Life Classes – 14 December 2016 to 7 March 2017

Life Classes

14/12/16 17.00-19.00

The challenge this week was two models, one male and one female. This gave us an opportunity to explore the differences between muscular and angular and rounded and soft with various media and mark making. Our male model was tall and slim, not unlike Egon Schiele, so I tried to use definite line with felt tip pen in our short poses to achieve strong shapes and almost branch-like limbs.
On the other hand, our female model was voluptuous and curvy, so I changed to the softer medium of conte stick and used more sweeping marks to define her.
Drawing the two models together illustrated the differences even with using the same medium. In the final long pose of 20 minutes, I could use John’s back as the background for more of a portrait of our female model which worked well from the viewpoint I had.

 

20 minute pose - black conte stick on paper

20 minute pose – black conte stick on paper

 

10/01/17 17.00-19.00

This week we had a treat of longer poses to enable us to work into our drawings more. As we have our classes in the sculpture studio, there were several half-finished or rejected cast figures lying around. For the 25 minute pose, our model John was positioned with a child figure, which although incomplete, made quite a touching image. We had to decide whether to make the figure look real or as it was, made of plaster. Although, this was not my intention as such, the boy looks fairly real and had the same treatment as John.

The 40 minute pose was really interesting as, again, a cast figure was included. It was of a woman, about to dive into the sea, however, when laid down on its side looked as if it was reclining. John then draped himself over the figure and as the light was fading, a lamp was shone on them to offer more highlights. For this one, I decided to use brown paper as a mid tone and black conte and white chalk for the darks and lights.

 

40 minute pose black conte stick and white chalk on brown paper

40 minute pose black conte stick and white chalk on brown paper

17/01/17 17.00-19.00

We had a female model this week, Sally was six months pregnant, so a lovely subject to draw. To avoid her having to pose in different positions, this week, the model stayed still and the students moved around her. We found our starting viewpoint and then sketched for 30 seconds and moved on to another view. This really got us warmed up and then we were able to make informed decisions where to stand for the longer poses. Moving up to the three-minute drawings we made more choices of view to decide our 10 minutes posed drawing, up to 15 minutes.

 

15 minute drawing - conte on paper

15 minute drawing – conte on paper

31/01/17 17.00-19.00

We had a new model this week, Reuben. He was able to achieve some quite dynamic shapes for a while, so we could explore more expressive poses. We had the traditional short warm ups and then a couple of longer ones at 15 and 20 minutes.

 

20 minute pose - charcoal, white chalk and putty rubber on charcoal tinted paper

20 minute pose – charcoal, white chalk and putty rubber on charcoal tinted paper

 

07/02/17 17.00-19.00

This week we had Reuben again. Always using our studio location to our advantage, some large geometric shaped pieces of hard board that were lying around made interesting props for our model to use.

The combination of dynamic poses and the geometric shapes made some fantastic short sketches possible. I mostly used black conte on paper but switched to sepia ink on water-colour paper after the break. Although, fun to use, these were not so successful, however, I enjoy trying different media and pushing myself. My favourites of this week were the 1 minute poses.

15 minute pose - sepia ink on watercolour paper

15 minute pose – sepia ink on watercolour paper

21/02/17 17.00-19.00

This week, inspired by the BBC Big Painting Challenge program, we were presented with long bamboo sticks and easels. These were limited in number so we took it in turns to use them, some more cheerfully than others, I have to say. Sticking with charcoal on paper until my turn, then switching to some jumbo, really black charcoal just before to get the feel of it. Once this was taped to the end of the bamboo stick, which was around 2 feet long, it was quite unwieldy to apply it to the paper. However, once I got the measure of distance and pressure, it was good fun and very expressive to use. It also gave me the chance to see both the model, Caroline, and paper at the same time without moving my head. I think this helped with proportions as they were directly comparable. Because of this, I used the stick to map out my composition for the long pose even though I switched to soft pastel to add colour.

25 minute pose - soft pastel on green pastel paper

25 minute pose – soft pastel on green pastel paper

 

28/02/17 17.00-19.00

Our treat this week was one long pose in whatever media we wanted to use. I broke out the oil paints and canvas in anticipation. Of course, we weren’t going to get away with it that easily, another BBC Big Painting Challenge exercise awaiting us first. On scraps of paper with ink and a big brush, we were to follow the rule of looking for 90 seconds and painting for 30. We had a few runs at this and it loosened us up for the long pose, I have no pictures of these as they were left behind. I made a couple of sketches to work out my composition before painting having previously coloured my 24×30″ canvas with a mix of burnt sienna, ultra marine blue and white acrylic to have a neutral ground both in tone and temperature on which to work.

A few reworks at the beginning to get the lean of the pose and positioning and then I was away. However, due to not being to get too far back from the canvas I noted that the proportions were slightly askew when the session came to its end. At home, I made adjustments with charcoal when the bent leg was too long, the forward foot a little misshapen and the head too large,  The head, I realised, because of the carnival mask the model was wearing, had been elongated from the forehead to its top and can be fairly easily rectified. The photo below shows the charcoal reworking and once adjusted in paint will be photographed and posted.

 

07/03/17 17.00-19.00

Our model this week was John. Our main projects were to be a 20 minute portrait and a 40 minute standing pose where John would be hanging on to a wire cable from the ceiling. First of course, a warm up exercise! Using whetted paper, a large brush and diluted ink, we were to paint a series of poses on one sheet. These were quick 1 minute poses where the main lines and gestures should be recorded. It was interesting to see the ink disperse on the wet paper, along with the colours that appeared at the fuzzy edges of the marks, in my case a blue/purple and yellow.

For the portrait I used soft pastels and a buff tinted pastel paper and for the standing pose, soft pastels and a aqua/green tinted paper. Initially, for the portrait, we tried a quick ink sketch in the same method as the warm-up, which was really effective and denoting light and dark areas of the composition.

20 minute portrait - soft pastel on buff tinted pastel paper

20 minute portrait – soft pastel on buff tinted pastel paper

40 minute pose hanging on to cable suspended from the ceiling - soft pastel on aqua/green paper

40 minute pose hanging on to cable suspended from the ceiling – soft pastel on aqua/green paper

 

 

 

 

Portrait: Ann – 28/04/16

28/04/16

Portrait: Ann – 28/04/16 & nn/05/16 – Two Sessions

Ann is to be with us for two sessions which will have about a month in between them. Therefore, this is the story so far…

Ann often wears “costume” for our sittings and this time she is a gardener, complete with hat, gardening gloves and secateurs (which are shiny and red and I can’t wait to add in!). I am tempted to add a couple of pots and a bag of compost to the composition in between Ann’s sittings.

As usual, we didn’t know who was sitting for us in advance, so my canvas board (20 x 24″), was prepared with an acrylic ground in fuchsia pink, blue and white in a random fashion. As I was working, I was imagining Ann surrounded by peonies! It was left up to us how much of the figure we incorporated into the composition, and as it was such a lovely pose, I really wanted to capture the entire figure. At the end of session one, I was pleased with the placement and proportion of the figure. I wiped out the face as it was getting too detailed and will look forward to that challenge next time.

Ann (work in progress) Oil on canvas board (20 x 24")

Ann (work in progress)
Oil on canvas board (20 x 24″)

 

 

Portrait: Volcan – 14 and 21/04/16

21/04/2016

Portrait: Volcan – 14 & 21/04/16 – Two Sessions

Volcan is our Turkish sitter who visits a couple of times a year as his wife is a local girl. We like to think he brings the sun with him and it’s nice to have a Mediterranean complexion to paint.

Volcan Charcoal sketch on A2 paper

Volcan
Charcoal sketch on A2 paper

 

 

Following on from our previous tonal exercises, we were asked to make a tonal sketch of Volcan using charcoal on its side and a rag to blend and manipulate our drawing. Again we were to try to avoid linear marks and just lay tones next to each other. I had some “chunky” charcoal which was extremely dark and didn’t really get around to lifting out any light. However, the object of this exercise was to become used to using the rag as this was to be our tool when painting.

 

 

 

Still within the first session, once we had an idea of what was required of us, we began our painting. I was using oils on an acrylic coated piece of mount board 34 x 43cm. A head and shoulders composition was our brief. Learning from our sketch we had only rags to use and the initial shapes and form was rubbed in and dragged around the support to form an under-painting. I enjoyed this as it was akin to finger painting, and, was a tactile and immediate response without a brush handle breaking the contact. Many of our class struggled greatly with not using a brush as this was their first attempt at this method. Interestingly, it was the ones that struggle with form and proportions that took to this technique, and, have subsequently used it again. It just shows it’s all horses for courses.

In the second session the next week, we continued to use rags (well, some of us did – the brushes did come out in some cases), we continued with our paintings. Volcan has very specific features, particularly his mouth shape, and at the end of the first session, I was pleased that I’d captured it. Unfortunately, as is often the case, this was lost in the second week. It is one of those infuriating things about painting, portraiture in particular, the push and pull of accuracy and likeness. In the end, I was less successful in this than I’d hoped – only the eyes were anywhere close. Maybe on Volcan’s next visit?

Volcan Oil on mount board

Volcan
Oil on mount board

 

Portrait: Annabelle – 10 and 17/03/2016

17/03/16

Portrait: Annabelle – 10 & 17/03/16 – Two Sessions

A nice two-week sitting with Annabelle who has sat before and doesn’t move a muscle! As it was a double session, I had the luxury of having time for almost a full figure portrait. Using a nice sized 20 x 24″ canvas board, with a ground of mixed colours from a left over acrylic palette that included cadmium red, ultramarine, white and various mixes that was randomly brushed on. This gave an exciting and dynamic base that was inspiring to work on. I made a couple of sketches to firm up the composition, deciding on an approximate three-quarter length portrait. The first week, I concentrated on composition, blocking in, establishing colour ranges, tone and loosely establishing the background shapes. At tea break we were fascinated to hear about Annabelle’s exploits at being an extra on the TV drama Mr Selfridge. I spent my lunch hour scanning every second of the episode but, disappointingly,  I couldn’t be sure I saw her – that’s the trouble with a period drama, the costumes and wigs completely disguised her!

The second session was working on the details of the face, clothing etc. I also decided to leave some of the dynamic brush marks from the acrylic ground visible for added interest.

Annabelle Oil on 20 x 24" Canvas Board

Annabelle
Oil on 20 x 24″ Canvas Board

 

 

 

 

Portrait: David – 03/03/16

03/03/16

Portrait: David – 03/03/16 – One Session

It’s been a while since this class so can’t quite remember whether there was a particular theme here other than noticing the shadows under the hat.

David is a regular sitter and therefore keeps very still. I used A3 acrylic paper with a ground of burnt sienna, ultramarine and white acrylic, the portrait itself was oil. I decide to zoom right in and have David fill the page as the composition. As it was one session for this sitter, I worked quickly wet in wet.

Giving the background a nice sky blue, with light coming from the left from the window, gave the impression of David sat outside on a pleasantly sunny day with his hat shielding his eyes from the sun.

David Oil on A3 acrylic papaer

David
Oil on A3 acrylic papaer

Portrait: Ann – 26/11/15 and 03/12/15

26/11/15 & 03/12/15

Portrait: Ann – Two Sessions

Session One

Ann, our model, arrived wearing a fabulously coloured satin dress with a full skirt that draped beautifully. Ann was tiny in stature and opted to sit up very straight-backed. After mapping out the main shapes and composition as usual and beginning the under-painting, I considered the background. As the pose was fairly formal in appearance, and the chair was covered in a striped fabric in oranges, ochre and muted green, I was inspired to use a bright background to liven up the image. The dress was purple so using a loose mix of cadmium yellow and red gave a vibrant orange. I allowed the dilute colour to run and mix on the board and added some dark umber to balance the tones and brightness.

At the end of session one, I had the bare bones of the figure, composition and colours down. The likeness was starting to appear – I felt this was a good place to stop and be ready for the next week’s session.

Ann - end of session 1 Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Ann – end of session 1
Oil on canvas board
40x60cm

Session Two

In between the sessions, I propped up the painting in a position at home that I could review it away from the model. At this stage, the painting had been worked on quite evenly, however, looking at the face, I realised that the flesh and background were too similar in tone. Without actually painting, (always dangerous for me with the model), I rubbed back the colour around the face to make me remember I needed to address this area next time. I also noted the hands were a little oversized and that the legs needed adjustment. The skirt needed more variation of tone, particularly darkening the lower section. I really liked the fabric over the chair – it seemed to be good and solid and gave the impression of the chair beneath. I would have to ensure that this was not lost when the rest of the painting was worked up.

The whole painting needed to be given more solidity. The tones on the dress were modified and enhanced, this gave the legs more shape beneath the fabric. Highlights were added to the face and the neck was strengthened. This was important as it emphasised the straight posture and put some tension into the ligaments of the neck. The hands were resized and the feet were modified. The background around the face was brightened which helped draw the profile with more strength. Unfortunately, as often happens, the likeness evaded me with these alterations, the upper lip was particularly key to this. Ann’s lips were slim yet well-defined and from my viewpoint, was against the light from a window so difficult to see clearly. Moving around so that the profile was against a dark, I could see the shape but ran out of time to rectify it. My last stroke of the paint brush was to give a bright dash to the fabric on the chair. I am particularly pleased with the fabrics although the likeness is minimal.

Ann - Session Two Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Ann – Session Two
Oil on canvas board
40x60cm

 

Portrait: John – 12/11/15

12/11/15

Portrait: John – Single Session 09.30-12.30

Hats and shadows seem to be the order of the day. As it’s a single session, I chose a small support of approximately 12×14″. This is a recycled oil painting, therefore the ground had to be in oil rather than my usual acrylic. Luckily, this had dried in time for the class.

John, our model, arrived with a jaunty hat in a country/Australian style (minus the corks). It was important to make the head sit inside the hat, which was quite difficult as the hat itself was deceptively taller than expected. It was interesting to note that John’s eyes were not really visible and adding a fairly uniform tone under the hat’s brim modelled them with minimal detail. As it was a single session, the painting has a sketchy style. I was particularly pleased as John had a look at the painting and said “that’s me!”

John in his bush hat 12/11/15 Oil on mount board 12x14"

John in his bush hat
12/11/15
Oil on mount board
12×14″

 

Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Look at some paintings of figures in interiors from different periods and choose two or three pictures that particularly appeal to you… At least one of these should be from the twentieth or twenty-first century. Consider what you think the artists’ intentions are and look at the technical and creative solutions that they’ve brought to the subject.

(NB The images reproduced here are for editorial purposes only and not for any commercial gain.)

Again, as with other Research Points in this section, I have found many examples that really appeal to me. As with the others, I have set up boards in Pinterest and added some of these feeling that I have been selective, however, now having to choose two or three from these is so difficult. I have realised that this is part of the process, as narrowing down which to use also makes me think harder about what I am looking at. This is something I also need to do when painting myself – learn to be selective and think about what I want to say.

Boy in an interior oil 1911 by Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

Description: Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920):

Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

This is not an artist I’m familiar with at all. Mankes was a Dutch painter who specialised in self portraiture, natural subjects and landscape. He died young, only 30 years old from tuberculosis, a common illness at the time.  This is particularly sad as he was a prolific painter and draughtsman and was evolving into interesting abstraction – who knows what he may have gone on to produce. The painting I have chosen is Boy in an Interior. It’s a simple title, yet on further inspection quite an unusual composition. There is definitely a nod to Vermeer and his interiors paintings, however, there are uncomfortable aspects. It is assumed that the boy is sat at the table but the chair is turned away towards the wall, the table doesn’t actually appear to be where you would expect. The light should be coming through the window you would think, and initially it seems so, yet there is no light on the boy’s face. I have read one account of the work and it suggested that the book that the boy is reading is a special one to the artist as it appears to be the source of light. This I can understand but again, there is no light on the boy’s face and it appears to be bounced beneath and in front of the book. I think this is a fascinating painting that draws the viewer into it and makes he/she work hard to decipher it. Not only this though, it is beautifully and sensitively painted, it has a limited colour range and is tonally interesting. I’m glad I found it in my searches.

Sleeping Woman  1961 by Richard Diebenkorn

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn, Oil on Canvas Figurative Painting:

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn

I was lucky enough to go the Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year. I had very limited knowledge of this artist too until then, and although he is revered particularly for his large abstract works, I fell in love with his figurative paintings. Not that there isn’t a large element of abstraction in these, there plainly is. This painting is an example of a fabulous cross-over. The interior is tonally fairly simple, yet it is easy to see the bench/seating that the model is lounged on. The strong diagonals are trademark Diebenkorn (from my limited exposure), and give a dramatic set for the character to play her part. The mirror gives another dimension to the figure and expands the interior without widening the frame of the image. Another painting I could look at for a long time and keep coming back to look some more.

 

I am desperate to add some Edward Hopper in here but let’s move on to the twenty-first century…

Andrea and Myrtle 2014 by Simon Davis

Simon DAVIS RP - Andrea and Myrtle 2014:

Simon DAVIS RP – Andrea and Myrtle 2014

This artist is someone I discovered at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition. This painting was displayed at the BP Portrait Exhibition 2014 and could be seen as a modern-day version of a Degas painting being a lady in her bathroom (with cat?). I have only previously seen portraits by him with no significant interiors, so I was blown away by the complexity in this one. There is such a sense of depth in this, considering that there are only two small rooms, however, the addition of the window takes the viewer further on and out of the picture and the tiled floors lead the eye in. There is an obvious second light source from the right in the anterior room that casts interesting shadows. The colours used make me think of early morning, maybe on a weekend as there is no sense of urgency in getting ready and out of the house. It’s a painting that makes the mundane and routine picturesque and beautiful.

 

 

 

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Go onto the internet and find some portraits that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere rather than simply a physical likeness.

(NB All images are reproduced for editorial purposes only and not for commercial gain)

Rembrandt’s Mother by Rembrandt

portrait of rembrandt mother - Google Search:

Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother

Rembrandt’s portraits are always more than just paintings of people’s faces. He seemed to look deep within their souls and put what he found down on the canvas. This portrait of his mother shows a certain weariness but also a life lived. The illumination of her face is mesmerising with the warmth in the shadow that gives a translucency. It makes you wonder what she was thinking at the time.

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap by Vincent van Gogh

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap - Vincent van Gogh:

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap – Vincent van Gogh

 

This portrait by van Gogh tells the viewer so much just by the way it has been painted. The brush-strokes are thick, angular and convey the pressures and worries of this woman’s every day existence. To me, he hasn’t made her old in years but has etched every struggle to feed her family with meagre means. I like the way it appears van Gogh has painted all the canvas dark and put in the mid tones and lights over the top, sometimes allowing the dark to show through. This gives an overall depth and mood to the painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Child by Picasso

paintings of picassos blue period - Google Search:

Mother and Child by Picasso (painting from his blue period)

Picasso’s blue period, by its definition, is one of melancholy and sadness following the suicide of his close friend. He has taken this tragedy and sought out subjects in which to pour his grief. This painting is so simple yet heartbreakingly moving. The mother is turned away and the baby is clutched to her with a gentle fierceness.  There is nothing around them apart from what looks like a basket of clothes or maybe it’s where the baby sleeps.  Apparently, during this time, Picasso used to visit a women’s prison to draw some of the inmates, many of which had young children incarcerated with them. Could this be one of these women?

 

 

Party in Paris by Max Beckmann

Party in Paris - Max Beckmann:

Party in Paris – Max Beckmann

What a mixture of assumed moods and characters in this picture! Overall, I don’t really pick up much of a party atmosphere in this snap shot of a social gathering. There only seems to be three or four people enjoying themselves and one of those is the singer lost in his own world. Having said that, Beckmann has picked up on common characteristics of party goers. There are those actually enjoying themselves on the left. However, the boredom of the woman rear right having to listen to her assumed partner and his friend’s lengthy conversation – about politics probably, has noticed she has caught the eye of the single man on the left. The way Beckmann has put these two figures at the same eye level connects them. The couple in the middle are ignoring each other’s existence as they ran out of things to say to each other 10 years ago! The eagle-eyed social climber is keeping watch for potential useful contacts and the gentleman who really doesn’t want to be there in the bottom right (or maybe it’s the volume over melody of the awful singing?). What triumph in observing and then depicting the scene so cleverly, and, in a way that colours, positioning of the figures etc are balanced so perfectly. The more I look at this the more I see and like it.

Summary

There are so many portraits out there that are more than just paintings of faces – it makes me realise how much more has to go into the work.  It is also apparent that, although the observational and drawing skills that allow you to produce an image of a person are very important, it is not just these things and sometimes not even, that renders a likeness of the character or occasion. It is a conversation between painter and sitter that occurs, and, some remnants of that conversation should be visible in the painting that is produced as a result.

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.