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.)