By Diana Shaw
January 16, 2014
As I have mentioned more than a few times, wintertime is a great time for painting portraits. Some say that portraits are hard. It can be if you let it, but there are simple aids if you wish to use them. Slide images projected on canvas is one of them. An opaque projector is also an aid in getting started with basic shapes. To this list I would have to add the electronic projector which projects computer images on the walls. It is mainly used for computer presentations but is useful for helping get basic images onto canvas.
I have used all of these at one time or another but it is most rewarding when you start out with the person in front of you and sketch their likeness on the canvas. This takes skill, time and practice. When I say practice, it’s just like any sport, if you don’t practice you get rusty. The same is true with drawing and painting portraits from the actual person. Even when I do start out with the actual person posing for the painting, I will take a lot of pictures to help remind me of details when the person is not actually sitting there. I also take a lot of pictures of an area I am painting when I paint scenes plein air, outside in nature’s landscapes, but in winter, portraits are warmer to paint.
I usually start out with the general shape of the person’s head and size and position it where I want it on the canvas. This first step is very important and will define almost everything else you paint on the canvas. Do not take these initial steps lightly. I then define the area of the eyes, nose and mouth as to where they fit in the face. Then, the general shape and size of the cheek bone, ear and chin/jaw area. Once I am happy with that, I will go back to the eyes and define their shape, size, depth, eyebrows, all in general area bush strokes. The nose, its length, width and shape and the flair of the end of the nose is next. On to the mouth, size, shape and the facial structure around the mouth and nose, the chin is then shaped in.
After these general structures are shaped in, I go back to the eyes and eyebrows and lines beside and under the eyes. Again I am usually still working with mostly shapes with a smaller brush than I first used. I work down the face and across the face looking at shadows that help define the face. By this time, I have paint all over the face and start to define hair lines and size and shape of the forehead. I will then define the hair area, then drop down and define the neck and shoulders of the subject. It seems like a lot of jumping around, but it’s necessary to see and notice how different parts of the face and head relate to each other in placement, size and shape.
While working in one area, you may notice that it doesn’t seem to be right as another area so jumping around for me is perfectly natural. Define areas and shapes, first with a big brush then refining these shapes and areas with a smaller brush then going into details with an even smaller brush. Generally speaking that’s how I do things but that’s subject to change if the mood hits me different. Sometimes I start out with just the eyes and build a face around them. This sometimes makes for an odd or imbalanced composition so I do not recommend this as a good first step.
I speak from a lot of experience and from the point of view of a lot of mistakes. But in truth even our worse mistakes are valuable practice. Not every portrait is going to turn out as a good likeness. Sometimes you miss a key feature or just get things wrong. Again I am speaking from experience, it is a great teacher if you don’t get discouraged quickly. A good personal teacher can help you overcome many of these mistakes and help you through them when you do make them.
At present, we are working on the basic of facial shapes and features at the Madison County Senior Center, 280 W. High St., London, from 9-11 a.m. on Fridays. Come and join in or just watch the demonstration and see what other people are doing to chase away the winter blues. Before the warm weather hits, we will start working on scenes for those who wish to start some plein air (outdoor) scenery painting. We do this mostly in the spring, summer and early fall.