17 February 2012

Portrait Painting Vignette #6: Taylor in Blue

Taylor is an earnest young man, my cousin's son...on a quest to find purpose, like many people his age.  The challenge here was to capture that depth and spirit using a photo reference.  Sometimes you have to use photos...when painting a child, a posthumous portrait, a long-distance subject like Taylor.  I feel comfortable doing this because I know Taylor, and I paint often from life.  My life studies inform my decisions here. This portrait was painted on a linen panel in 9 hours.

Taylor in Blue, 16x12", Oil on linen

I like photographing progressions for several reasons.  If a painting takes a bad turn, I can check the progression to see what went wrong.  It also reminds me that ugly beginnings do not predict ultimate success.  A painting doesn't have to look good at every stage. 

Here is the progression for "Taylor in Blue"...

Hour 1:  My usual linear lay-in and an early attempt to mass in the big shapes.  I'm squinting at the photo to see what's important and what I can leave out.

Hour 2: Continuing to refine the big shapes and their positions.  Starting to lay in the features.

Hour 3:  Once I feel the big shapes are 80% accurate, I go for the features.  A decent eye, nose or mouth gives me confidence that I will eventually get a solid likeness.  Features anchor the portrait.  Make sure they are correctly positioned before you dive in...it's a hassle to move them.

Hour 4:  More refinement of the big shapes and features, including the eyeglasses.  I want these to be visible, but unobtrusive.

Hour 5: More refining of the lights and shadows, and blending as needed to model the form. 

Hour 6: The elephant in the room is that big hair and beard.  I block in the background to give me something to work the hair into.  I also continue to refine the dark side of his face and neck, to push the form back into the shadows and reveal the neck anatomy.

Hour 7: Ready to lay in the details of the hair, beard, and glasses.  Regarding the glasses, I only paint what I can see when I squint at the photo.

Hour 8 - 9:  The final pass.  I lighten the background, add details to the hair and clothes, highlights in the eyes, mouth, and facial planes.  I adjust the mouth, beard and facial shapes to improve likeness.  Finally, I model the neck and added some chest hair.  At this point I let the portrait sit a day, studying it.  The likeness is good enough at this point.  Painting done.

(Apologies for poor color quality.  Changes in studio light during the day confuse the camera. The finished portrait photo approximates true color.)


  1. Lovely painting, as are your other portraits. Looks very realistic and the work has life even done as it was from a photo - not always that easy to do! Thanks for including the step to step demonstrations, always interesting to see how other artists approach a work from first sketch to final painting.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jeremy. I'd much rather paint from life, but a photo makes all portraits possible. It helps to be familiar with the subject, too.

  2. Replies
    1. Hey, Bryan. Good to hear from you. Haven't seen you around in a while. Hope your art is ever improving and all is going well. C

  3. What an outstanding Portrait! Great skin tones and expression. I also love the way the dark hair and beard blend with the background.

    1. Hi, Gwen. Thanks for your nice comment. The hair was sort of fun because it didn't really require too much painting...more suggestion. But like many things I'm painting it was a first for me, so that was the real challenge. Can't wait til I have more brush mileage.

  4. Hi Candace..I appreciate your remarks about how you can paint a decent portrait because of how much you have painted from life. I feel sorry for people who try to paint from photos without having painted from life a lot! Thanks for the progression photos of this excellent portrait. Your cousin's son looks like a wise and engaging person. Great painting!

    1. Hey, Celeste, Thanks for your comment. I know you paint a lot from life so you understand how important it is. Must confess...I'm enrolled in a studio landscape class and painting from photos without any past plein air experience. My efforts are just academic at this point, want to understand some of the basics before I get out there, but I know I have to paint from nature if I want to eventually produce any decent landscapes. Really love the genre. Excited to be learning something new, too.

      Also, thanks for adding me to your blogroll. Nice :o)