Finished at Last!

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.


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