How loose do I want to do portraits? I did a series of “sketches” yesterday to play around with that but also decided to explore several color palettes and medium (oil pastels versus pen versus straight up gouache).
It’s not just Wes Anderson that uses color intentionally. 🙂 I’ve started paying much more attention to color palettes and what the filmmaker is doing. This choosing colors tutorial is helpful—the 60/30/10 rule. Just remembering to limit my palette to just a few colors will be a game changer.
I’m on a roll. This time I’m following this tutorial. I picked it because I want to learn how to incorporated a background into the composition. This one appealed to me in how the artist represented depth of field. Also, I still want to loosen up my rendering style. The last one I did, I felt was too loose.
I don’t like this approach in that we’re starting and finishing areas of the portrait all at once before doing the next area. It’s hard for me not to build up the whole thing to see where I need to make adjustments as I go. Even though it looks okay, the process is very uncomfortable for me.
I followed this tutorial, although how to paint wrinkles aren’t what I got from it. I was looking for a way to loosen up my portrait rendering. I did this all in one day and forgot to take wip shot so here it is…
What I learned:
I like that it was looser but I don’t like that it’s “sketchier” — I want it to feel more substantial. It was a good exercise in that I’m much more comfortable doing portraits, not because it’s good as much as I know that if I mess up, I can just make another one. Maybe after 10 more of these, they will lose their preciousness.
Starting another Louise de Masi class this week. Stepping it up one notch and used the reference photo to freehand sketch instead of tracing her line art. Not that it matters that much but there’s def some translation that happens there. I inked my sketch and now ready to trace this to my watercolor paper.
paper: Fluid 100% cotton, 140 lb.
Now, I really want to do something different with my portrait backgrounds but I feel like they should be looser and I don’t know how to do that yet. A little searching on YouTube led me to Enjoy Art’s tutorial. I tried my best to follow along.
What I learned:
- That you really can use just three primary colors and two brushes
- I prefer drawing with pencil before painting
- I can use the reference photo as a jumping off point
- It doesn’t have to be so labored to feel dimensional and alive, in fact, it feels more alive this way.
- I like seeing the strokes and blooms but I’m still uncertain about the more traditional watercolor “style.”
- I do like the organic edge
Watched the Art Prof Livestream on backgrounds for portraits. We talked about where to find inspiration for backgrounds and how to be intentional about them.
I also may have just watched Call Me By Your Name five times last weekend…
Alex turned me on to Malcolm Liepke…
All of which inspired to revisit my earlier portrait study, Quaranteam and do some background studies. What works for me about this portrait is the composition. I love all the angles and just how weird and wacky they are. The dog is practically upside down! I definitely want to preserve that. But I’m not sure I need the specificity of the window or the couch, really.
I like the idea of blocks of color. I even like the sketchy-ness of seeing the pencil marks. I’m excited about the possibilities.
p.s. This video on Wes Anderson style is also helpful/interesting re: color theory. His hand is so over the top but it’s still “in the world” — that’s interesting to me.
I started a new painting this weekend, building on what I learned from the last one. This time, I won’t have a step-by-step guide. I had to make every choice myself and I can see what Carol Carter was talking about in terms of painting being tiring. Definitely requires mental focus. I’m trying to keep in mind Carol’s advice on not making it precious. That’s why I picked Juliana — the composition is similar enough to the old man that I could borrow some of the techniques from the tutorial but more importantly, I don’t have an emotional connection to her so I won’t feel any pressure to make it match any personal memories I have.
I’m going to post my progress in reverse chronological order here, as evidence — for me to see all the awkward, terrible in progress phases where I want to throw it out. Regardless of how it goes, I’m committing to finishing it.
Some other things I’m exploring with this one:
- I don’t want to scrub anything
- I’m doing it like Louise de Masi does the giraffe — applying washes really far from the water’s edge. I like the smoothness I’m getting with this.
- Dedicated brushes for 1) water application, 2) pigment application, 3) edge softening
- Background color
- Using the reference photo — not to copy but as a starting off point. I’m changing her gaze and expression. I might change the eye color too.
What I’ve learned so far:
- I’m really wobbly on color
- But I’m stronger on value
I followed along with Art Painting Workshop’s YouTube tutorial.
What a learned:
- water control
- Start with a strong drawing.
- Keep my ink or pencil sketch handy as a reference if I get wobbly about the guide lines in the painting.
- Keep track of my color mixes, label them on the palette.
- Don’t try to “fix” too much. Just let it be and if I really hate it, adjust in the next painting otherwise it will look really overworked and scrubby.
- Wet the areas I want to paint but don’t let the pigment get anywhere close to the waterline to avoid the hard edges completely.
- Don’t apply a bunch of dark paint at once, layer it up to the final value.
- Use the soft blending technique to control the spread of pigment within the wet areas.
- Don’t use a hair dryer, just wait.
- It takes the pressure off to think of every one as a study or a practice piece.
- Don’t use the cello tape and be super careful with the masking tape at the end! This guy has some tips on how to prevent tearing.
What I liked:
- intensity of color
- range of values
- structure held up during the process
- the nose!
What I want to change:
- overworked look that came from rewetting super pigmented areas and scrubbing out hard lines
- I liked the plain white background better than the metallic and yellow ochre
What’ I’ve learned so far:
- Glazing is everything! In the video, they work over the same area 10x. It really adds depth. Without the step-by-step demo, I wouldn’t have know how many layers there are in this. As it is, I probably went too dark too fast.
- Lighting in portraiture is everything!
- How the heck do you get the paper from drying immediately?!?!
- It seems weird not to work up all the aspects of the composition concurrently. I’m not sure I would choose to do it that way on my own.
Carol Carter’s thoughts on watercolor
Lots of great reflections in this interview with Carol Carter:
- She does several paintings of the same subject before she gets one that is good enough to show.
- Don’t do exercises. Always do finished paintings. Don’t go back and “fix” awkward parts. Do the painting again, from beginning to end. Learn from your mistakes. Do a progressive painting based on the former one. It’s not about making one painting perfect but a sequence of paintings. It’s not really about the product as much as the process.
- You’ll develop your visual language over time, like 12 years! 🙂 It’s not magic. It’s just painting.
- Shift away from dead center
- Emphasize lighting
- Diagonals are super helpful because they have direction; versus vertical and horizontal lines which are stable
- Negative space: example Barry Moser, Kara Walker
- 3/4 view or cast shadows that create their own mass (to offset something that would be dead center)
- Look at a portrait through an abstract lens (fights the emotional baggage)
- Start by blocking large areas of space, paint everything in relationship to other things, address the whole thing; don’t linger on one area. Keep moving.
- Don’t use measurement systems. Measure with our eyes!
- The angle/tilt of the head/posture, orientation ala Modigliani or Jenny Seville
- surface and texture (Leon Golub)
So many ways to open up narrative possibilities, even in just head, neck, and shoulders. Much much more than eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Watch self-portrait tutorial
- Do self-portraits in sketchbook every day, even if it’s just 5 min.
- Draw from life while in MN
Not used to considering color in sketches. Good exercise but what the heck with the eyes?!
For this watercolor study, I’m going to use Arlee Bean’s palette.
Serendipity! I stumbled on artprof.org and this lesson on portraiture just as I’m starting this series. Some reflections as I inked… I approached this drawing very much as a relationship between two figures. I did NOT start with the eyes, nose, and mouth (I had to think about that when Prof. Lieu asked in the video). I did it just like I did the succulent or the cow (posts to come). I go from big forms to small. So maybe I did learn something in Drawing 101.
Also, I’m excited to translate from picture to sketch to ink to watercolor. It’s like Sr. Sheila teaching us how to write a term paper — making notes, making notecards, and writing from there. I like the distance from the original, the opportunities to inject some sort of unconscious translation or stylization. It reminds me of how I had to plan out my printmaking projects.
Some portrait artists to note:
Alice Neel. Love her quirky portraits — the proportions are all wrong, the perspective, the expressions!
Top 5 Portraiture Mistakes
- Stressing about likeness and accuracy. There’s emotional baggage associated with portraits (versus still lifes). It affects you emotionally.
- Starting with the eyes, nose, mouth. Building the hair, neck, shoulders around the facial features. Those are details and take up very little of the portrait. You should start with the things that take up the most mass. Think about it like a sculptor. You would not start with the eyeball! Start with the structural stuff. The three most important structural elements of a face: the zygomatic arches, the mandible, and the ear — they all connect. It’s like a little intersection. Anatomy is connect the dots. Once you know the basic structure. Even at sketching stage, look at the big things — the slouch, the shoulders, etc. Don’t add those later.
- Drawing the details too soon. Simplify the form and establishing the structure. Details are like sprinkles on a cupcake. Bake the cupcake first otherwise you don’t have anything. Details without structure will fall apart. They should be the last 5%. 95% should be building up form, thinking about shadow, lighting, anatomy, structure. Drawings don’t even have to have detail to be successful. Not the pupils, the eye socket!
- Drawing exclusively from photos. Train yourself to draw from life and that makes it easier when you draw from photos. Build a foundation of drawing from life. Do quick casual sketches (like of your family). 5 minute sketches. Keep it fresh. Make it surprising to yourself — not what you expect.
- Drawing the hair last. You lose the mass of the hair. It’s part of the structure. It’s part of someone’s personality. If you work with it without that mass for so many hours and hope that the personality is going to come across. You end up like they have wigs on. Artificial, like you can just peel the hair off the head. Get the hair in there early on. A portrait isn’t eyes, nose and mouth. You have to work on all of it as a cohesive thing. The chin matters just as much. The way the person holds their shoulders or neck.
Seven: initial sketch and reference photo
No shortcuts! I’m becoming aware of my tendency to punt something down the field…
I’ll deal with that later. I’m going to stop doing that because it just aggravates the problem later. I’m going to deal with it now, assessing whether I am happy with the execution of this piece right here in the sketching stage before I move on — are the expressions the way I want them? The hands? Etc. I will not assume I can fix it in the painting stage.
This is where the translation from a photograph to artwork happens so am I happy with it? I’m not projecting and tracing. I’m actually drawing — intentionally. I don’t want it to look like I traced it. I want something to happen in between those two states. Do I like the translation?
Also at this point, do I have enough data so that I can paint it well? Do I need to add more cues that will help me later?
There’s something wacky going on with the right hand. Re-drawing that before I ink.
Some hacks I’ve come up with so far:
- ice cube tray for water helps me keep my paint clean
- labels on my pan set that corresponds to my color chart split primary palette
- for each painting, I create a palette on a scrap piece of paper that I also use to test blends on the fly
I’ve started using erasable markers on my palettes so that I remember what’s what. Assuming each painting takes at least two weeks, this system has been really valuable.