Exercise: View from a Window or Doorway

29 & 30/10 & 2/11/15

Exercise: View from a Window or Doorway

For this exercise, choose a view onto the world. Decide how much of the interior you wish to include and where the main focus of the picture will be… It may help you to look at some of the ways in which other artists have tackled this type of composition… Make some preliminary drawings in your sketchbook, trying out a variety of arrangements and viewpoints…

Before starting I had a look at some work of the artists suggested. I had always been drawn to the paintings of Edward Hopper, particularly those with windows and the transition between interiors and exteriors, even those with no figures just the shapes of shadows on walls. Gwen John is another artist noted, her paintings are so subtle yet dripping with atmosphere. She used muted colours and relied more on tone to tell her story and her paintings are very engaging. The third artist we are asked to look at is Raoul Dufy. I confess that I had not come across this artist before but particularly enjoyed the loosely drawn and painted watercolours. I have created a board in Pinterest to record my findings, a few examples are below:

 : Office in a Small City by Edward Hopper

Office in a Small City by Edward Hopper

 

This example gives more focus to the outside view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior by Gwen John:

Interior by Gwen John

This beautiful painting gives the interior more importance but the window plays its part with its cast light.

Bassin de Deauville, 1935 by Raoul Dufy:

Bassin de Deauville, 1935 by Raoul Dufy

 

Here Dufy has given, if not quite equal, but a level of focus to both interior and exterior, using both colour for the interior and an extensive view to the exterior.

All of these artists’ work helped me focus on what I wanted to paint. After gazing out of several window views at home, I decided on a couple of views that had colour, perspective and simple compositional elements.

 

 

 

 

Preliminary Work

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 1 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 1
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 2 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 2
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above sketches use the interior to frame the exterior and the tones emphasise the shadows for a 3D effect. The window is also at an angle that exaggerated the perspective. Making notes about the weather conditions and pros and cons helped me decide that the portrait orientation was the more successful. However, I chose to make a couple more sketches before deciding finally which to take forward to the painting stage.

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 3 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 3
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 4 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 4
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These sketches, although still framed by the doorway, concentrate more on the outside. There is less perspective as the doors are front on, although externally the decking planks do indicate linear perspective. Deciding which view (narrowed down to both portrait sketches), was difficult for me to choose. The first view seemed the most interesting and I liked the shadows on the interior, however, I was, as noted in my sketchbook, seduced by the colours of the door view. Colours aside, I finally convinced myself that the first view would make for a more successful painting.

Final Painting

The day dawned when I intended to make the final painting. Typically, it was covered with a thick layer of fog. By 9.20am it still hadn’t cleared much at all so I ploughed on as visibility wasn’t too bad for my purposes luckily.

View from a Window or Doorway - Work in progress Oil on canvas

View from a Window or Doorway – Work in progress
Oil on canvas

My initial thoughts were to make a watercolour painting as I liked the colour sketches in my sketchbook. However, as I prepared the paper in its enlarged size, I began drawing it out in pencil and just couldn’t get it right. It then struck me that I was beginning to make the kind of painting I didn’t like ie a line drawing coloured in. Overnight, I changed my mind and prepared to make an oil painting. I struggled to find the right sized board to use, until I found an old oil portrait painting that wasn’t up to scratch and just painted a neutral, mid toned ground over it in oil. I had always worried about doing this in case the previous painting showed through, this doesn’t appear to have happened. Now I have lots of supports I can re-use!

A tonal under-painting was laid down in a raw umber/ultramarine mix, putting in muted colours to map out the composition. This is the stage pictured at lunchtime.

 

View from a Window or Doorway - Work in progress Oil on canvas

View from a Window or Doorway – Work in progress
Oil on canvas

I decided to continue in the afternoon, as to be honest, the light hadn’t changed overly as still no sun had appeared. I also used my sketch to help with tonal selections. I continued until I felt the painting was finished and took a photograph for my learning log. This photograph highlighted that the right hand wall had gone a little askew and that the shadow at the top of the window was not strong enough. I then tweaked the painting to hopefully rectify these points.

 

 

 

 

 

View from a Window or Doorway Oil on canvas Approx A3

View from a Window or Doorway
Oil on canvas
Approx A3

My thoughts on the outcome:

  • Am pleased with the exterior tones and the lack of detail as a result of a looser application of paint.
  • The composition is successful and I think was the right choice.
  • There is no jarring in the colours as a fairly limited palette was used.
  • The mood has been lifted just a little to avoid the blanket fog yet is not too sunny.
  • I struggled with the wet in wet sometimes as paint was lifted off as well as laid down.
  • Pleased with the scraping off of paint to give some texture and the blotting of excess paint with newspaper to knock back the strength of colour and tone in the distant trees. (Reliable informed as a technique called tonking invented by Henry Tonks!)
  • I will review again after a few days so that the paint can settle and dry out a little to see if any adjustments are needed.
  • Noticed that the prior research had a significant effect on how I worked through this exercise ie have used the interior shadows to give perspective and mood (Edward Hopper), tones and colours are fairly muted (Gwen John) and the preliminary pen sketches loosely toned and coloured with watercolour (Raoul Dufy).

 

Practice of Painting – Assignment 3

26 & 28/09 – 01/102015

Assignment 3

Now that you’ve worked on several figure and portrait studies, consolidate what you’ve learned by working in a more planned and considered way on a portrait or self-portrait in either acrylic or oil paint. In this assignment you’ll be showing how your skills in handling paint and interpreting your subject are developing.

Looking at other artists’ portraiture

Explore some of the endless possibilities for arrangements in portraiture by looking at the work of other artists… Make notes in your learning log, concentrating on works that you find especially arresting or admirable.

Arrangements/composition/brushwork/colour in portraiture:
I have seen some fabulous examples of portraiture over the years that are purely focussed on the sitter. Many that do this use chiaroscuro to draw attention in onto the subject with dramatic effect – Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Da Vinci are obvious examples. A more recent example, both in era and my actually seeing it, would be Henry James by John Singer Sargent (1913). This left a lasting impression for its sheer dominance of a space.  I enjoyed the way the left shoulder was lost into the background with the slightly more unusual light source coming from the right. As most of the background and figure itself was dark, the flesh of the face and hand on the right had significance and you understood the character of the man from this. Using the same artist, a converse treatment is one of the portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife 1885. The figures are contained within an interior, however, neither are centre stage, certainly not “His Wife”, who seems almost insignificant going off the right edge of the canvas. Sargent doesn’t dismiss her completely though, as her clothing is elaborate, however simply rendered. Although we are left in no doubt as to whom is main subject of the painting.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries – there was a wonderful array of styles, subjects and interpretations by current portrait artists. To choose one or two favourites was almost impossible, however for this purpose I settled on these examples. “Norman” by Jason Sullivan is a narrative work showing the man within his environment. The painting is set in the Salt Marshes on an overcast day, all tones are related back to this, even the red windcheater Norman is wearing fits right into the grey tones yet gives the image a lift. Based in Lymington in Hampshire, not so far from me, Norman lives on his small boat (which is in the background of the painting), is in his seventies and has previously cut reeds for New Forest thatchers. He seems at one with his world, we have the sense that he needs no more.

The other painting I absolutely loved is “Fire” in oil by Simon Davis RP RBSA. It measures only 6.5 x 5.5″, yet for me, packs a punch. A simple head and shoulders view of a young woman, a limited palette with bold decisive marks. It has a variety of soft and sharp edges and the face is moulded by its brush strokes – if ever (in my humble opinion) the handling of paint and clarity of colour was an example of less is more, this is it. Simply beautiful.

(NB I was unable to find “Norman” or “Fire” on-line to create a link to the actual paintings unfortunately).

Assignment 3 – Self Portrait

After lengthy consideration throughout this section, I have decided to attempt another self-portrait. This is for two reasons: me being the only model I can guarantee has availability as required; because I find this genre particularly challenging and need to face it (no pun intended) head on (sorry!).

My personal challenges with a self-portrait are:

  1. keeping still as a model yet moving back to assess progress as a painter
  2. portraying my character rather than the grumpy painter that’s struggling
  3. ignoring my perception of what I look like and really looking at what I can see
  4. working the entire painting rather than fiddling with detail – I have less trouble with this when painting someone else
  5. chasing the light – can become so involved in the task, I don’t notice light changing until it’s too late!

Preparation:

Alluding to number 3 above and possibly 2 and 4, I decided to angle the mirror back so that I was looking down into it, thus avoiding the traditional face on, three-quarters or profile views. This is also not an angle I usually see myself from, so hopefully would avoid pre-conceived ideas of myself.

I was hoping to reflect some aspects of my work area in the painting for visual interest, however, the mirror angle just gave a view of the ceiling!

As I wanted to use a mid-sized canvas board and the only one I had was pre-used, I decided to recycle. The board was 38x46cm and had previously been not one, but two quite impasto acrylic paintings, therefore there was a lot of texture on the surface. I had already washed over a warm neutral ground colour, however, it was a little too bumpy for a portrait. I sanded the surface so that some texture was retained but not huge crevices. This, I hoped would compensate a little for having a simple background.

Preliminary Tonal Drawing Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Preliminary Tonal Drawing
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

In my sketchbook, I drew a frame 50% smaller in scale than my board to create a sketch to work on tone and composition.  As I was already clear in my mind how I wanted to work, I found this was enough. (In assignment 2, I also thought I knew what composition I wanted but still tried others just in case – this time I am already certain).

We were also advised in the course notes, to premix our flesh colours, this I admit, I don’t normally do. I was conscious of keeping a fairly limited palette so chose warm and cool versions of red, blue and yellow, plus some earth colours and white. ls ten a limited palette?

Colours used:
Cadmium Red (warm)
Alzarin Crimson (cool)
Ultramarine Blue (warm)
Manganese Blue (cool)
Cadmium Yellow (warm)
Cadmium Lemon (cool)
Naples Yellow
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Titanium White

Using varying combinations of some of the above I tried to create dark, mid and light tones in warm, cool and neutral mixes. Retrospectively, the neutral wasn’t far removed from the warm. Making swatches of these colours with mixing notes I taped the sheet to my easel for easy reference. During the portrait classes I attend, we are encouraged not to overuse white as it can cool colours and make them chalky, hence the Naples yellow.

Flesh colour mixes and notes

Flesh colour mixes and notes

Set up for self portrait: mirror, board and easel, preliminary sketch, colour mixing notes, palette and brushes ready to go.

Set up for self-portrait:
mirror, board and easel, preliminary sketch, colour mixing notes, palette and brushes ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had decided to use oil paint as, although I enjoyed switching to acrylics occasionally for previous exercises, returning to oil felt “right”. I like to work with dilute oil paint in raw umber and Naples yellow initially to map out my composition and rough tones before getting involved with colour, sometimes rubbing out shapes and lighter areas with a cloth, not something easily done with acrylics and thinned paint dries very quickly. It’s also a more tactile way of working and helps me feel like I’m moulding the structure of the face (in theory).

Below is a gallery of work in progress photos which maps out the highs and lows of the exercise. After day one of painting, I left the work feeling satisfied with progress, thinking, I just need to work on the eyes, clothes and background tomorrow and then I’m done. What a difference a night makes! Next day, work on the eyes I did, and work and work and work – in reality fiddled! Big mistake – I had strayed from the style used elsewhere in the painting and now the eyes were awful! I know I should work all of the painting at the same rate and level but ignored it. I scrubbed out the eyes and went to lunch. Coming back, I reassessed – the nose was too high the mouth too high and the left side of the face too wide. I scraped off all features and returned to sculpting shapes, I finally finished that day at the same stage as the previous one. Lesson 1: Work all of the painting not just one area to the same level, Lesson 2: Avoid detail until the structure is correct, Lesson 3: Light, light light! At this point I closed and locked the door – made dinner, had 3 glasses of wine and tried to forget the whole thing!

I was constantly stepping back to reassess my progress, nearing the end I reconsidered the background. I had chosen to wear a black fleece top, which contrasted well with the red, paint smeared apron and although my hair is fair, there was a good amount of darker tone through it. Therefore, I decided to keep the background lighter so that the figure came forward. As I wanted, as previously stated, to make the background more interesting, I needed to keep the texture visible. Using a mixture of brush and palette knife, colour was added, trying to keep the light tones to the left. I then scraped back so that the relief of the underlying texture showed through.  This seems to have worked quite nicely.

Evaluating the results, I was pleased with the painting close up – however, moving it to another position and standing back, the mouth lacked definition as the top lip should have been significantly darker than the lower. The painting did not reflect that so I adjusted the tones here. I also noticed that the right side of the face was a little flat, so worked a little more moulding with warm and dark tones – this is something I find I often do.  I think I will leave it at that, as I may detract rather than add at this stage.

Assignment 3 - Final Painting Self-portrait Oil on Canvas Board 38x46cm

Assignment 3 – Final Painting
Self-portrait
Oil on Canvas Board 38x46cm

This was to be the final painting, however, there were aspects I wasn’t happy with.

  • The mouth is too harsh and angular
  • The right eye (as viewed) is slightly askew giving a boss-eyed look
  • The general effect is too severe – this is something my husband always points out when I attempt a self-portrait. When asked if I had made the same effect this time, he replied “yes but you always do”.

I resolved to reassess and try to correct these points. This is not a matter of vanity as I try to paint what I see, but more of portraying the person behind the features. I do have my moments, yet generally I am good-natured and approachable – not a terrifying school mistress!

 

Having left a good day and a half to let the painting sit and dry out a little, it was easier to rework and paint on top of what was there. The adjustments didn’t take too long and a fresh eye always helps, if I hadn’t done this I would have regretted it.

Assignment 3 Self-portrait After final reassessment and rework Oil on canvas board 38x46cm

Assignment 3
Self-portrait
After final reassessment and rework
Oil on canvas board
38x46cm

Self Assessment:

Had I overcome my five initial challenges?

  1. keeping still as a model yet moving back to assess progress as a painter
  2. portraying my character rather than the grumpy painter that’s struggling
  3. ignoring my perception of what I look like and really looking at what I can see
  4. working the entire painting rather than fiddling with detail – I have less trouble with this when painting someone else
  5. chasing the light – can become so involved in the task, I don’t notice light changing until it’s too late!

Results:

  1. This still challenged me, although I did try to minimise the problem by placing the easel in most accessible position – I did sometimes, however, return to it and look in the mirror and I wasn’t there! Ongoing!
  2. This one nearly got the better of me, but the final re-evaluation and rework saved my bacon. I reduced the severity of expression and made some tonal value changes more subtle and am happy.
  3. This was one of the easiest ones to overcome because of the angle I chose – it may still be a factor in more traditional poses.
  4. Ah – this was tricky, individual eyelashes? Whatever was I thinking? This journey is well documented above and I won’t dwell on it – lesson learnt!
  5. Again, I did exactly this – trying to get on and finish regardless is not advisable – another lesson learnt.

Successes:

  • The perspective of the pose was a saviour and noted above – using the initial sketch was very helpful although I accept that I have increased the scale in the painting compared with the drawing.
  • The textured ground has made more interesting marks and enlivened the painting.
  • I am pleased with the colours compositionally, they relate well to each other and make a fairly dramatic image.
  • The painting of the clothes including my trusty paint encrusted apron has a realistic appearance.
  • My confidence had grown in what I wanted to achieve especially with my nemesis of self portraiture.
  • Probably the most important one – I think it actually does look like me.

 

Portrait: David – Small, Tonal Oil Sketches

02/10/2015

Portrait: David – Small, Tonal Oil Sketches

Our brief for today’s class was to bring two small prepared boards, large brushes and either oil or acrylic paints.

2 x 10×12″ canvas boards prepared with mid-tone warm ground
1 size 12 & 1 size 10 hog flat brush
Ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and Naples yellow oil paint
Thinners

During our tutor’s explanation of the lesson to come, he related to a recent trip to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester where there is currently an exhibition called Sickert in Dieppe. Another student kindly brought in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. We were to pay particular attention to the figures and the technique of creating tone that Sickert had used. Our tutor summarised it as “scrub and dab” (patent pending?).

Using a limited palette (above), we were to work in darks and mid tones exclusively for the greater part of the time and save the lights till near the end. Working in thinned paint, the darks were scrubbed in, then the mid tones covering the entire canvas appropriately as we saw them on the model. We were discouraged from leaving the “lights” but to build layers so that some of the darks may even show through. As we progressed, we used less dilute paint and evolved into the “dab” stage. Sickert had used little marks and strokes of paint to build up the tones rather than lines and sweeps. (Also reminiscent of Van Gogh in his mark making). The first sketch took us up to tea break, and I unfortunately, ran out of time to put my lightest lights down but the technique was coming.

David Tonal oil sketch in the style of Sickert Canvas board 10x12"

David
Tonal oil sketch in the style of Sickert
Canvas board 10×12″

With the second sketch we were to adopt a similar approach regarding the darks and mid tones. Working for as long as possible to build up the structure of the face and shoulders before adding the lights. This time we were to make considered marks – looking at the model and making a definite decision as to where they should be placed. Using a long-handled brush, I tried standing at arm’s length whilst painting – this gave me a clearer view of the entire sketch to decide where to make marks. Standing back, assessing and then confidently putting down a mark was excellent discipline. I had seen Nicky Phillips (who painted the double portrait of Princes William and Harry), and read that Whistler had (as I’m sure had/do many other artists) adopt(ed) that approach. Again, I ran out of time to add the lightest lights, however, feedback from my tutor was that I had worked up the entire sketch equally so that all parts were are the same stage. A little longer and it may have been quite successful?

David Tonal oil sketch Canvas board 10x12"

David
Tonal oil sketch
Canvas board 10×12″

 

Exercise: Telling a Story

21-23/09/15

Exercise: Telling a Story

Create a simple narrative, involving one or several human figures, and produce a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening… The story will lie in how these figures relate – or fail to relate – to one another… Feel free to use photographs to help you, but bear in mind that simply copying a photograph is unlikely to create a satisfactory painting unless you go on to provide further interpretation and make what is in a photograph part of your own story.

I have been mulling this exercise over for a while, having read ahead in the course, so that I may have models or reference material available. I came up with four different narratives that may work in a painting – these I tried out in my sketchbook.  As we were to tell a story, I felt it helpful to put my ideas in frames across the page, in a graphic novel style.  Somehow, this made me think in a narrative way, even though each did not relate to the other.

Ideas in A4 sketchbook

Telling a Story
Ideas in A4 sketchbook

This helped me visualise my stories on paper, although, I only managed to completely discount the first one for a while and struggled to select my final subject. Eventually, I ruled out number three as it was more complex an image and we were asked for a simple narrative.  I still think, however, that it would make an interesting painting and have only put it on hold. Between number 2 and 4, I finally settled on the fourth, mainly because it had two figures and I thought the additional relationship angle would be interesting.

 

 

As I had no models for this exercise, I referred to a book called Facial Expressions A Visual Reference for Artists by Mark Simon (published 2005 by Watson-Guptill Publications ISBN 0-8230-1671-4). As I had already had an idea for the story around receiving bad news in a letter, I knew what kind of expressions I was looking for.  The story in my mind was inspired by the remembrance events of the Second World war and of course, modern-day instances of families receiving the dreaded Ministry of Defence letters regarding service men and woman who would not be coming home. I chose a couple of photographs of a man and woman in their sixties with appropriate looks of shock and sadness. Until writing this up, I hadn’t realised were actually related as they were pages apart in the book! A little spooky!

Telling a Story Reference photo 1

Telling a Story
Reference photo 1

Telling a Story Reference photo 2

Telling a Story
Reference photo 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling a Story Preliminary drawing Coloured pencil on paper 10x12"

Telling a Story
Preliminary drawing
Coloured pencil on paper
10×12″

 

Due to time, I decided to use a 10×12″ canvas board again, and, as there were two figures, I decided to map out the composition in coloured pencils in the same scale to ensure placement would be correct in the final painting. Hopefully, I have been successful in bringing these two figures together and creating the characters to tell the story. It certainly makes me sad when I look at the finished painting.

 

 

 

 

 

Again I remembered to take a few photographs during the work in progress stage:

 

As an experiment, I decided to work on the white of the canvas board and did not use a prepared coloured ground. This was a conscious decision as I had read that some artists prefer this for portraiture as it gives more luminosity to the faces. In retrospect, I think here, it has given less depth to the colour, however, it does also give an impression of the graphic novel appearance.

Telling a Story "Bad News" Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Telling a Story
“Bad News”
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

Although, it is not overly helpful not to have models queuing up to sit for these exercises, it has forced me into using my imagination. It has also made me draw on the many life and portrait classes I have attended in the past and has given me confidence to construct my own compositions. I have found it quite daunting over the recent years not to be able to draw or paint from life, and have felt that I need to see something/someone in order to draw it or them. Not having models has been quite a freeing experience.

 

Exercise: A Figure in an Interior

15-20/09/15

Exercise: A Figure in an Interior

…Another approach would be to work from a photograph which you can then locate in an interior that you’ve imagined or that you can paint from real life. You could paint a very interesting painting by depicting a stranger or a celebrity in your own living room… Skin tones reflect surrounding colour and shades… How will you locate your figure in the space? How can you suggest depth?

My initial thoughts as noted in my sketchbook were to portray the Queen doing the washing up in my kitchen, Marigolds and all, but decided against this. Another scenario sprang to mind, maybe she could be sat in our lounge in a fluffy dressing gown and slippers reading the papers, as if on a lazy Sunday morning? It then struck me, that she is never really off duty, so I thought I’d replace the papers with a lap top as if catching up on official correspondence in the modern age – after all, one is never away from the office with the internet nowadays, is one?

To achieve a rough composition for the painting, I found a pink fluffy dressing gown and tried out several poses that my husband photographed for me. I am a similar height to the Queen so this would also help with proportions whilst sitting. From these photos I chose a couple to sketch out as trial compositions, altering them slightly to make more sense for my imagined image.

 

A Figure in an Interior Preliminary compositional sketches Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary compositional sketches
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

The first sketch, I thought, was less interesting and the background was not complete enough to give a coherent image.  I preferred the second drawing as it seemed right in its situation. The head position was changed from the photograph to look to the figure’s left and at the lap top screen.

 

 

 

 

Next I had to find suitable images of the Queen in order to make the pose believable and in proportion. This proved harder than I thought, because of the thousands of photographs and images out there, they all seemed to be looking left of centre or were straight profiles. I wanted one of the Queen wearing her glasses as she uses them for reading, and of her wearing a tiara. I had to settle with a compromise, of the two sketches I made of her head, one was looking the wrong way but had glasses and the tiara and the other was looking the right way without the accessories.

A Figure in an Interior Preliminary sketches of the Queen Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary sketches of the Queen
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

I found the almost full face image more difficult to obtain a likeness, although it was useful for the glasses. The 3/4 to almost profile was easier, however, it was more severe an expression than I wanted. Many of the photographs I studied, and there were a lot, showed the Queen to have quite a mischievous smile and that would have been nice to use. However, in reality, if someone is reading, they will usually have an expression of concentration, which is what I went for in the end.

 

A Figure in an Interior Tonal sketch Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Tonal sketch
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

I then made a tonal sketch from the photograph, as parts of it were over exposed and therefore, lacking in information to paint from directly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I actually remembered to take photographs of work in progress (see gallery).

The final painting when photographed, is a little harsher in colour than in life.  Some aspects I added are: enhancing lights and darks; adding red, white and blue pyjamas for more colour; a vase of flowers on the window sill – this added more interest on the right hand side of the canvas and lifted the whole painting; the tiara and reading glasses. There was a sense of the head being “stuck on”, this I rectified by lightening the neck and giving a cohesive look to the figure as a whole.  The lighting in this room is complex, with slightly off-set opposing windows, however, as it was morning, the window behind the figure let in the most light and the other, a more subdued light. I did find myself giggling whilst doing this and at the same time, hoping that they don’t still throw people in the tower for treason! On the plus side, I think I achieved my aim and although much more complicated that I had envisaged, was very enjoyable.  This is the first time I can remember, where I have used such a multitude of reference material plus imaginary aspects – great fun.

A Figure in an Interior Never Off-Duty Oil on canvas board 16x20"

A Figure in an Interior
Never Off-Duty
Oil on canvas board
16×20″

 

Exercise: Conveying Character

11 & 14/09/15

Exercise: Conveying Character

This study could be a portrait or self-portrait. Whichever you choose, the aim is to convey character through facial expression… Choose your sitter then decide what aspect of your character you want to convey – gentleness, moodiness, humour, etc…You don’t have to paint someone you know, you could choose to paint a television personality, for example, but you’ll need to decide in advance what aspect of their character you’re aiming to convey and think about how you’re going to achieve this.

I relished the opportunity to paint a well-known person, and when talking about character, I decided to concentrate on politicians.  Whether it be consciously or sub-consciously, we make up our minds about people by the way they look and their physical attitude a large percentage of the time. There is one politician in particular that I can never fathom. Boris Johnson often appears to play the bumbling fool, however, you don’t get to the position in life he occupies by being so – I was tempted to try to capture both sides of the coin. I made two drawings in my sketchbook and I think they are fairly successful likenesses, however, we are conditioned not to trust politicians and this one was too good an actor.

Conveying Character Boris Johnson Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Conveying Character
Boris Johnson
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Politicians like to give the impression of saying exactly what the electorate appear to want them to say. However, sometimes, their facial expressions give them away, and there is one in particular, in my opinion (other opinions are available), that has the perfect, sanctimonious sneer.  Again, I tried a drawing first in my sketchbook, concentrating on tone as much as I could from the photo reference.

Conveying Character George Osbourne Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Conveying Character
George Osbourne
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

The expression comes over in the drawing and as noted next to it, the impression given is one of a self-satisfied thought that’s showing through.

I struggled with the likeness, however, this is the one I decided to paint as I could have fun with that expression.

I again used a canvas board 10×12″ as I wanted to zoom right in on the face. Likewise, a dark background would emphasise the features. I have exaggerated the slant of both mouth and nose purposely, not to the extent of a caricature but enough to accentuate the expression. I also decided to work in oil again to keep the fluidity of the paint and brush marks.  I initially worked only from the sketch to set the positioning of face and features, and to try to achieve a three-dimensional appearance. I then used the photograph for colouring, returning to just the sketch for more tonal modelling, and final touches again from the photograph, particularly the eyes.

Again, I haven’t wholly captured the likeness, however, it does make me think of a politician’s sneer, which was my objective.

Conveying Character The Politician's Sneer Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Conveying Character
The Politician’s Sneer
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

When you have completed this exercise, review all your portraits and consider which ones are the most successful.

I think the most successful of the portraits ie ‘self-portrait’, ‘head and shoulders’, ‘mood and atmosphere’ and ‘conveying character’, are the ones where I was working from observation. I am particularly pleased with the head and shoulders painting of my husband, although, it is more of an oil sketch than a complete painting I suppose. The limited amount of time I had, plus obviously seeing him most days, made me look hard and record what I saw but not to overwork it. As soon as I saw a reasonable likeness, I stopped there. This is also the one I had the most positive feedback about.

What technical demands did you encounter?

Technically, I found the self-portrait the most challenging.  The very fact that I had to stay still as a sitter, yet keep moving back as the painter threw me out all over the place. I also, in hind sight, was less enamoured with the acrylic paint. At the time, I enjoyed it as I could over-paint easily where I needed to make adjustments, yet now it’s dry and I’ve had time away from it, it has a tendency to look flat and harsh.

How hard did you find the interpretive element of portrait painting?

With the exercise, creating mood and atmosphere, I struggled because I chose the wrong mood and went against how I was feeling. Had I acknowledged this at the time, I think it would have been more successful.  The quick, unplanned and spontaneous ink and pastel painting I did afterwards was much more evocative.  The final exercise, conveying character, was difficult when trying to achieve a likeness, however, the character was there and I enjoyed the experience. This time I had chosen the right subject and media and worked fairly quickly, so all the best elements came together (apart from the likeness).

 

Exercise: Head and Shoulder Portrait

30/08/15

Exercise: Head and Shoulder Portrait

We were asked to make several decisions on how we wanted to represent our sitter ie scale, position, background and light source, what they would wear ie what effect would a black jumper have on the impact of the face and the relationship to the background of the picture?

I’m sure I’m not the only student who, quite frankly, is grateful for what they can get when it comes to having someone sit for their portrait. My husband, who sat for me, is currently doing some studying of his own, so I took the opportunity to grab him while he was fairly still. My main conscious decisions were:

  • scale – as I only had a short time, I chose to work smaller than usual on a 10×12″ canvas board
  • media – having used acrylics exclusively for several exercises, I was missing using oils eg their subtlety, wet into wet techniques and softening edges
  • focus – I wanted to zoom into the face so that there was minimal background – the background colour is similar to the wall colour which gave a calming effect
  • palette – raw umber, ultramarine, burnt sienna, cadmium red, cadmium yellow and titanium white

I only had a maximum of two and a half hours including set up time due to having to be somewhere at 4.30. I also had to allow for a couple of breaks as cups of tea was the bribe used.

Head and Shoulders Portrait Glyn - work in progress Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulders Portrait
Glyn – work in progress
Oil on canvas board 10×12″

I started off in a traditional way by blocking shapes with dilute raw umber and removing lights with a rag. Next working in darks with a mix of ultramarine and raw umber, making sure I had the level of the shoulders correct as Glyn was looking down at his books. This was a good start and I was pleased with progress so stopped for tea break number one.

On returning to the painting, there was a bit of rearranging to obtain the same pose and then off we went.  It transpired that Glyn is a little unusual to most sitters, in that his head lifted up as he relaxed not drooped down. After initial suggestions at returning to the original pose met with gentle opposition, I changed my rendition, only fair I suppose.

Head and Shoulders Portrait Glyn - on the easel Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulders Portrait
Glyn – on the easel
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

Another difference to most sitters, is that a small smile drifted on and off his face, which helped give me insight into his expressions and subtleties of his features.

Glyn was pretty pleased with the result and I thought it best to stop when I did to keep the freshness and the likeness instead of trying to make it the perfect painting.

After finishing, I posted it on Facebook for both my and Glyn’s friends and family to review for likeness. Had the thumbs up on the whole. His mum recognised him (which is a bonus), along with his young niece and nephew, who are around 6 and 8 but don’t hold me to that, who knew who it was straight away.

An enjoyable couple of hours, and glad to be back to the oils.

 

Head and Shoulder Portrait Glyn - Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulder Portrait
Glyn – Oil on canvas board 10×12″