Doing a portrait of someone I care about is such a pleasure, because it feels as if we’re having a relaxing conversation as I squint and scrutinise their features.
I prefer to use a highly pixelated photograph for reference and tend to focus on the eyes first (apparently it was Wil Shakespeare who said that the eyes are the windows of the soul), then the mouth and lastly the nose. Being able to communicate what lies behind the is something few artists do.
It’s always possible to tell a true (or Duchenne) smile from a polite, fake smile – the eyes are always the giveaway.
This is a pared back pencil portrait of my remarkable eldest step-daughter, Hannah, who constantly surprises me as she rises to every challenge that life throws at her, never losing her quirky humour – she lights up a room when she enters. All of which is impossible to convey with a few pencil lines and to say in one breath.
It’s extremely tricky to capture the truest likeness of the subject in a portrait. There’s always a teeny something that isn’t quite right. But I relish the challenge.
The fun cartoon-like drawing below shows her very quirky side and that green is her favourite colour.
I’m sure she won’t mind me posting a recent photo of her which for me, is just so wonderfully Hannah and makes me smile.
My Step-daughter’s eldest boy was distinctly despondent that I’d painted his baby brother’s portrait before doing one of him – so I’ve taken the step towards getting back in his favour – although I doubt a four-year-old would appreciate the loose painting technique used here.
An initial sketch (see bottom of page) is usually best practice to familiarise myself with the features of the subject.
In order to obtain some kind of likeness to the subject, the first details of my focus are always the eyes, lips and nose, painted with fine brushes.
Squinty eyes and flat brushes were used to block in the darkest values, using plenty of water. Once dry, the lighter washes were blocked in, leaving the lightest areas untouched.
Finally, using a higher ratio of pigment to water, I went back to re-establish some of the darkest values. I probably shouldn’t divulge the fact that his face was very red in the photograph due to a recent bout of tears, abruptly halted with the appearance of a chocolate pudding.
The resemblance isn’t quite as close as aimed for, so aspiring to meet with the high expectations of a four-year-old lad is sufficient motivation to do it one more time. Watch this space.
It’s been such a joy painting this adorable face – he made me smile throughout the process.
Unfortunately, despite visiting two different scanning shops and taking many, many shots over three days, this woefully poor photo is the best image I got, which doesn’t do it justice.
As predicted, the watercolour study has evolved to become the final piece; smaller portraits have their merit and I’m quite satisfied with the result.
A light touch and a soft palette of transparent colours was necessary to reproduce that wonderfully delicate freshness of the little man’s flawless, peachy-soft baby skin. Greatly diluted, these watery colours were carefully built up in layers until I felt I’d ‘captured’ him enough to please his parents.
Despite intending to paint loosely, unless the main features are detailed, it’s difficult to achieve a proper likeness of the subject. In an attempt to make it more ‘painterly’ some splashes were added and I purposefully tried to fade out at the edges so that he wasn’t overwhelmed by the business of his clothing. I do like a slightly unfinished painting, but on this occasion, it was mostly due to the fear of messing it up with overworking.
Now all I need is to stop “Baby face, you’ve got the cutest little baby face” from playing on a continuous loop in my head.
I make no apologies for painting yet another watercolour of the same image of my step-daughter, Ruth. Inexplicably, this particular image fascinates me and I may still do one final, very loose version. For art to work, it’s important to do what satisfies you and to keep doing it – not what other people expect or what may sell – you have to do your own thing because that is your unique voice.
Watercolour is often thought of as a light, delicate medium. Used correctly, however, it has wonderful, intense depth. In this painting I took my cue from an exercise I did in negative painting. I built up numerous layers, using the most transparent colours from a fairly limited pallet:
Despite watercolour being a fast-drying medium, waiting for each thin layer to dry wasn’t easy. Still, it provided the opportunity to stand back from my work and view it from a distance in order to evaluate it. Turning a painting upside down, viewing it in the mirror or via a photograph are other ways to help seeing it through ‘fresh eyes’.
Fifty percent of my art is detailed thinking – sometimes days of repeatedly going over the process in my head before getting the paints out. That being said, once the painting begins, I don’t really know what I’m doing and have to put my trust in the paint…but that’s creating!.
For once I’ve uploaded a large image, but you’ll need to click on it about three times to get the largest version.
So six months of chugging away for my Zazzle store has felt mind-numbingly tedious. Not that the actual designing is boring, more the (necessary) cross-media broadcasting that accompanies each and every single item.
Anyway, the possibility of emigrating to sunny Portugal now totally preoccupies me. I’ve attended overseas property exhibitions, examined online, plots of land for sale, researched property purchasing regulations and everything about private swimming pools – it’s addictive and so much fun! If this does happen, it won’t be until 2018 after my son complete his university studies.
I’m itching to paint and draw again. At the risk of being boring, I’m considering revisiting an image of my youngest step-daughter, the composition of which, inexplicably, still stimulates my creativity. Already drawn in pencil and ink, painted with watercolour – twice. This time I plan using a mixture of media and may give pastels a go.
Here to prove that I haven’t totally given up, is the ink version, but this time with some minor digital modifications.
“I sit before flowers, hoping they will train me in the art of opening up,”
So says modern poet Shane Koyczan.
For five days I’ve been sitting in front of “a host, of golden daffodils” willing them to train me in the art of capturing their glory in watercolours.
“I gazed-and gazed” but found that yellow on yellow is really difficult! Keep it loose and there’s not enough definition – add detail and it looks overworked. Whilst the paint was still wet I went back in with a watercolour crayon which seeemed to work fairly well. Oh and on the vase I used a white wax crayon to (kind of) define the water line.
…but decided that this one is probably best? Actually, surprisingly, cropping is also more difficult than I assumed it would be.
Frustration aside, I enjoyed using my paints again – a necessary change from designing for my ** Zazzle store.
Ever the optimist, I plan doing some cutsie watercolours of themes suitable for children, which eill be incorporated into designs for greeting cards and various other items…you guessed…for my ** Zazzle store!
You rarely get what you expect in life and despite it being almost Christmas you won’t see a stunningly beautiful festive painting as done by Lesley White nor this marvelous Thanksgiving watercolour by Carol King. But I do promise not to whine this time.
Anyone who kindly reads my witterings know that the process of setting up my online shop has wilted the neurons in my feeble brain. (Almost whined there.) The remedy? A first venture into abstract doodling mark making, some of which is influenced by images seen on the internet.
Abstract art isn’t supposed to look like anything, which is immediately freeing. It can be whatever you make of it – or whatever you don’t make of it.
With ink and watercolour paints, I soon became totally immersed in making marks and shapes for their own sake, which was most gratifying. Time zipped by.
Making repetitive gestures was both relaxing and absorbing; sometimes it felt almost unconscious as I tried not to exert too much control.
And yes, these images will be put to use in my ** Zazzle Store.
I’m considering running another site purely for commercial posts. Maybe next year.
Until then, a huge thank you to all of you who have supported me by stopping to look or comment and I sincerely do wish you all a very merry festive holiday.
I’ve always wanted to paint flowers but held back because for some nebulous reason I feared they would be too difficult. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Watercolour is utterly perect for painting flowers!
These Crocosmias (I had to look them up) were painted on dry paper using luscious, raw, thick watercolour paint, straight out of the tube. Before the paint dried, I went back in with a clean, damp brush to tease out the coloour. A brush handle dipped in the paint became a handy mark maker.
One of my biggest challenges is knowing when to stop; I’ve ruined so many paintings at the last minute – although on this occasion I managed to step back in time….just.
This Hydrangea sketch is my attempt to defy indications that the British summer has already bowed out. It’s still July and I’m not ready to put my sandals and sunglasses away just yet.
Based loosely on the principles of negative painting, I worked around the petals and leaves to define their shapes and bring them forward.
Transparent colours were used as several layers of increasingly deeper tone are required to develop the shapes.
For quick reference I use a Winsor & Newton chart of hand-painted professional waercolours which has proved invaluable to me. It not only clearly demonstrates what each colour looks like from intense to watery pale, but it also lists whether they are transparent, semi-transparent or opaque. It also saves me the bother of making my own chart.
It is important to allow the paint to dry properly between each glaze…something I’m particularly bad at.
While you’re here I may as well rid my heaving bosom of something that still has me simultaneously wincing and fuming.
A recent television program documented preparations for an exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna where some witless noodle made the sorry decision to show self-absorbed Tracey Emin’s gratuitous tosh alongside my favourite artist, Egon Scheile (cue audible ey-roll). Really? You just couldn’t make it up. It was embarrassing.
Emin, as inebriated by her own suppurating ego as by the liquor she guzzles, is so trapped by her urge to shock that the outrage she strives for has become a cliché. Her teeth-suckingly offensive ‘work’ has no correlation to art and I freely throw prejudicial cups of tea in the direction of those who confuse art with self-publication.
It’s hard to believe that people pay to stare at this excruciatingly crude fakery and that those who part with vast sums of money to own this pointless, ugly stuff are educated people. The joke is on them. It is freak art masquerading as originality. Self-indulgent clap-trap and most of us have her sussed.
You can probably tell that I consider Emin and her ilk to have all the appeal of a flatulent dog in a lift.
I don’t have her millions nor her obtuse, fawning devotees, but I am confident that whatever I paint will always have more merit than anything Tracely Emin can do.
My husband is right – I do morph into curmudgeonly Victor Meldrew on this subject.
As an antidote to all that negativity – inspired by flower paintings by artist friends who make it look much easier than it is – herewith some sketches where I trusted the paint and allowed the water to do the work. Marks were also made using the brush handle.