Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starting Anew - Newborn Portrait

For the past week and a half, I have been playing with ideas, in my head, and taking reference photos for this new portrait. There were several different subjects and compositions that I was interested in tackling but, though a few made it to my 'future possibilities' file, none stood out as perfect for this particular project. As a consequence, I went back to a set of photos that I produced, before my last portrait of Joel, and this is what I settled on - a newborn photo of my youngest and eldest children, which was taken 18 months ago.

The goal for this project is to create a large, family-type portrait to replace the picture of Joel, which was sold at the exhibition, last week. I have the task, right now, of producing a selection of quality artworks for future exhibitions, after being approached by a gallery regarding representation, a few days ago. Though I have a full portfolio, I no longer own enough pictures which I would happily present for a sizeable exhibition and, with a solo exhibition being a future possibility, it is important for me to now work upon a quality collection which is representative of my style and worthy of my perception of myself as an artist. 
As always, there is a need here for some improvisation with my reference materials. In this case, the quality of the photo is not the best. I have had to over-expose one print and under-expose another, in order to show the detail of the lightest areas more clearly and to improve the colour of the darker areas. With my portrait, 'Picnicking at Putty Beach', the problem was reversed - there, I had to over-expose the darker areas to see the detail, and under-expose the lighter areas to improve the colour, which appeared washed out. In that picture, the detail of the darker areas was lost in the shadows, whereas, here, it is the lighter areas where the detail has been lost due to the bright reflection of sunlight on the light clothing, in particular.

At this stage, I have drawn a rough outline and I am improving the features to a point at which I feel that no more major corrections are necessary. I am almost ready to begin laying down the first washes of skin colour. I envisage a few challenges with this project, the most important being that, for the portrait to succeed, I will have to capture the delicate, soft pinkness of newborn skin. A brand new baby has thin, downy skin which is, at times, pink, red, white, purple or, even, yellow. I will use a lot less orange in the skin of this subject, as there is obviously no evidence of exposure to the sun in this little one's body. A sharp pencil is an important part of my drawing style and, in this picture, it will be even more important - the fragility and delicate texture of the baby's skin will be difficult to achieve without sharp, fine strokes.

I am not entirely decided, as yet, about how I will tackle the background and the figure of the sister holding the baby. Probably, the background will be very simple and soft, to complement the softness of the subject. A pastel colour will create a quiet, peaceful mood, which will be in keeping with the sleepy posture and quiet contemplation of the twosome. I will render the baby first of the two figures, so that I can decide whether an understated figure of the sister works best to focus attention on the baby, or whether both figures should be equally treated as a couple. Many artists would decide upon these sort of details at the sketching stage, but I find that this sort of decision-making can sometimes evolve as the portrait develops. Because this is not a commission, I have the freedom to make spontaneous decisions as the portrait unfolds.
So, this is where I am at, now. The main details have been mapped onto the surface and I am working through the pencil sketch towards the point where I will be satisfied with the general accuracy of what I am portraying. I am becoming familiar with the subject and forming a relationship with it - it is as though the blank paper is a stranger who I must learn to know and love like a family member. At this stage, I am very close to bringing out the colour pencils and, then, the exciting part of my work will begin!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Portrait of Joel - Sold!

Well, last week was pretty frantic, rushing to get Joel's portrait finished in time for the exhibition. In contrast, this week has been a bit of an anti-climax. It's a little like the aftermath of end-of-term exams - a deflated feeling persists and I'm at a loss, itching to get into the next project, yet searching for direction.

It was while I was drifting, with possible future pictures floating in my mind, that the good news came - first of all, from a dear friend - that Joel's portrait was sold in the exhibition, this morning! Bittersweet news!! Don't get me wrong - I'm delighted to have made this sale for a number of obvious reasons. For a lot of artists, however, it can be a bit of a wrench to part with creations which embody a part of one's soul and, when that creation happens to be an image of one's own child, the feelings are mixed, to say the least.

But, no problem - I can paint another one! In fact, I will!! Now just to decide which one of those many ideas to tackle first...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finished - Portrait of Joel

And here it is, at last - finished!

Look to the side-bar for a survey where you can have your say and leave a response:)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Portrait of Joel - Nearly There!

This is, hopefully, the second-last post on this portrait. The legs and hand are done, at last! I would like to put another tree in, but I'm running out time - only three more days of work to go, so I'm thinking simplicity is the key!

Already, I'm planning for the next picture and I'm looking to be inspired. So, tell me - what would you like to see here next? The comments aren't exactly rolling in but my stats tell me that there's a lot of you out there! So, what are you interested in? A pen & ink portrait, an illustration - how about a head and shoulders study? Let me know what you think and I'll gladly share what I know and what I am learning with you.

Vicky :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Portrait of Joel - More Texture: Wood

The wooden bench has had many layers applied, with a great range of strokes and varied pressure, throughout. First of all, I applied a light layer of pale brown, following the flow of the woodgrain. Subsequent layers included olive green, ochre, brown, orange, terracotta, yellow ochre and black. The rendering only started to take on a realistic effect when I gained the confidence to use bold and expressive strokes. Before that, I was focusing overly much on detail and my strokes were too timid. The effect was flat and unrealistic. As always, I will leave the bench at this, semi-finished, stage and returned to improve and complete it when I can see it in the context of the whole picture.

Little details, like the knots in the wood, go a long way to adding to the realism of a picture. Unfortunately, this bench was rather too aged to look like real wood, in my opinion. I felt it had more the look of concrete. It was, also, rather characterless, with a marked absence of interesting details. I have used artist licence, where I can, to improve the colour and texture of the wood, without taking away from its aged appearance. I felt that the aged look was important to the mood of the picture.

The next stage is to finish the legs, the hand and the snack pack, before making some important decisions about the background - though, I could swap that around depending on where the inspiration leads me, in the morning. I think the background of the photograph will need to simplified somewhat. The main reason for this is that the foreground textures are quite fussy, and I don't want the picture to look messy and over-complicated. The other, equally important, reason is that my deadline for this picture is looming and it is necessary to treat this project in a business-like manner. Time management and scheduling are a necessity and these affect how I will approach the last stages of this portrait.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Portrait of Joel - Texture: Concrete and Wood

Now, it's all coming together. Still, a lot of work needs to be done to increase depth and build up tone, but, now, the picture feels as though it's going somewhere. I'm having to work to a schedule, now, because this portrait is due to be displayed in a local exhibition, next week. That means eight more days of work. It might be a bit of a squeeze but, with good planning, it should be finished on time. 

The concrete was rendered using the side of the pencil to depict the rough texture of the surface. Pale grey, olive green, brown and terracotta were laid down to give the impression of a weathered and slightly mossy ground. The wooden bench, which is also weathered, was so grey in the photo that it looked rather like concrete itself. So, I will have to use artistic license to make it looker browner in colour. I want it to look unmistakably woodlike, despite its aged, grey appearance.

At this stage, I am building up depth and colour, in the more finished sections of the bench. The less finished area of the bench has only one layer of pale grey pigment, at the moment. I will continue to experiment with strokes and vary the pressure of the pencil to achieve the effect which best implies concrete and rough wood. Light, flowing lines of grey, followed by increasingly darker and more intense marks to show the woody imperfections, will gradually give a more realistic look to the bench.

After this, I will work on the second tree before moving to the background of grass, sky and leaves. I have moved the second tree to the left to improve the composition so I will have to compensate for the changes required to the features of the far background.  

Oh, and I mustn't forget the unfinished hand, legs and snack pack on the bench. It is easy to forget about these unfinished details and, then, have to rush them, at the end, when a deadline is in place, so they need to be consciously included in the planning. I roughly know how long it will take to complete each section so I can calculate which stage I need to have completed, at the end of each day's work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Portrait of Joel - Textures: Trees

The rough, gnarled tree required a loose and flamboyant treatment as far as pencil strokes are concerned. Scribbles, swirls and short, sharp flicks of the pencil help to create the craggy ridges of the bark. Often, it takes me a little while to get my rhythm with textures such as these. When I begin, I am too careful, focusing too much on detail and the result is somewhat plasticky. Gradually, I loosen up, feel the flow of the subject matter and my strokes become a lot more expressive. This is a fun process. To see an impression of the tree emerge from imprecise and fluid rendering is exciting as the end result is often a happy accident, and the freedom involved with such loose applications of colour can be quite liberating.

This is where I will leave the tree, at this stage. Though the bark appears a little red for my liking and the depth of colour needs to be intensified, I will move on to the concrete and the rest of the background. The reason for this is that I will be able to judge colour and tone more accurately when I can see the tree in the context of its background. Also, focusing on one area for long periods is not the best use of time. It generally results in going around in circles or over-doing a section. I find it is much quicker to touch up the entire portrait, near the end of the project, than to persevere in the pursuit of perfection as each section is completed.

Here is a close-up of the tree, so far. Seeing it on the computer, gives a different perspective than when I view it on my drawing table. I'm no longer too close to see the flaws and, already, I can see only too clearly what needs to be done in the way of shadows. Realism is improved enormously once the shadows are correctly rendered, so I will probably attend to that need before I do move on to the rest of the picture.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Portrait of Joel Day 24 - Background Techniques

Okay, this is probably the slowest progress ever! Over three weeks of work and I am only now starting on the background. The figure is, also, unfinished. Only the beginning layers have been applied to the legs and the other features will need to be touched up. In an attempt to speed up progress, I have moved onto the background. Sometimes, when progress appears to be static, it is good to move onto another section and return, refreshed, to the original sections of work, later. With this portrait, I have been working for only an hour or two each day, and I find that this stop-start approach is not the most effective approach for me - long hours of concentration suit me better.

The background requires a different technique to the person. My style allows for flexibilty in the depiction of detail and a more individual interpretation, though a certain accuracy is still essential to achieve a realistic result. I have enjoyed working on the grassy verge, this afternoon. The loose, flowing strokes and the bold, sunlit colours are a joy to work with. Though the style is still realistic, there are elements of impressionism in this technique and each new layer adds a different effect. This means that the final look may not be apparent until the very last layers are applied.

Another aspect of background work, which I enjoy, is that the process speeds up significantly, at this stage. I enjoy the meditative quality of time spent slowly and methodically, building up a likeness and reproducing the character of my subjects, but, by the time I get to the background, it is a refreshing change to see the whole picture take shape quite rapidly before my eyes. I am loving where I'm at with this portrait, right now!