Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Planning a Formal Portrait of a Young Professional

I have been commissioned to paint a formal portrait of a young man to be hung in his office. This is something new for me - have been thinking of the best way to approach it. I don't want it to be stuffy or stiff, but it still has to look professional. There is an idea that I like, I have been thinking all night about it, even in my sleep. Having always loved the way George de la Tour uses a single source of focalized light, bathing some of the subject's features in light, while leaving part of the painting in shadow I think I will play with this composition as a playful homage. It is a bit dramatic, but I rather love the idea. As I will be taking the pictures to be used as reference for the painting I think it will be better to take them at night and see if I can create that effect with a single lamp, try different angles to see which is better. The general pose would be of him sitting in his desk, with a neutral dark background (that can be revised later), the hands on the desk receiving the same light as the face. Jacket and shirt, tie? will try it both ways, he is young, will have to ask if he always uses a tie at work - it is Florida, so there is a tendency to a more laid back work environment. It is very important that he is looks as natural as possible, the way he always looks at work.
I will post the pictures and a sketch as soon as I have them. I will be taking them tomorrow night. This is going to be exiting.
What I have found that works for me is sketching the general idea, taking the pictures, playing with them a bit to get the composition I like, then printing the one I think will work.
I like to draw with a very soft pencil on the canvas, not going into great detail, but getting all the basic shapes so as not to get lost. Once I have this, I cover the drawing with an acrylic wash in a light shade of whatever color seems to be present in most of the picture. It has lately been mostly a shade of warm yellow. This serves two purposes, it covers and protects my drawing and gives me a nice background that allows me to paint without worrying about having to cover all the white canvas when I paint, parts of it can peek as part of the light sections of the painting.. This is going to be the base for the oil painting. In the past I used to go over the drawing with oils, but as I like to begin with a thin paint,and it has a tendency to drip , the turpentine would erase my sketch - I don't like to paint without my sketch, I feel like I am flying blind, it freaks me out, I need the security blanket of a drawing, so that got me into thinking how to solve this problem.
After this is done, and it dries very quickly, I work a little bit of color in the background, even if it is only in umbers and siennas (in a very large painting I did this in acrylics too, because it speeds up the preparation process) I need to be able to paint the face and hands over a base of colour, not having to paint the background afterwards trying not to muss the face contour, just softening its borders - and it allows me to paint the hair leaving the ends loose. If I have to rework the background, then I will go over the hair again too.
Size and Scale of the Portrait
I have painted portraits in which the size of the person's head was a little bit larger than life and that DOES NOT WORK. It looks strange, not graceful, makes you uneasy when you look at it, even if you don't know why, unless you are painting a mural that is going to be watched from a great distance, It is better to go with the real size or smaller.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Paths in Life and Art

They say that times of crisis are hinges in your life. They either crush you or empower you. I am choosing to make this difficult times the beginning of a new life. I now realize that being comfortable made me lazy and stifled my creativity. I feel the need to express myself and, being greedy, (why not be ambitious with your dreams) to try to make a living through my art.
Art has been a part of my life since my teens -but I did not think of myself as an artist, I guess artists were some kind of perfect ideal individuals with a talent beyond what I perceived in my work. I had not yet learned that you grow into your art working, I wanted instant gratification and results. In another post I will talk of my formative years in art, those first years with a teacher that I loved and respected so much, but I felt had too high expectations for me. So painting was relegated to a secondary role, a hobby, dying in a corner, while my time was spent studying more "serious things". I became an architect, well, at least art was allowed a small place in my profession, but still... But there was a nagging sensation inside my head of things abandoned and not completed, what was missing, I had to do something, what?? But I ignored it, was sad and did not know why.
In the last couple of years I felt this need of painting could not be restrained any more. I was afraid. I thought I could not do it, that I did not remember how it was done. And, in the background of my thoughts I could hear my teacher saying: " just paint what you see - that is all there is to it, do not over-think it, don't paint something the color you think it is, paint it the color you see it is" - that liberated me and I began to paint. People, mostly people. People's faces, expressions, hands, fascinate me, there is a richness in people's expressions that I love. And miraculously, I could do it. I stressed about it, but the satisfaction was so great, it was worth it. But now I found that the things I did not know were sooo many , so much I had to learn, basic, technical things I either had forgotten or never paid attention to, but nowadays there is so much knowledge posted in the web, it is as if you had hundred of tutors waiting for you. I could not afford taking classes, so now youtube was my academy, a special thanks to JimmyD who taught me so much. Just looking at the different artists that so generously post their videos, many things came back to me, and I learned so many more through hours and hours watching people paint... I felt, I can do this, why am I denying myself the chance of doing this just because of the fear of not being good enough. Not being as good as I wanted to be in my conceit, but had to learn to accept good enough at each stage, striving for better, but good enough allowed me to escape the paralysis of over achievement. And that is the key - if you accept "I cannot do it" or "It will never be good enough" you don"t DO, you freeze, and that is the death of any project. So my mantra became: " it will get better", and you know what... it did. And it gets better every time. What is still present is the fear. Every time. With every new painting, there is that boom boom boom in your head, "you won't remember how to do it" but you know you did it the last time, and push through it. A little stomachache and a quick drawing, and suddenly the canvas is not white anymore, a sigh of relief.
Crisis brought new life too, so one of my first works in this stage of my life was a portrait of my grandson Benjamin you can see up center. We are growing together, my baby and my art, one feeding from the other.
Next post, new projects.