Self Portrait Painting Drawing — September 2015


My 2nd Self Portrait Painting

Can we be perfectly honest here?
If you want a shock, have someone take a profile photo of you! I happened upon this revelation in my art class. I began studying with an art instructor almost a year ago.  I’ve been feeling that my formal art instruction was kind of spotty and that I had missed something.

I started from the beginning — first The Line Course, then The Tone Course, then The Color Course. Every drawing or painting is to start with the same steps. Charcoal sketch to get the lines all in the right place. Then over that a three tone painting in sepia. Then add color. And voila! Easy huh?

Well I got chastised repeatedly for not “holding the tone”, so I was required to paint a single piece of fruit — over and over. I copied several of Monet’s floral paintings and an Edward Hopper seascape. Finally, I said “I really, really want to do PORTRAITS!”

So finally last week I got to start The Portrait Course. I spent two classes doing charcoal sketches of faces — straight on, profile, 3/4 turn. And I sketched at home, too, from internet photos of celebs and old masters. The whole time I was learning to relate this part to that piece, and to the whole.

typical-facial-proportionsThere are all sorts of things to be measured. We start by dividing the face vertically into three parts. Chin to below the nose constitutes the bottom third. Then the bottom of the nose to the eyebrows (middle third) and eyebrows to hairline (top third). Try it on your own face!

From straight on, the distance between eyes is usually the width of an eye! From the side, the vertical distance from eye to chin is usually the same as the horizontal distance from eye to ear. The bottom of the lower lip vertically divides the bottom third. It is surprising how consistent these measurements are. Not carved in stone, but certainly a good place to start!! And of course, if there is any kind of tilt to the face, it throws all these handy formulas OFF completely.

Then there is the whole thing about using charcoal sticks to draw . . . so messy — hate ’em. However, the good thing is that if you find you have put that eye in the wrong place, you can just swipe it and it is GONE — no erasing! So there was another lesson learned.

The Origin of Self Portrait Paintings

Well I had been thinking for some time that I should try a SELF portrait painting. There is a long and illustrated history of artists who drew and painted themselves. Especially before the days of photography, artists had to hire models to sit for them. A self portrait painting was the logical solution — a free and endlessly patient model!

Rembrandt has a portfolio of at least 50 self portraits. The analysts go nuts drawing all sorts of conclusions from his style and pose and clothes and what it all MEANS. And poor tortured Van Gogh even painted himself with a bandage after cutting off his ear! (What was he thinking? “I’m an idiot.”) Frieda Kahlo did many self portrait paintings, and some are very unsettling — with bones and organs revealed! Here is a link to a great Web Urbanist article about a selection of famous self portraits.

Painting My Own Self-Portrait

In art class last week I announced that I thought it was time to try a self portrait painting. My teacher was receptive to this idea and took a profile pic of me. I grabbed my charcoal and worked and worked, but had a terrible time trying to get myself right. Finally, after lots of rub outs and re-dos, I had a likeness. Well, it looked like the photo; but who is that grim looking woman?! The hell of it is I thought that was my PLEASANT look!!!! More like GRIM RESOLVE! And I had no idea my nose was that, uh . . . strong! Fortunately my teacher came by and rubbed out the dark naso-labial (nose to corner of mouth) line. She said we don’t need to be THAT accurate. Hah! Thank you!

So the adventure continues. This week I am starting a drawing of a lovely lady that I will continue through the painting stages. There are so many things to remember. Relate the parts, analyze the lit and non-lit parts, hold the tone, see the planes of the face — and RELAX, have fun!!!!

WHEEEEEEEE! I know i can remember the HAVE FUN part! That’s what I do best!

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Tiff’s Family Portrait Painting — Dad, Mom and Brother


My Family Portrait Painting Adventure

Today I delivered my latest commissioned family portrait painting to a lovely lady who lives in Hutto and works in North Austin. Tiffany called me at the end of May and asked me to paint a portrait of her deceased father, mother and brother.

She texted me a variety of individual photos and snapshots of them, but there was no picture of them all together. I was challenged to put together a painting that would show them all together happily in heaven. And to make it more interesting, my vivacious client left no doubt that her dearly departed family would be more mischievous than somber in their heavenly location!

Planning and Preparing the Portrait Painting

I started with six of the family photos Tiffany sent me. I cropped, enlarged, cut-out and arranged and re-arranged the family members on a canvas. The biggest difficulty was putting them together in a way that made sense, with their heads facing the same direction. Then I had to pretend there was just a single light source (despite the different lighting in the photos).

Although conventional family portrait painting doctrine dictates “lighting from the left” (think Mona Lisa and most studio photography), I opted for lighting from above because most of the snapshots where lit that way — and it is supposed to be heaven, after all! So I came up with a composition, which I sketched and texted to Tiffany for approval. She replied saying she “loved it”; so it was time for the fun to begin!

Painting Tiff’s Family Portrait

None of the details of the photos were particularly clear; but in the end that was probably better. It forced me to paint my IMPRESSION of Tiffany’s Dad, Mom and Brother, rather than searching for the correct LINE to define a shape. Once the paint started flowing I really got to know the family well.

My family portrait painting subjects and I had lots of little conversations about just what they wanted me to do. Sometimes I would sit down away from the canvas and they would holler at me:

“Hey you can’t leave my right eye like THAT!”

“Do you really think my left ear is down that low?”

“I need more of a smile!”

Yep, they kept it up until I got it right. I texted the final version to Tiffany for approval, and she phoned me back — she was so excited!

Delivering the Family Portrait Painting to Tiffany

After two weeks of drying time I was able to apply a varnish (satin finish-UV protected). I arranged to meet Tiffany for lunch near her work. [It’s great to have a local commission and being able to hand deliver my artwork — especially the family portrait paintings. By comparison, wrapping one of my creations in a box and just mailing it away is almost painful.] I arrived first and watched the door; and before long a beautiful younger version of “Mom” walked in! I had to have a photo of all four of them together!

Tiffany loved her family portrait painting, which she says is a tribute to those dear people she has lost in this world. Now she’ll have them on her living room wall, where she can talk to them every day. They are a gregarious bunch; I think she’ll be hearing a lot from them!

Posted in Family Portraits | 2 Comments

‘Two Little Cowboys’ Portrait Painting and Fond Memories

2-cowboys-portrait-paintingI finally got a chance to do this cowboys portrait painting in my new basement art studio overlooking Lake Travis! It took more than a year to build the house; and with all the moving and decorating, I’ve gone six long weeks without lifting a paintbrush. But the new studio is great: I have have lots of light, plenty of storage for canvasses and art supplies — and enough space to have several paintings going at once.

I had a request for another commission back in February; but I put everything on hold to concentrate on the house move. Finally I was ready! So a couple of weeks ago, I contacted my “patron” David. Surprise! He said he wanted me to do this Two Little Cowboys portrait painting for his girlfriend first.

My Cowboys Portrait Painting Subjects

The adorable photo he sent me showed two little guys who looked so much like MY boys at that age that I just couldn’t believe it! My guys are 27 and 30 now, and WOW did that photo bring back some memories! We used to go to the Austin rodeo every year and the kids always looked just like this — ready to rope a calf or ride a bull if necessary. Look how the hats are wider than THEY are!!! So precious!

I’m kinda curious to know what these two really look like; but on the other hand, I feel like I KNOW them perfectly.


Future Cowboys Portrait Paintings Material?

These are my own little cowboys, Clark and Ross (age 2 and 5). Maybe I’ll do a cowboys portrait painting of them some day.

This week, I ordered a self-contained portable air conditioner for the studio. Hopefully it will be useable even on the hottest summer day. One of the nicest things about my workspace is that with the access from the outside deck, down the stairs, it is like “going to work”. Remote and private, with no household distractions to get in the way of progress! I can put on my tunes or have silence — no TV competing in the background. OH, YES, I’m in heaven.

But this week I’ll be starting on another commission from David. I already have it sketched out, and have some ideas about the composition, colors and shading I want to use. And I’m looking forward to more singing, dancing and painting in my new dreamy studio.

I hope you all do something you love in a place that brings you joy!

Posted in Portrait | 6 Comments