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.
I have just, rashly, entered my artwork to the first round of what is the largest and most longstanding (since 1789!) open submission contemporary art show in the United Kingdom, namely the 2017 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, with its prevailing trademark chaos.
Let the nail-biting commence.
The selection Process:
12,000 digital entries will be accepted online – judging 16 March
4,000 of these entries will be short-listed for the second round – judging 18 May
Approximately 800 works will be chosen for the exhibition – final hangings 27 May
I know, right?
Ah well, at least I know that my entry fee will contribute towards a good cause; the funds raised by the exhibition go to the Royal Academy School – ensuring tuition for their students is free.
For the very last time (promise) I created a final, final, FINAL, ink drawn portrait of my youngest step-daughter, Ruth. For once the image is large, so if you want to examine it closely, click it about three times.
Fingers crossed….you just never know! **
The Summer Exhibition 2017 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, runs from 13 June to 20 August.
** I didn’t get in after all – but it was fun to have a go.
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.
Before embarking on a portrait, making a preliminary study sketch can help to familiarise yourself with the subject – once you begin putting down marks on the paper a relationship starts to form. Taking that first step will help to reveal what is important as you closely investigate the details of their features. As the study is usually carried out in a free and spontaneous manner, it is common to prefer the sketch to the finished portrait.
I plan to make a few more studies in watercolour as well as in ink before starting the final portrait of my step-daughter’s youngest son. When drawing his sweet little face I got totally carried away, so have learned not to overwork it….something I do a lot.
Since (unbelievably) that clown Donald Trump is US President Elect, our world has been turned into a circus…and it’s not funny. So I thought I’d give you at least one reason to smile by sharing this little cutie with you. This was all done using watercolour crayons.
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.
It may be possible to detect a whiff of satisfaction since I’ve muffled that chattering inner critical voice.
I’ve realised that in order to appreciate my own work it is imperative that I wait a few days after completion to be able to stand back and look at it with fresh eyes…rather like getting used to a new haircut.
The fear of using watercolours is diminishing. First using only transparent pigments mixed with plenty of water enables me to lightly ‘map out’ the image. It allows for painting as many layers as I need to build up the impression of dimension.
Flat brushes instead of round were used in an attempt to introduce spontaneity, with charcoal and pastels for intensity.
I’m persevering with the same subject as before, my youngest step-daughter, Ruth.
The ink version was all about the lines; a clean, graphic quality being appropriate.
Although not exactly a whimper of a painting, I abandoned the watercolour portrait because, despite scribbling on it with pastels, it still felt too flat, rigid-as-a-stick and the edges were too similar. It didn’t excite me – it lacked those extra ingredients of chaos and energy that I respond to and there was none of the fluidity that only watercolour can deliver.
With this simplified version, the ‘unfinished’ appearance is entirely intentional (assume your “Oh come OFF it” face here).
Pablo Picasso described art as the eliminiation of the unnecessary and Claude Debussy stated that “music is the space between the notes”.
Simplify, simplify, simplify! Do more with less!
In this vein, I tried to embrace the blank spaces and make each mark count, obtaining a perfect image being less important than how the paint was applied. And what was left out. Yes, you guessed it, I’m making it up as I go along here.
This painting feels complete to me. And there are edges; some soft, some sharp and I may have even managed to lose some!
In keeping with the minimalist theme, I’ll end here and see myself out.
Isn’t it always the way? With this drawing of my son I didn’t try. Really! It was only a spontaneous sketch with barely any conscious thought…yet somehow, I effortlessly managed to accurately ‘capture’ my son and his mood. He even likes it enough to use it on his website.
Striving for perfection and overthinking often sabotages creativity. It’s a paradox! This was only achieved because I was ‘in the flow’, in a ‘zone’; the usual self-inflicted pressure was off and I didn’t care about the outcome. I was unleashed!
Drawing with coloured pencils is extremely satisfying. It’s just so very simple – all that is required is some paper, pencils and a sharpener. And the results are gratifyingly fast…no drying time required.
I’ll have to cultivate this – in future, I’ll try not to try.