Here is the completed painting for this exercise.
I made sketches of a neighbour, a dreamy eighteen year old. Below is the penultimate version, which I looked at for a couple of weeks before making some changes to skin tones (pink to nose and cheek, highlights to forehead and cheekbone) and hair tones (darks lighter and lights darker). It’s difficult to compare them here because one was taken in full sunlight, and is true to the original; the other (below) was taken in shade, and consequently is much bluer.
She is on the cusp of the transition from ungainly childhood to being a young woman. She is experimenting with being grown up – arriving with carefully applied make-up, but her hair still rough and tumble! In my head and shoulders portrait I’ve succeeded in capturing her youth, innocence and passivity, but lost her awkwardness that the sketches brought out. In doing so I’ve lost a childlike quality and made her seem older than she is. I must confess I’ve played to how she would like to see herself, thinking I’d like to be able to show her the painting and for her to be pleased.
The painting was done from my sketches and photos on 35x50cm mixed media lightly textured paper. I made a lot of thinned washes of acrylic paint, using them almost like glazes to build up tone and form. Some of the sketches and photos were made outdoors with a blue sky and far away blue-green hills behind her; this is the context for my painting. I used these blues and greens in the skin tones, showing how the face and hair reflects the light from her surroundings.
The first (biro) sketch captures her character well, and made my husband laugh out loud in recognition! I did get the characteristic ungainly, awkward look. The awkwardness remind me of myself at that age. The third (charcoal and coloured pencil) is also a characteristic pose – round-shouldered, one arm self-consciously across the front. For the close-up (charcoal and colours pencil) she sat quite close to me, and I did capture something of the dreamy, passive gaze – although I’ve mis-aligned the eyes. In all three, I’ve got the way the head tends to be inclined down while she gazes upwards.
The second (charcoal) study is nothing like her, but she favoured it – it makes her look pretty and graceful but lacking in her own character.
Reviewing all my portraits.
Her is a gallery of my portrait paintings so far.
Which ones are the most successful?
I asked my husband to review the paintings seen all together, and give me his reactions. In his view the first two are least successful – they aren’t well defined and have less impact than the other four, which are all are very different in style. The subjects in all are recognisable. The self portrait (third painting in gallery) is the most successful – it jumps out at you, because paint and colour have been used more liberally. Irem (sixth in gallery) is lightweight and a bit photographic, the paint and colours are watery. Nasife (fifth in gallery) is dark and atmospheric and has good contrasts.
What technical demands did I encounter?
Painting a nude self portrait was a challenge – I didn’t altogether succeed in overcoming cold, insecurity (would someone burst in) and self-consciousness, and it just felt strange sitting there painting with nothing on!
Özge (tonal portrait, second in gallery) presented the challenge of foreshortening, and drawing proportions and placing lines correctly in general, and took quite a bit f head-scratching before I was satisfied.
Drawing the head seen at different angles and aligning features correctly requires a lot of practise and perseverance.
How hard did I find the interpretive element of portrait painting?
Very hard. I found it difficult to get to grips with the notion of a portrait in itself conveying an atmosphere or mood, without it telling a story. I also found it perplexing how to convey character in the person I chose, whose character isn’t yet formed.