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!