.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 18 - Taking Risks

In my last post, I wrote about the value of risk taking and how sometimes surprisingly pleasing results can be achieved by going out on a limb. Having a piece of scrap paper to practice on is a practical way of testing out colours and experimenting with technique. However, sometimes, when the test paper has exhausted its usefulness, the only option is to plunge right in and take a risk. If all fails, it could mean 2 or 3 weeks' worth of work has been instantaneously and irretrievably ruined. But, if the plan succeeds, not only can it mean the success of the current portrait, it can also add to the artist's store of knowledge about technique, building up a wealth of resources for future projects.

This is what has happened here. The colours I chose for the jumper were dark and the pigments were especially waxy. As I built up the layers, it became apparent that the texture of the fabric was somewhat grainy, perfect for a knitted jumper but rather rough for one of stretchy material. Using a blender pencil only worsened the effect by creating more of a gritty, chalky surface.

My only option for smoothing the texture appeared to remain in the use of a solvent. I don't use solvents a lot. My style is to persevere with lightly applied layers to build up the intensity of colour and texture, as I am not keen on the change of hue which is common after solvents are applied. Obviously, experience in these colour changes does avoid the problem by allowing the artist to compensate with colours which will dissolve to the required hue. In this case, however, I had applied a bright royal blue pigment beneath my darker colours as a highlight to the sunlit folds of fabric. I was aware that any solvent would accentuate this brightness and create a boldness which I wanted to avoid.

Finally, I decided that the grainy look was unacceptable. Without a solvent, the picture was already ruined in my eyes, so I went ahead and applied a layer of solvent, using a blending pen. At first, the results were shocking and I firmly believed that my previous two weeks' work was headed for the rubbish pile. But, as I progressed and applied further dark layers of pigment over the solvent, I could see that the effect was far superior to the previous grainy look I had achieved.

The contrasts were greater and the colours were more intense than in the original picture. Overall, my risk-taking had been worth the stress. I was happier with the result and a little bit more knowledge had been added to my growing store of techniques.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day16 - Chiaroscuro: Achieving Depth through Tone and Knowing When to Stop


Chiaroscuro is the rendering of the lights and the darks in a painting. How this is done depends partly upon the particular style of the artist but, regardless of style, a certain amount of technical skill is still necessary for a satisfactory result to be achieved.

Quite often, a beginning artist will fail to achieve sufficient contrast between the lights and the darks of a painting. I suspect this happens when the artist sees success in sight and becomes afraid to do anything which may ruin his or her creation. It does take confidence to boldly intensify the darks with, sometimes, heavy pressure and to lighten (or lift) the lights, by erasing previously rendered sections of work. But, without this final stage, the picture will look somewhat flat and insipid. 

I, also, find my confidence dipping at this crucial stage, particularly when I have achieved a pleasing likeness and I am reluctant to spoil that likeness with further tampering. But, success in art depends on taking risks, whether the artist paints in an abstract, contemporary or realistic style. With risking-taking comes growth, and growth produces increasing levels of success, sometimes success which is far beyond the artist's original expectations.

The other extreme in art is knowing when to stop. This is a skill which comes naturally to some artists and which others have to acquire. Here, too, I find that I have to be very strict with myself as an overworked picture can look clumsy, muddy or overcomplicated. The number of times my family have had to force me to call it a day are too numerous to count! Probably, this stems from perfectionism - a trait which is all too common whenever anyone takes a pride or personal satisfaction in their creative activities.

In this picture, I have yet to complete my final tonal values. Though the tones are near completion on the work so far, the final darkening of the darks and lifting of the lights will make a significant difference to the end result.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 13 - Drawing Fabrics

Today, I have started rendering Joel's jumper. I started with a pale purple, which was roughly the colour of the palest highlights. Then, I applied a layer of indigo, gradually increasing the pressure as I continued to add to the layers. The amount of pressure applied varied according to the contours of the fabric. This gives the appearance of folds and shadows, thereby adding depth to the drawing. A layer of blackberry was used to tone down the blue and further develop the 3D effect. More blackberry and small amounts of black, in the deepest shadowed areas, will be applied next to gradually build up the intensity of colour.

I used a tortillion, or paper stump, to even out the spread of colour, after applying the first layer of indigo. This helps to smooth out the grainy appearance of the fabric, which would have been fine for a knitted jumper but is too rough a texture for this stretch material. The disadvantage of this technique is that it also brightens the hue of the pigment, but that will be corrected with further applications of blackberry.

At the moment, the jumper seems vast - a lot of pigment will be required to create an impression of realism and it is not the most exciting feature I've ever drawn! However, it is worth giving time to these features as they contribute much to the effectiveness of a portrait. So, back to the drawing board with renewed enthusiasm for dark-coloured jumpers - my favourite subject!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 11 - Depicting Personality


Sloooooooow progress! But, that's okay - no deadline for this project. Except that I'm itching to do some illustrating after this. I usually try to be quite disciplined about finishing one project before starting another as I like to have finished pictures to show for all the hard work, so, while I have plenty of ideas swimming around for the next project, I am still intent on plodding along with this one.

I love little details, like this juice carton, which will create a bit of interest and 'wow factor' if rendered realistically. At the moment, it looks a little artificial but, once it is anchored to its background, it will look a lot more realistic.

Now, for the personal appraisal - Joel was a bit worried, in this photo. He knew he was supposed to be posing and he was trying to take it all very seriously. But, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted some magpies swooping down on our picnic (horrible birds - they can be quite frightening). Meanwhile, I was shooting away with the camera and trying to allay his fears. Does his face show his apprehension as well as his sense of duty? I hope so. As far as the rest of his personality goes - his cheekiness, his energy and his affectionate nature - I think they have all been suppressed by his increasing uneasiness with his surroundings!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 9 - Drawing Hair

 Hair is a feature that is not difficult to depict and often causes more anxiety than is necessary.

The first thing to remember is to simplify. It is the shape of the hair and the general light and dark areas that should be identified, rather than individual hairs. I usually start with a mid-tone to lay down basic tonal areas and the directional flow of the hair. Then, with this portrait, I applied cream and yellow ochre, before deepening the darks with dark umber and terracotta. As I progressed through the tonal values, I created more detail, whilst still avoiding the depiction of each and every hair. 

At this stage, the hair is reaching completion, though the remaining stages will impact significantly on the final result. I will view the portrait from a distance to assess the overall shape of the hair, making sure that the shadowed areas are sufficient to create the illusion of depth to the spherical shape of the head. I will deepen the darks further and assess the need to lighten the lights. Once I am satisfied with the accuracy of the rendering, I will decide whether the final result is aesthetically pleasing. This stage involves artistic judgment, rather than referral to the original photo. It is often the case that photos can be improved in terms of colour, detail and lighting. I find this is especially true of hair which, like other features, changes colour dramatically, depending on the conditions. In my last portrait, I had to use artistic license to compensate for the darkness of the photo, as over-exposing the photo had meant a significant loss of detail and colour.

Drawing on coloured paper requires a different approach. In the earlier portrait of Joel, I applied the lights with pencils, instead of leaving the white of the paper to suggest the lights. As always with coloured pencil, preparation is important, as it is generally not possible to apply the palest of pigments on top of darker values.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 7 - Building a Likeness

Here, I'm at the exciting stage. The foundations have been laid down for the face and, now, I am tweaking to get a better likeness. Until I reach this stage, the facial features can be fairly characteristic without a reasonable likeness being achieved. This is because the contours of the face often play a large part in forming the character. It is especially the case with this subject, as the roundness of the cheeks and the babyish glow are as important as the features themselves in depicting the cute aspect which is very characteristic of Joel at this age.

I have roughed in the hair, at the hairline, to further aid in achieving a likeness. Most people look very different if their hair is altered in any way, so depicting the look of the hair around the face, helps me to visualize the subject and ascertain the accuracy of my depiction.

I have used yellows to bring a glow to the skin and reds to create a realistic pinkness. In this picture, the pinks are rosy due to the youth of the subject. I have exaggerated the lights and used a light touch even on the darks, to give a particularly light feel to the work. This seems appropriate, given the age of the subject and his pure, translucent skin tones. I have left the palest highlights with barely a wash, in order to increase the depth of the picture and accentuate the play of sunlight on the skin. Usually, I use indigo or grey/blue to build up realistically dark shadows, but I have kept these dark colours to a minimum here to allow Joel's pure youth and the glowing sunlight to shine forth more obviously.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 5 - Tiny details

Finally, I am starting to make progress on this portrait! I have to admit to a confidence slump, over the past few days. This is a little like a writer's block that authors have. There is no alternative but to keep pushing ahead when this happens, and hope it will all come together.

This portrait has tiny details, which require very precise and tiny strokes if a likeness is to be achieved. I have applied 4 layers - cream, light peach, soft pink and yellow ochre - as a wash over the entire face. Now, I am beginning to model the contours of the face, working from light to dark values. I am using a light touch and a very sharp pencil to increase the intensity of my colours. This will result in a smoother finish, but it will take many layers to reach the intensity of colour that I am aiming for. On this picture, I am using Derwent Coloursoft pencils, as they have a soft, creamy texture which is perfect for skin tones. For the very small details, I often switch to Derwent Artists or Studio pencils, which are harder - I find these pencils to be more precise. 

I use a craft knife to maintain a very sharp point to my pencils. This is necessary so that the pigment can be applied to both the hills and the valleys of the work surface. For portraiture, this is especially important. For other textures, particularly for the rough textures found in, say, sand and other features of landscape drawing, a blunt pencil may be a advantage. 

The tooth of the paper is all important in achieving the desired effect. A smooth or hot-pressed paper is usually used for fine portraiture, though a loose and very effective result can be achieved with a rougher surface. Cold-pressed or rough papers are useful for landscapes as the need to laboriously create textures can be avoided by using the tooth of the paper. A medium surface is useful for a picture which is composed of contrasting textures, where no one texture is dominant. I use both smooth and medium surfaces for my portraits and can attest to the huge difference that the paper can make to the effects which are possible and, also, the final result.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 2 - Drafting the Composition

This is where I'm at, after about 5 days of planning and decision-making, and 2 days of sketching and drafting. Once again, I am working on a large portrait which doesn't fit onto my drafting table, so I have trimmed it where I can to prevent damage to the paper.
The first stage of the drawing process was to draft the main features of the composition, lightly with a hard pencil. I don't worry about fine details, at this point, as my principle goal here is to get the proportions right. With this in mind, I map out the light and dark areas, and outline the main features. On the face, I locate the position of the features and the shadowed areas, but I don't worry about achieving a likeness or producing good art, at this stage.
Here, you can see the outline of the entire composition (though it's not a good photo!). This has been drafted lightly with an HB pencil so that it can be erased easily, later. Coloured pencils are mostly transparent so any initial markings will need to be removed to prevent them showing through the final drawing. 
Now, it is time to begin the exciting details! First of all, I carefully erase the pencil lines of the face and replace them with a light sand colour, which will blend in with the layers that I will be applying next. Then, I begin rendering the eyes. Although this is a large picture, the face is quite a small part of the composition and the detail of the eyes is not easy to see. Because accurate rendering of the eyes is crucial to achieving a likeness, I enlarged the photo as much as I could on the computer and alternated between my computer screen and the reference photos as I worked. Normally, I think that art succeeds best when it simplifies reality so I try not to get obsessive about tiny details, but, with facial features, fine details can be the difference between successfully capturing a subject and falling crucially short. 

Tomorrow, I will continue to render the features, before applying the many layers that it takes to build up a believable skin tone.



Monday, May 2, 2011

A new portrait - preparatory work

After taking more than a hundred photos and numerous sketches, I have filed photos for 6 or 7 portraits, for later use, and have settled upon developing this study for my next project. The subject photographed is my 4 year old son, Joel, who is a very lively but, also, very affectionate child.

Reference photos are a great resource when drawing or painting children. It is hard enough to get a child to sit still long enough to take a good photo, let alone paint a picture! For this portrait, I have taken over 20 photos and, still, there is not one perfect reference photo. Of the two possibilities for the figures, the best happened to coincide with the least favourable background. So, I have taken the procedure to the next step and sketched my favourite figure with my favourite background.
These are very quick sketches so accuracy was not a priority, but this is still an important part of the preparation for a portrait. It allows the composition to be fine-tuned and any issues to be addressed before the point of no return. Colour pencil drawing is very unforgiving - unless very light layers are applied, corrections are often very difficult to apply. The other benefit of roughly sketching the composition is that it allows the artist to become familiar with all the aspects of the picture. Thus, mistakes are less likely to occur later and, usually, a greater harmony will result. Tonal studies and colour studies are further steps which are likely to contribute to the final success of an artwork.

Modern technology is very useful for speeding up the preparatory work. In addition to sketching, I use the computer to view my photo in black and white, in order to assess its tonal qualities. I also crop, brighten, increase contrast and alter colour temperature to help me compose my final picture.

Tomorrow, the real work will begin!