24 December 2011

Portrait Commission: First Mate

"First Mate" is a portrait commission of sorts...a painting of my brother and his son.  Sailing is a part of life in my family.  My father loved the ocean, and he passed that love on to my brother, who in turn is passing it on to his own son, his "first mate".

First Mate  20x24" oil on linen

The theme of this portrait is the bond between Ross and RJ, mirrored in their shared love of the ocean, and the family continuity it represents.  The model boat in RJ's hands was given to Ross by my father, when Ross was just about RJ's age.  Ross is also a painter, and the piece on the wall behind him is called "Setting the Mark"...a loose navigation term used in sailboat racing. Ross races sailboats.  I hope these connections make the painting more meaningful to them as time passes.  That's the deepest beauty of a portrait...it improves with age.

Technically, I started with a photo shoot, and an oil sketch from life to capture accurate values and skin tones.  Back in the studio, I combined several reference photos from the shoot, then did a graphite tonal study, pushing lights and darks to simplify down to 5 values.

Value study in graphite

The final preparation step was the color study in oil to decide on the palette, color mixtures, values, the background, and to make sure the painting would read.  Once I was satisfied, I transferred the image to a 20 x 24" stretched linen canvas as described here.

The color study, 8x10", oil on board

Ross and RJ were happy at the unveiling...that's the most important thing.  But, after setting the painting against the wall for a few months, I see things that need improving.  Artists should be their own best critic.  Improvements: The edges need more variety; the background is too noticeable, the window in the upper right needs re-working...too rendered; the temperature shift from cool in the light to warm in the shadows is not convincing.  Things I like: The texture of Ross' shirt, RJ's hands; the temperature shift between RJ's shirt and the toy boat.  I'll do better next time.  Each piece is a stepping stone...

First Mate  20x24" oil on linen

As this year closes, thanks to all who visit here.  2011 was a year of turmoil...it's a difficult time on Planet Earth.  But smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.  Best wishes for the year ahead.   C