Here is another contender for the title of “Painting That Has Sat For The Longest Amount Of Time On My Easel While I Contemplate How Best To Approach It”. I believe it clocked in at about one full year. While I’m not completely sure why I lost my courage for so long, I suspect that I hesitated partly because I worried that the whole “portrait of the back of a woman’s head” thing had already been done to death. To me, it seemed like a cheap and easy way to add some mystery to an otherwise very pedestrian image. But artists steal ideas from each other all the time, and when you get right down to it, how many of us can say that our work is 100% original? We are all influenced by each other, and if you’re waiting for a truly original idea before putting paint to canvas, you’ll be waiting a long, long time. Life’s too short!
I also wavered quite a bit on what medium to use. Acrylics are odor-free but difficult to blend, while oils (even water-miscible oils!) give me a headache. In the end, most of the painting is acrylic, with only the hair and certain details on the clothing are oils.
This piece also went through a few digital iterations prior to – and even during – the painting process. You might remember this earlier post where I played around with various background colours on a first pass of digital painting.
Once I’d decided on the background colour, I put down a first layer of acrylics then painted a second digital pass on top – just to reassure myself that I was going in the right direction after all.
And finally, here are some more process shots as I moved from acrylics to oils.
And now this painting sits on my piano – which I also haven’t touched in forever, btw – where I can see it every day, and it fills me with a sense of enormous well-being, and also a healthy dose of “Took you long enough!”
I learned many things while attempting to complete this painting, such as the importance of working from a good reference image, and just how difficult it can be to accurately convey shadowed skin tones as well as brilliant, sunlit hair. Quite the challenge!
In fact, it was SO challenging that I made no fewer than 5 attempts to get this painting completed in a way that made me happy. After two false starts with oil on canvas and a number of digital tests, I wondered “Maybe this just doesn’t want to be painted?” For someone who hadn’t touched traditional paint in over a year (and is more comfortable with acrylics, to boot), a blurry, shadowed portrait with serious backlighting maybe wasn’t the safest, easiest way to ease myself back into painting. But of course, I couldn’t give up. Not only was I keen on trying to reproduce the halo effect on the hair, but also… the subject of the painting is my own daughter!
With all the enthusiasm of a New year’s diet, at the start of January, I vowed to throw myself into judgement-free artmaking. The plan was (and still is!) to produce like nobody’s business, and at the end of the year – HOPEFULLY – end up with a massive output of art from which I will be able to detect certain patterns, like “what subject matter do I gravitate towards?”, “what colours do I use most often?”, and most importantly “what am I trying to say with my art?”. I know, I know… the pressure to have the Big Questions answered kinda short-circuits the whole “judgment-free” thing, but “Quantity Leads to Quality” and all that jazz…
Part of my plan also involves experimenting with different artistic approaches. My Pinterest account has an Inspiration page filled to the brim with figurative art, and quite a lot of it is done with large areas of flat colour, something I find completely fascinating but have never really attempted to do myself. And that’s how this portrait came to be! Going against my detail-oriented ways was both scary and exhilarating, but ultimately, I’m undecided about the success of this piece. On the one hand, it got me out of my comfort zone (which was the point), but on the other hand, doing it made me feel like I was wearing someone else’s identity. So maybe… I should do this more often? 😉
When I saw this young woman’s portrait (so-called “Cleveland” because I think it came from the Cleveland Municipal Archives), I just knew that I had to breathe some colour into her. Surely this is a woman who would have had no problem asking for, nay, demanding equal pay! Or maybe I’m projecting a little bit…
Another day, another re-paint! While I try to summon the courage to break away from digital art and actually pick up a paintbrush, I’m indulging in re-painting some of my older digital landscapes. It’s not entirely fair for me to disparage my old work and say “Wow! Look how much I’ve learned” because those first landscapes were just supposed to be quick studies done over my lunch hour (like I don’t spend enough time staring at a screen, right?). But with time, those early studies have started to look pretty clunky, and, quite frankly, a little embarrassing. I’m not saying that I’m going to give my entire portfolio a do-over, but… maybe a few pieces here and there.