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Portrait of a Boy, New Approaches


Portrait of a Boy; 9 x 11 in., Oil on Cotton Canvas (4.5 hrs)

It has been a long time since I have written anything on my blog. I would love to give a great excuse but just going to say, I am glad to be back! I haven't really shown my website any attention in the last year. That's okay, priorities first! While I haven't really posted much, I have been painting. Not at the volume I used to. While not on here all the time, I do still think and breathe art ALL THE TIME.


Today, being off from work, I put forth the effort to avoid doing anything but art (my other love is gardening and yard work). In winter, gardening can always take a back seat, but no matter what I always tend to find something needing to be done While tempted, I really pushed myself to only do something creative today. I deserve it! What did I want to accomplish? To make a portrait that is simple, yet loose. My previous attempts had always been tight, ridged, and unpainterly. I think I always approached them the same - draw first with a pencil, then paint into the lines. So to make it fresh, I took a chance in going straight in with paint. While not a new, approach, per se, it really was. I'll explain.


My approach this go around was to use a used canvas and not a new substraight. This way I am cutting ties with any emotion that this final painting has to be a masterpiece. I had previously taken all my bad paintings and re-gessoed over them with white oil paint so no waiting was needed.

Initial form block in - new approach (no detail); just form

I decided, in "keeping it simple", I would use the Zorn Palette to keep my "decisions simple". That should make for a perfect equation for a harmonious end product. The Zorn palette is made of only 4 colors: Titanium white, Yellow Ochre, Cardium Red, and Ivory Black. In starting I mixed a little yellow ochre with white and a tad bit of red and used OMS to thin down the paint so it would allow for a quick dry. I used the rule of thirds to break up my canvas into equal proportions. I have always found grids so helpful in making sure my proportions are in line with actual facial features. What makes this approach different? Instead of looking directly at the photo of the boy I turned the photo into a No-tan image. With No-tan I am only seeing light and dark, and no detail. I drew out the contour of the boy's face in the light. Once done, I moved to the photo in high contrast and drew in the dark side of the face. By doing this I am eliminating my need to add any detail. It really did work for me. I was totally surprised - why didn't I think of this before? One aspect of my technique is I am not really caring to get a true likeliness, but getting one is always a bonus. Getting a likeness can be important if you are doing a commission or painting someone you know. For today, I just wanted to paint - not caring about the end result. This keeps it fun, and no pressure is added to my day off.


Drawing the form you see using the grid, while elementary, is actually the most important step in the whole painting process. When painting a portrait the exact location of the eyes, nose, and mouth are the most important to get in the right place. If you get them in the wrong place, any viewer is going to know right away - kills your painting! When doing this method, it is very important to always be comparing. Taking your time to get the right angle, length, and shape correct. What do I mean by "compare"? You should be comparing the corner of the eye with the edge of the mouth, the tip of the nose to the mouth, and the eyes. Back and Forth, compare, back and forth compare, etc...Once I was pleased with the facial feature placement, I moved to mix a little black with my ochre mixture to start shaping the shadow side of the face. This immediately adds form and gives your painting a realistic look.


Establishing Values of Light and Dark

The next step was to then go right in with mixing basic value colors of light and dark. Some artists tend to do a light, mid and dark tone first. And that is likely something I will try the next go around. At this point, details were not in my mind. Details are for the last step. An important tip in any painting you complete is to never spend too much time in one area of a painting. My main objective in this stage is to cover the canvas. Keeping the painting all at the same stage as I go. I do this and compare along the way. This is where I have gone wrong in the past - spending too much time on the eyes or a feature and trying to get it all done before moving on. I give caution with this - you need to compare all aspects of value and form to other aspects of the painting. When painting this I released as I was going on - "I need to go darker on the side". So I kept on working on the values. Because of my growth in comparison.

Canvas is covered - now to working on furthering the values and features of the face (palette shot)

Another good tip that has taken me so long to do is to stay organized when mixing your colors on the palette. Staying organized does two things: Keep all piles in order so you know how much darker you need to go in your next value (i.e. comparing values with other values on the canvas), and it also helps keep you from cross-mixing too much from pile to pile. With each color puddle, I mixed a new pile with only the four colors I have on my pallet. While only having 4 choices to choose from, makes it terribly simple. And we all could use simple. After all, that was my main objective.

Color Palette - Color harmony - keep it organized

Overall, I just kept moving around the painting and working on areas. In trying to keep this loose and simple, I refrained from detail work. Kept the eyes basic, because I didn't need anything else to tell my story. They already tell my story well enough. Is this a masterpiece? No. But I can tell it is the beginning of something great. And after all, when we learn something new, we can only get better with practice and milage on our brush!


Cheers everyone, thank you for reading!

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