My Facebook friends have no idea I am going to paint one of the photographs they have posted. It makes me feel like a stalker…in a good way. When I emailed the above image to one of my friends, I waited to have him tell me if this watercolor looked like his son or if it looked like a distant cousin or the kid down the street. With portraiture, it has to be right or it is all wrong. I hoped to hear back from him within an hour or two. I figured the more time it took, the more likely he was trying to work out how to tell me it didn’t look like his son. In less than five minutes, he called. “That’s awesome!” This guy loves his little boy so much. Can you tell by the photo he posted, below? The light on his face is so strong and tender. I just couldn’t resist.
Some people want to know details and a bit of my process. Feel free to ask questions in the comments if I don’t explain something you might want to know. I took several workshops with Jan Kunz, so much of what I do is similar to her process. She is a great teacher and her book is excellent. I’ll post the colors and brushes I used in another post.
I started with a Bic mechanical pencil using a .7 lead. Don’t press too hard and don’t even think about using the eraser on the cap, unless you like permanent gray smudges. I use a gray kneaded eraser.
Below is the drawing with the first and second wash. I let each wash dry before adding the next. For the record, a wash is the same as a glaze, which is how some artists refer to it. It just means a layer of paint. I intended this layer to be bright so his skin would glow underneath the glazing layers. I have a friend who paints in oil and she calls her first layer “underpants”.
Pretty scary looking, isn’t it? This is progress, but still scary:
Below I’m starting to glaze over the yellow to get skin tone and facial shapes. Children’s faces are more about what isn’t there. No defined nose, eyes or lips. Lots of softening of lines and little bits of shading.
It would have been good of me to remember to take more pictures, but at this point, I become focused on painting and forget. I take photos at the end because I am more objective with a photograph of the painting than the painting itself. In the image below, can you see the back of his head and his ear is too light? His left eye is too squinty, the shirt is too yellow and so many other details, but this is when his character begin to emerge. The final stage is an elaborate game of hide and seek, glazing correct colors and values. I mold those delicate features with a little bit of cool blue or warm purple or the reflected yellow light bouncing off his shirt up onto the bottom of his chin, under his nose and the brow bone. One eye might be just right and the other one…not so much. Or the mouth might be just a little bit…odd.
There is quite a bit of mumbling in the studio during this stage. I don’t talk to myself, but I talk to paintings. Especially when they talk back. Or if they are giving me grief. This piece didn’t give me grief, but I did have to encourage him to have both eyes going the same direction. Some people think expression is held in the eyes, but it really is in the mouth. The mouth affects the eyes, not the other way around. If you smile really big, those facial muscles will push up your cheeks, making your eyes squint. His mouth is very, very soft with more transitions of color than lines.
“Well, hello, Neil!”
On to the next one…