Thursday, December 31, 2009


I just want to post this very nice profile of Anna Maria--a twenty-minute life-drawing pose.

Things I like about it: the subtle brown highlights in the hair; the shadows sculpted of warm lavenders and cool purples; the matching cold-purple negative space; the pretty good profile-portrait.

The profile is actually one of the easiest angles to capture accurately. The hardest angle is dead-on straight. In the latter case, there are too many variables you can screw up: getting the eye-line straight, the distance between the eyes accurate, the position of the mouth underneath the nose, which in turn is underneath and between the eyes. You have to measure with great accuracy, and I have not really learned that skill yet. So profiles are relatively easy; quarter views are next easiest; and straight on is a bugger.

(It's also the case that straight on faces lose some of their distinctiveness; features wash out and "normalize" a bit. The quarter view is still really the best portrait view if you're going for distinctiveness and accuracy.)

That's really all I want to say about this nice picture.

Portrait in the Making (Portraits from Photographs 2)

Thought I'd post some "in-progress" scans to record what happens as I complete a painting. This is a portrait of a friend who kindly let me take her portrait with my iPhone after yoga a few Saturdays ago.

Here is stage 2, and you can see the gist of stage 1 in this scan also. I've created the drawing using my usual grid system, after getting a decent color printout of the photo. The pencil lines are clearly there to see, and you can see some of the grid lines as well here and there.

I note here that the first task in painting for me was to rough in the major lines: eyefolds, the curve of the lips, the dark fish-shape of her nostril, the arch of her eyebrows. Here I've also roughed in the major shadows, on the side of her nose and cheek and also the very dark trapezoidal shapes of her side-ways-turned irises and pupils. I've also already masked out some stray hairs that are gleaming in the light streaming in from the window by which she's posing.

Stage 3. Here I've roughed in the darker hair shapes and also already established the dark background behind her head. The eyes are clarifying, the blue sweater is emerging, and I'm slowly building more shape and color in the face.

At this point I was starting to get a little worried. Compared with the dark background, made with a very cold mix of ultramarine and burnt ochre (or maybe it was payne's grey), my friend's face was looking really pale and washed out: much less vibrant and pretty than she is in real life. I was seriously afraid I'd already blown it.

But it's all about learning, right? I did enjoy seeing the model's head "pop" in front of the darkness.

Stage 4: close to done. Obviously I've done a lot of work here on her face mostly. The shape of the face is much clearer, with the cheekbone and downward curve of her "smile lines" highlighted.

Her mouth gave me the biggest trouble here. She has a beautiful, sensual mouth with a very distinct lip-line that has more to do than anything else with what makes her face as beautiful as it is--with what makes her her. So the mouth and lips were always going to be the focus of the painting for me. Well, I struggled a bit, and I don't feel like I have the definitive portrait.

My friend's other special feature are her greenish-hazel eyes. I worked on those pretty hard too.

I'm still feeling like she's too pale.

Done. Or at least as good as it's going to be.

In the last stages I painted in the curtains, which were a lot of fun (I'm growing to love painting fabrics). I also continued to work on the mouth and continued to try to soften her paleness that I had set in motion through the use of too-cold colors. I've lifted the masking fluid and continued to deepen the colors in her tresses. Finally, I pulled out shadows here and there to render some details more distinctly (e.g., her fingers).

For me this painting is a modest success. It's not a bad portrait of my friend--by which I mean that it mostly looks like her. And I am pretty happy with most of the detail and color work.

And yet painting always leaves me in a state of frustration and longing. Yes, the painting is beautiful to me in and of itself. But it does not capture--indeed, it only hints at--the real or ultimate beauty that I long for and catch fleeting glimpses of, the beauty that my friend embodies much more profoundly and deeply than I can "capture." Such is my lot as a mortal.

Thank you, dear friend.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Here's a new still life I'm pretty fond of.

Drawing is a scientific discipline. Really, it always has been. Scientists down the centuries have learned about the structures of living things, of geologic forms, of atmospheric conditions, of the whole universe by drawing. Of course, the drawing we're talking about here is realistic drawing: that particular mode of drawing where you are looking, so intensely, at some piece of creation, that you can't not see it for exactly what is there.

It is the most peculiar thing: that experience of really seeing, of having the world resolve in front of you while you're engaged in the drawing. At first, you see the green leaf, its forms and the way shadow sculpts it; you see the lemon, and you know it's yellow. You put in some lines on your paper, and then you look back at the object, and you see that your lines are wrong. You erase and fix. Then you begin to color, and you realize the yellow lemon actually is pretty orange in some spots; and you realize that the green leaf is so pale in parts as to be almost white and so dark in others as to be almost black. Slowly, you come to see the leaf and the lemon to be as complex as a symphony--shapes, lines, colors all working together to mold a piece of reality into something we so summarily refer to as "leaf" and "lemon."

Our words for the things of the world are so paltry and weak.