29 October 2013

My Portrait Process: Second Step is the Color Study

...also called the color comp.  More experienced artists skip this step, but I find it useful.  I don't want to get bogged down in the big painting with problems I could have spotted in the color comp.

Portrait of Kirk (color comp), 12x9", oil on linen

I use color comps for all the following reasons:
  • Work through the palette to be used in the painting
  • Define the light patterns and color temperatures to produce convincing form
  • Finalize the composition, background, edges 
  • Get a peek at how the painting will look framed, that makes a huge difference 
  • Plan the painting strategy (eg. layering and area sequences, transparent areas, etc.) 
  • Use as a constant value/color reference during completion of the big piece 
  • If something goes wrong on the big piece, test changes on the comp

For all these good reasons, I take the extra time to paint the color comp.  I'm always a little surprised by how closely the final painting resembles it, so that comp needs to be right. 

Kirk color comp, framed

From the framed color comp above, I see the need for more air around the subject.  The current cropping makes him look boxed in.  A small amount of extra room will fix that.

At this stage, I also work through other suspected issues.  For example, Kirk's hands were not ideal.  I picked the best references I had and worked up some value studies to think through the anatomy and value changes (below).  The middle hand is not usable.  I will go with the top and bottom hands.  I like the active/passive contrast they provide. 

Kirk's hands, 17x14", charcoal on Strathmore 400 paper

17 October 2013

Drawing Dynamic Hands with Burne Hogarth

My last 2 paintings included hands.  It took me way too long to paint them, and in the end they didn't look that great. I just feel it's a requirement of any figurative artist to be able to draw and paint hands well.  Hands are as expressive as the face, and they can make or break a whole piece.

So I'm working to improve my hand mastery in several ways.  My daughter, Amanda, has been hand-modeling for me (below).  I am watching Rob Liberace's dvd "Anatomy: The Arm and Hand" (it's pretty good).  And I found a great book on the subject, "Drawing Dynamic Hands" by Burne Hogarth.

Amanda's hands, 17x14", charcoal, 20-minute sketches from life

If you draw or paint people, you should consider getting this book...unless you're already a hand master.  Each page is loaded with well illustrated advice on how to infuse more gesture and energy into depictions of the hand.  Hogarth published several other books on drawing which might also be worth a look.

Here are the table of contents and a few random pages from "Drawing Dynamic Hands":

08 October 2013

My Portrait Process: First Step is the Value Study

There is no single way to create a portrait.  Each artist's process is unique. It's not learned in a class or workshop...it can only be developed through trial and error.  What I show in this post and several upcoming, is my current process.  For me, success relies on the work that happens before paint touches canvas.  It's not about copying a photo.  It's about hard work, careful technique, and artistic interpretation.

I'm preparing to paint an oil portrait of Kirk, 20-year-old son of a friend.  He's at that great age where he has a lot of freedom...trying to find his place in the world...not yet a cog in the machine.  I want that to come across in the final image.

Kirk in Youth, 16x12", charcoal and white chalk on Strathmore 400 toned paper.

First step in my process is a charcoal drawing.  This helps me work out the value structure.  Kirk sat for a 1-hour oil sketch so I could record true skin tones, then I shot about 400 photos of him.  This sketch is a composite of 4 photos, drawn freehand.

This step familiarizes me with all the subtle shadows, shapes, and edges...so when I get to the real thing it goes down much easier. I strategize how to use those subtle features to make the big image more interesting.

As you can see, I'm having trouble with the closest forearm and hand.  The anatomy and value are wrong and the hand is too big.  Cover them and the whole drawing looks better.  I will do some studies to work it out.

After that comes a small color sketch, to work through the color palette and make any final changes before the big painting.