09 June 2010

Portrait Painting from a Photo

This portrait was painted for a class I'm taking called "Better Color Through Observation", taught by Meadow Gist. The portrait was painted from a photo of a school model, using the Zorn palette (Yellow ocher, cad red light, titanium white, ivory black) as an exercise in observing and mixing color.  The Zorn palette is a good starter palette, especially for portraiture.  Lots has been said about it, so I'm not going to dwell on it here, except to point you to this recent interview with the painter, Ignat Ignatov.  Ignatov spent a year with the Zorn palette, and has good insights on it's value.

The other benefit of this exercise was learning how to paint from a less than ideal photo.  Realistically, we can't always paint or draw from life, so it's important to know how to use photo references effectively. Two things I learned from this exercise: 
  • Cameras are designed to average out the values in an image, which usually under-exposes shadows or over-exposes the lights. Therefore, when painting from a photo, make the lights a bit darker and the shadow side a bit lighter...the way the human eye would see them.
  • Under standard shooting conditions, the camera records most edges as sharp boundaries, which is not how we perceive them as we view a focal point. To mimic the natural view soften edges away from the focal point, reserving hard edges for the center of interest. Poor edge control flattens an image and ruins the illusion of form.
Note:  Meadow painted the forehead area.  This painting was completed in 5 hours. I blocked the drawing in free-hand in graphite using a 3-inch grid as a guide.

Island Girl Brianna 2010, oil on linen panel, 12 x 9