Sunday, May 8, 2011

Olivia and Emma - Portrait Demonstration

Here's one from way back (notice the hair I still have).


After the sketch is approved and the canvas stretched and primed to size, it's time for the real fun to begin. I let the girls start the painting for me. This served a double purpose of involving Olivia and Emma in the process as much as possible, and setting up unexpected areas of color, some of which would show through in the final painting.


Painting with the girls.
The final underpainting. Thanks to my two assistants.
I next dive right into painting on top of the girls work.  I decided to start with Emma. Her head is smaller than Olivia’s, due to her standing farther back in space, so I realize that she must have the most detail to achieve a balance between the two figures.  I always try to start where the painting requires the most detail, so I can set up my boundaries which the remainder of the painting must relate to.  I’ll also draw more attention to Olivia by placing a dark behind her head which contrasts well with her blonde hair.
Detail of Emma following the first painting session. Emma’s face is by no means at a finished point, but I don’t want to spend too much time and overwork it.  
Next, it’s time to start on Olivia.  In order to correctly measure the distance between the two figures, I feel it’s necessary to rough in the rocks of the waterfall between them. Once this space is established correctly, I can rough in Olivia’s face.
At this point I also rough in the shapes of the tulips in the foreground, knowing that these will be the most vibrant of all the colors in the painting.  These colors also help set up a comparison point for color throughout the remainder of the painting.

A detail of Olivia in progress.
The third element that requires precision drawing is the dog, Priscilla.  Again, in order to establish the correct position of her head, I must rough in the elements between Emma’s face and Priscilla’s face. I also feel that at this point I have enough spontaneous paint on the canvas that I can do some “drawing” with a thin brush to establish some of the secondary elements positions.  Notice the blue lines in the image below.
Detail of Prissy.
Now that all of the elements are correctly placed, it’s a matter of refinement and balance.  By balance, I’m refering to how much contrast should appear in each area, where hard and soft edges should appear, and how vibrant colors should be.
I paint and scrape down Emma’s face several times until I feel that I have captured the correct balance of drawing, spontaneity, and color. Scraping the paint off is never a waste of the previous painting session, because each time some of the color remains behind shaping the final result.
Detail of Olivia.
The final painting. Olivia and Emma, Oil on Canvas.