Since this is what I do the most – it was hard to wait to write about portraiture. Since this is going to be an extensive post, I’ve decided to divide it into three parts. So, this is part one – taking the photos, layout and drawing, toning the canvas and value study. Our subject is Bruce, an avid golfer and a computer guru. I like to try to put into a portrait something alluding to the person’s interests. It says more about who this person is.
Remember, this is a one- time- only individual, a person that carries the image of God, unique, never to be seen again. So – I never approach a portrait without prayer first. I need all the help I can get. I have seen the results if I do not spend just a few minuets in prayer. The best compliment I have received about my portraits is “it looks more like him than that photo!”
I work from photos for obvious reasons. Photos don’t move, and most people simply do not have the time to “sit” for a portrait. You should be aware of your camera’s limitations. A camera “sees” differently that our eyes do. It flattens everything, it makes the darks way too dark and the closest thing to the lens is exaggerated, like noses and hands. So – you should not stand too close to your subject. A reasonable rule is at least 8 to 10 feet away (camera on a tripod). My digital camera has a “moderate” telephoto option on it, which makes it doable. Standing that far away and using the telephoto option, I can get very usable pictures of my subject.
On to our portrait of Bruce. Here are the photos I will work from. I will also work from an enlargement of just the head. You will see this photo taped to the light beside my easel. What this does is to add a bit more light to his face and enables me to see the details.
The first array of photos shows the start of the painting process I’ve narrowed it down to a 4 X 41/2, which translates to a 20 X 24. Note where I’ve chosen to place the bottom of the portrait. You do not want to end at a joint. It looks better to end in between the knee and the foot. Now we will tape the photo to a small piece of stiffer paper or mat board. We now have the dimensions marked out of our portrait. I have placed a piece of glass, 8 x 10 with the edges taped over the photo and marked off the photo both vertically and horizontally. I have divided up the canvas similarly as this next photo shows. It looks like a tic tack toe game.
The next photo shows the drawing. We are looking for something close to a line drawing. You do not need a lot of detail here. Just placement of the essentials, eyes, nose, mouth hairline etc. I have used a dark pen so that you can see the results. Start at the top – in the first square you see anything start your drawing. Copy only what you see in that square. Then go on to the next square copy each square until you reach the bottom. You did it! You now have a completed drawing. I will transfer this drawing, using a transfer paper, to the canvas. You can draw directly on the canvas but I did not want the layout lines showing, as I often use glazes for my backgrounds and the lines are hard to erase. If you do it this way it will help to place a book under the canvas so that you can use pressure to get a good transfer.) The next photo shows the transferred drawing. Let me add this; many artists blow up the photo and trace the basics. Some use an opaque projector. I am not trying to teach you how to draw; I hope you have that covered. I really do not care how you get the drawing on the canvas. I choose to do it this way. It’s an old tried and true method. If you learn this method you will be able to use it to layout anything. Now we need to spray the drawing with Krylon matte spray (the satin will work too).
The technique I am going to demonstrate to you is not new. It’s an old one but it solves a lot of problems. Put a little Liquin in a cup (empty plastic fruit cups work fine). Dilute it with a little odorless turp. I use a three Liquin to two turp ratios. Mix up a nice cool blue gray. Paint the entire canvas with a dilute (add more of the Liquin and turp mixture to the paint) paint mixture. It does not matter if it’s not even. I use a rag to thin out the paint on the canvas. What we are after is a light blue gray surface. Note the next photo. I have immediately wiped out the lights of the portrait. Now we will let it dry.
It should dry in about 8 to 10 hours. When it is dry we will work on the values. This method solves all our “value problems”. This will enable you to see the values without color confusing the issue. The old masters did this routinely for the same reasons.
The next photo example will show a change. I placed Bruce in this format because I wanted to add a picture behind the chair he is sitting in. As he likes to golf, this will add a dimension to the portrait as it shows at least one of his interests. Start with your darks. Apply a thin mixture of paint with Liquin to create a glaze. Not too thin, we want a fairly dark mix for this value. This is the darkest value in the portrait. Mix a little more of the Liquin mixture into your paint to create a thinner glaze. This mixture we will use to create the shadows. If your shadowed areas become too dark, dab at the area with a rag to lighten. Keep working at this until you are satisfied with all the values. The next photo shows the completed value study. Do not worry if your value study isn’t perfect. Mine never are. What we have is a start. A very good idea of what to do next. We know where are darkest values are. We know what our shadows will look like. So – good enough.
We’re halfway there! Congrats! Stand back and take in what you have accomplished. Your value study will teach you more, at this stage, than anything else I can tell you. Doing the work is your “teacher” You can do this technique with any subject. Now we will let the painting dry thoroughly, at least two days. Then it’s on to color!