Category Archives: portrait

Evolution of a painting

Barry, portrait in acrylic on linen, 28 x 34. Kit Miracle

Except for plein air painting and sketching, it’s pretty rare that I create a painting by just diving in and slapping some paint on canvas.  Yes, I know, movies and biopics of artists give that impression.  But really, it’s hard work and, for me at least, requires a lot of preliminary work.

When I’m doing a portrait, which is to me the most difficult to achieve, I always begin with some preliminary sketches.  Generally I begin with some charcoal sketches.  Sometimes one is enough but more often it’s several.

Barry, preliminary charcoal sketch. Kit Miracle

After that, I may try some color sketches on canvas paper or panels.

In this case, I had recently been gifted with some art supplies by a friend who was moving so I proceeded to a conte crayon study on pastel paper.

Barry, conte crayon. on pastel paper.

The next step was to do a larger oil stick pastel, also on pastel paper.

Barry, oil stick pastel on pastel paper. Kit Miracle

The final painting was created on a large stretched linen canvas 28 x 34.  I had already primed it some time ago with a dark neutral background and some splashes of color in the center.

I sketched in the main figure with charcoal.  Then, sanded the primary area and gessoed it again.  Then sketched over that again with charcoal.  A little spray fixative set the charcoal so the painting process would not pick it up.  I decided to leave the background unfinished with just the initial undercoats of paint.

The figure is painted in acrylic very loosely but with attention to detail in the face and hand.  The primary difference with painting a human portrait as opposed to painting a building or landscape is that if you’re off a brick or leaf in the landscape, no one will know. But if you’re off a quarter of an inch on a nose, you have totally missed the mark in capturing a portrait.   At least in my opinion.

What do you think?

How do you know when your painting is finished?

How do I know when my painting is finished?

That is a question I often ask myself.  For me, the answer is when I can’t think of one more thing to add.  Then STOP!

I’ve noticed that when I’ve taught a class, particularly a watercolor class, that sometimes the participants keep messing with their paintings until …well, they’re a mess.  Stop!  In the case of watercolors, leave some white space.  Leave some space, period.  When I’m working in oils, that is a little more difficult but I always try to avoid the overworked look.  With oils, I stand back and just LOOK.  It seems the closer I get to the final product, the more time I spend looking.  Sometimes it is even best to put it away for a while.  That advice is often offered to young artists but it’s true.  Sometimes after you’ve come back to your work with a few weeks off, the errors will jump out at you.  Other times, you’ll realize that you’ve nailed it.

I ask myself, what am I aiming for?  What is my message?  Despite painting in a realistic style most of the time, I am not aiming for anything approaching photo realism.  If you want it to look like a photo, then take a damn picture!  I’m looking for the message.  What struck me most about this subject?  What am I really trying to convey?  When is enough enough?

Wolf Eyes, detail, oil on canvas

This is a close-up view of a painting that I’m working on right now entitled Wolf Eyes.  I’m just about at the point where…there’s nothing left to add.  Time to set it aside for a while.  I’ll put it on my website when do finish it.  The message that I’m shooting for is the young man in his prime, he is oozing with virility and he knows it.  Wolf Eyes.