18 January 2012

Portrait Painting Vignette #5: Miss Julianna

The 5th installment in a 10-piece series.  Today's subject is my young niece, Julianna.  I wanted to try a child's portrait this time.  I've heard they are more challenging than adults.  Facial planes are less visible in a child, and their coloring is so delicate.  This was painted, from a photo, on a gessoed panel in 7 hours.
Miss Julianna, 14x11", Oil on panel

Here's the painting progression...

Hour 1:  I prepared the gessoed board several weeks before painting, to ensure it was dry.  I did my usual linear block-in with thinned transparent maroon.  I try to pull plenty of straight lines to give the lay-in good solid structure. If I need to erase, I use a Q-tip soaked in gamsol. 

Hour 2: As usual, I pass through the ugly stage.  (This painting is crap...it isn't going anywhere...try again tomorrow.)  Push through the doubt...the clouds part...the sun comes out.  

Color temperature was important here.  I exaggerated the coolness on the light side and the warmth in the shadows, compared to the colors in my reference photo.

Hour 3: After a first pass on the fleshtones, Julianna's face began to emerge.  At this point, I realized I made a serious mistake by not laying down the darkest dark at the start, to judge other values.  As I laid in the dark hair value, I could see the shadows on the face were too light.  Frustration. I had to make a second pass to darken everything.  Won't make this mistake again.

Hour 4: Time to bring up the facial features.  At this point, I worked up the mouth, nose, and the facial shape.  Refined the halftones of the face to improve the likeness. 

Hour 5:  The refinement stage.  I finalized the eyes and the neck, and added more halftones to get the face to feel more dimensional.  Added highlights on the nose and around the dominant eye.

 Hour 6-7:  The finishing stage.  My second major error was leaving the background until last.  Next time...bring the background and subject up together.  I added a warm green background to balance the cool blue-green in Julianna's clothes.  

Finished the hair by modeling the light and dark sides, and adding a few brushstrokes of red, violet, and yellow.  I also added that critical shadow, cast by the hair onto the right side of Julianna's head, from headband to chin.  The object on her head is a ribbon pom-pom.  I want it to add interest, without drawing too much attention.

I prefer a painterly look.  I avoid blending to preserve brushstrokes as much as possible.  The brushstrokes on the face are only visible at close range, unlike the sketchy background.  I like that contrast, it makes the face appear even smoother in the finished piece.