Friday, November 5, 2010

A Portrait is a Process

A few blogs ago, I introduced you to my granddaughter and a refresher course I was taking from Richard Kirk at the Center for the Arts of Bonita Springs Florida of which I’m a member.

Kudos to Richard! This was by far the most informative and helpful course I have ever taken. Richard takes time with each student, answers questions, and shares the problems and questions with the group so everyone learns something new. I feel more equipped than ever to tackle the tough problems of doing portraiture.

The portrait itself is finished, but originally I had intended this as only a study. I used a 12x16 canvas sheet. Now that it’s finished, I’ve decided to mount it on stretcher boards and turn it into a regular canvas. When I finally add it to my online gallery, I may have added some background subtleties and color. I’m going to name the painting: “Daydreams” and add some pastel colors behind her with a butterfly, a small fairy, or a bird(s) representing her daydreams (or I may on a whim leave it alone).

The grid system is great for portraits because it keeps you on track. Every mark you make on canvas is fluid, depending on the width of your pencil lead, the consistency of your medium (in this case oil), and the brush you use. Putting a grid on between layers of paint helps you maintain the proportions of the face and figure.

Kirk’s skin tone formula is hard to beat. You combine one part cad red, and three parts raw sienna for the base. Your choices are endless as you add mixing white in varying degrees to each value change on your palette. Other colors used for mixing into any of these other values are titanium white, burnt umber, ultramarine violet, ultramarine blue, viridian, yellow ochre, etc. These colors add variations for warm and cool shadows, highlights, and reflective light.

When you run out of the base color, you can easily mix more. When one of the values is gone, you can take from the base and add white until you have the exact hue and tone you need. A great system that is easy to use and remember.

The drawing I did of Lyla looks like her, but it is flat. The painting of her may not look exactly like her photograph, but it does look like a real child that could literally peel off the page and walk into your life. The painting has warmth, life, and personality.

To see other portrait work by Carol, go to her online gallery at