About six months ago, I was approached by one of my former patrons to paint a portrait of his two daughters. This was to be a gift for his wife at the end of the year. Since this took upwards of 150 hours to complete, I thought I would talk about the process involved.Read More
After doing some reference photography, I suggested we set the clocks on the steeple to the time at which they were married. This was a well received idea. Just one more way to personalize a painting.
I opted to do this on a heavy canvas with a deep texture to the weave. I am sort of kicking myself for not doing this larger, as at 11″ x 14″ this was really pushing the limit of what sort of detail I could resolve. Some of these shapes are very tiny, and had to be painted and repainted. The hardest part was the texture, it just ate up the paint, which lends itself towards nice scumbling, but for fine architectural details, not so great. Either way, it took some time to get to the point of coverage, where the entire surface was covered, and I could begin to work into the paint. Ultimately the painting took 3 sessions, about 3-4 hours each session.Read More
Several months passed, the wedding came and went, then the honeymoon, then time to look through the images taken. The couple decided on two images, one of them kissing, but they preferred to have the State Capital building in the background, instead of the red building that was in the original photo. Once I got the images in a large enough resolution, I began working in Photoshop to swap out the backgrounds and frame the composition appropriately for the 11″x14″ format they chose.
Once I had the background masked out, I had to scale and correct the perspective in the image of the State Capital building, then place that in such a way that the perspective and size relative to the couple in the foreground made sense. From this I created three composite images. The first was a black and white image of the layout. Working with a black and white copy, I can make sure that the values are accurate as I paint. Since my lay in is usually in monochrome using Asphaltum, this works well.
The last reference photo was a full color version of the composite image, that would be used to capture an accurate likeness and proper skin tones. While painting, I also had this image on a monitor next to the painting, which allowed me to zoom in from time to time to see smaller details as the painting progressed. Monitors also have greater luminescence, offering more accurate color.
The lay in process that I often use can be referred to as the stain and wipe method, where I use a dark robust, but quick drying reddish umber pigment in thin washes to place the drawing, mass in the major mid tone and dark areas. I then use a paper towel to wipe out the major light and white areas, using a stiff bristle brush with odorless mineral spirits to remove areas of paint to get back to the ground. By identifying the lightest whites and the darkest darks, the value structure quickly comes together. I don’t get too detailed in this step, as there is a lot of room for correction. It’s a forgiving process.
Asphaltum is probably the most useful of those colors. I mixed this with the blue black for the darkest darks, with white for more purplish skin tones, and with iron oxide red for undertones in the hair. The architecture was largely blue black with white, as was the suit and the dress. The greens and yellows factored into the foliage and trees.
With the skintones, I began with the major planes and also put in a very saturated pink for the hands, anticipating that I would knock this down in value and saturation as I progressed. At this point I also began to find the proper silhouette for the figures, looking as much at the negative space as the positive. I also allowed some of the skin tones to go past the edge of the silhouette, knowing that I would be blending and softening the edges in places when I painted in the background. There would be a lot of back and forth with determining the edges.
Once you have the important things in place, painting a portrait is often a matter of moving on to the next thing that bothers you most, then fixing that. Bit by bit, the image you intend comes into focus. It’s also true that it’s better to do the easier parts first, as once those are in the right place, the right size, value, color, etc., it will be easier to judge against those elements to determine the harder elements (such as the likeness of each face).
I decided to imply a hedge between the figures and the building in the background. For this I drew upon my extensive landscape painting experience to create credible shapes, and an impression of the light surrounding the figures. This involved a good deal of layering, with the brightest and most intense colors being painted quite thickly.
I also made some minor corrections to the background, particularly the space between the figures. I also went back over the windows, the tree and leaves above. At this point it was getting close, so I sent the patron an update. She said that his head needed work and I agreed. Back to the easel.
Patron: The McKenzie Family
Subject: Boerner Botanical Gardens – Hales Corners, WI
Size: 31″ x 38″ Oil on panel
Patron: Varilla Family
Subject: Varilla Family Former Home
Size: 11″ x 14″ Oil on panel