Lessons in Portraiture
This is the latest canvas that I’ve finished — my first attempt at portraiture in thirty years:
The only other portrait I recall painting was part of a montage and only a moderate success with a rather cartoon-ish big head and shadows that looked like mud on his face. (Sorry about that, Dad.) This one took me a year and a half to complete. No, I wasn’t painting that whole time. For most of that 18 months, she sat on the easel. Every time I walked down the hall, there she was in the studio at the end of the hall, sitting there, judging me, mocking me. This summer, I finally determined I would finish her… and I did.
The details: titled Bridesmaid in Pink; acrylic on stretched canvas; 22″ x 28″; completed July 18, 2018.
Here’s the backstory. About three years ago, I was recruited to photograph my nephew’s wedding in Ohio. After the preparations, and the ceremony, and the reception, and the clean-up, I spotted a very tired bridesmaid resting languidly in the corner of a sofa, and caught a candid snapshot. As I was sorting through the photos afterward, that one caught my eye. The graininess and soft back-lighting made a lousy photo but gave it the look of one of Degas’ ballerinas, and I knew it needed to become a painting. So, I tracked down the young lady in the photo and asked her permission, which she kindly granted.
Here’s why I should have started with something else. I couldn’t have picked a more challenging subject matter for a first portrait. First of all, there’s a lot of skin tones in that picture. Not just a face — hands, arms, shoulders, and a significant portion of one leg. The face I repainted three times. The left arm that disappears into shadow got repainted so many times that I couldn’t paint over all the previous brushstrokes without making it look like a hairy monkey arm. I had to resort to sandpaper to remove a few layers before I finally got it right.
I learned SO much. Between painting sessions I read a lot of library books about art technique. I watched a lot of YouTube videos by professional artists. (I recommend Stefan Baumann’s and Robin Sealark’s. They contradict each other, but they’re both right.) I also visited a few galleries and art shows, and I got to hop a train to Chicago and spend a day at the Art Institute museum six times because my wonderful husband bought be a membership for my last birthday. All of that study means I have lots more ideas in me ready to burst out onto paper, panel, or canvas. It’s like being pregnant with octuplets, but without the morning sickness.
[Shameless Marketing Alert] Some day when I’m wildly famous (and/or dead) this painting will be extra valuable. Remember, I said it was my first real portrait. If you’re the buyer, you could have a very valuable item someday. Outliving me would probably help that investment.