A no muss no fuss watercolor – the way I see summer flowers without my glasses.
A no muss no fuss watercolor – the way I see summer flowers without my glasses.
I have a number of drawing and painting projects and as well as studies going on at the moment, but I have found time to get back to the portrait of Diesel. An oil painting is often best worked on later rather than sooner. Extra time gives each layer a chance to dry before I paint on top of it. There were times when I thought something was dry enough to paint on top of, had even used a drying medium to speed things up, but it was a bit too soon to have proceeded.
The devil is often in the tiny details. I have no exact method for layering, glazing and choice of mediums. Linseed oil, for example, would keep the painting wet longer if I think the right look for the piece calls for blending as opposed to layering. Once I have started a painting, it is really only then, and as I go along that I become more clear about what it needs.
Layering is in itself a way of blending. Because I decided to redraw and repaint the chair, the blue paint overlapped the edges of the dog, which gives the appearance of being blended or shaded. This blending/shading makes the dog look more three dimensional and part of the scene as opposed to appearing pasted on.
There are gold threads running through this pattern, which I neglected to paint in the first time around. Doing the chair over again gave me an opportunity to put the gold threads in first instead of trying to work them in around the details of the print on the chair. I mixed up my color, mostly yellow and white plus a hint of red and blue, and laid it on with a palette knife.
A palette knife is the best and fastest way to do lines or stripes. It’s fun too! It can’t be exactly controlled which makes the strokes lively and energetic. If I’ve landed a little more of the paint than I meant to it is no problem. Part of the design is the same color and these “extra” bits of paint will contribute to the overall tying in of the composition.
I put a few dabs of the yellow paint mixture on the eyes and in the fur. The result was wonderful!
If you look behind the ear on the left, you will see part of the design, a bit of blue, where I have begun to repaint the pattern of the chair. I have a ways to go on this, but even if I had to backtrack to get going in the right direction, it was worth it.
I have been focused so much on the details, the HOW of how I am going to do this, the portrait aspect had begun to escape me. It can’t be explained exactly, but when I look at the painting now, I see more than a collection of hit and miss passes at a painting. I see Diesel, an adorable pet and much loved companion. 🙂
A lot of artists, often the very best of them, are tortured by the challenge of getting a likeness. But what exactly is a likeness? Well, once you start talking about likeness in an artwork invariably someone will come up with “the eyes are the window of the soul” so how you do the eyes is most important.
Now we have an unwieldy ordeal. We have gone from does it look like the person, resemble the person, could you pick the person out of a lineup based on this picture to things further afield, such as souls and windows and how well you do eyes. What if the eye is perfectly done but somehow does not read as “window of the soul?”
Take a deep breath and repeat after me “The eyes are NOT the windows of the soul.” I know, blasphemy, right? Maybe the eyes are the windows of the soul. For the purpose of getting a likeness, it is immaterial whether or not the eyes are the windows of the soul.
Take a look at the photo above of my friend the Mad Hatter. This is one of the photos I took of the Alice in Wonderland statue which lives in Central Park, NYC.
If someone asked you “What does the Mad Hatter look like?” – the first thing you would say is “He is wearing a big top hat.” Essentially, you give the person the best information they would want to have should they need to find the Mad Hatter in a hurry. You have said nothing about the eyes, his face or even his expression.
For me, a likeness depends on the most obvious detail that separates my head (portrait) from another portrait. If you have two people with similar eye shapes, then no matter how well you do the eyes, the eyes alone would not distinguish one person from the other. Look for the obvious. Hair style can be a good place to start. Hair color. Glasses, the shape of the glasses – for example, a pair of tiny, circular spectacles often put people in mind of John Lennon and big, rhinestone glasses conjure up images of Elton John.
People often say “So and so looks just like her father, mother, Aunt Jane etc. – she has the same eyes.” I don’t find this to be true at all looking at father, mother, Aunt Jane. What father, mother and Aunt Jane have in common is something for more discernable – the eyebrows. I find characteristic eyebrows run in families for one thing, and often distinguish people quite well from one another if they are not family.
So you see there are many ways to approach getting a likeness. When you have finished your portrait, ask yourself does it look like so and so? If it does, you have gotten a likeness. It might not be the best picture you have ever done but you have achieved a likeness.
Having said all that, I think we can have our cake and eat it too about the “windows of the soul.” Whether you are doing a portrait of a friend, client or a face you pulled off the internet – you must engage with it – this head – and remember it is a person or attached to a person anyway. Who is this person? Would you go for a walk with them? Have coffee? Where do they live? This last bit might not be the defining moment where you have achieved your goal of getting a likeness, but it is the difference between a great work of art, something competently done or something that is just so-so.
You really have to believe. If you believe you can “get a likeness” you are free to focus on other things such as details of the face and hair, the expression and even bring to it the emotions you feel as you mind drifts about contemplating who this person is or could be to you. I know you can do it – I BELIEVE!
When I am unsure of myself, I scratch my way along or “noodle” as my art teachers used to say. Contour drawing is the opposite of that. To put the line down firmly is more important than the accuracy or likeness. If you keep up with all your other drawing exercises which emphasize the other aspects of drawing – the accuracy and likeness will follow. The first two drawings here are contour drawings.
Noodling or nudging the lines along in a direction I think they are supposed to go is a surefire way to be less accurate. If fact, I have decided noodling is a visual form or stuttering – the equivalent of a speech impediment. After all, art is a language.
I think about that nudging hesitation which makes my ideas incomprehensible to the viewer. I draw and remind myself “a line can not go in two directions at once.” I know that I can wander my lines around long enough to find the shape or the form and nail down accuracy or a likeness – but one simply cannot consider oneself a good artist if one relies entirely on the right series of happy accidents that might occur one in forty or fifty attempts at a good picture!
To make a career as an artist or be able to have drawing come easily enough to enjoy it, one must buckle down at some point and commence a serious study. One might study one or two weaknesses that mar otherwise technically competent pieces or commence to study everything as it happened in my case. I was inept at all there was to be inept at – proportion, was a big one, although surprisingly, I had a gift (gift, ha!) for getting a likeness.
Some of my best artworks took very little time. And others, notably some of my paintings, have taken two to ten years. The contour drawing of the dog at the top of the page I think is extremely good – it took approximately ten minutes and was done directly ink on paper with no pencil underdrawing. The second drawing, the Sunflower, took about half an hour and began as a pencil drawing, using a light pencil and an eraser to make corrections. The third one, dog portrait in color pencil, with a digitally colored background might have taken an hour or two.
The first drawing, is the most successful – the lines (even the searching lines) are sure, confident, boldly placed, expressive and accurate. The sunflower, referenced from my own photo, is also successful, but not as interesting as the first. The dog in the first drawing has an intriguing, almost human expression on its face and unexpected pose. In the photo reference I used the dog was balancing on the back of a couch. I decided to leave out the couch. Hence, the mystery position – is he jumping up, leaning on a person…..not knowing adds to the drama of the drawing.
The third drawing in color pencil- photo reference provided by a friend – has some dynamic directions and a good pose, but my color combinations are a little muddy in places. The lines of that drawing don’t hold up to the confident lines and boldness of the black and white images. In addition the expression of the dog is portrait pretty nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. In spite of all that, I think it is a good drawing which shows the character and loveliness of the subject and I am pleased with it.
All of these drawings were done this week – within days of each other. I gave a great deal of thought to why I felt they were successful. I hope that if I can think about it and remember what I am thinking and discuss it I will remember some helpful hints so that my art can continue to develop.
I drew the color pencil dog portrait first. My photo reference was a little fuzzy. The structure of the dog was difficult to decipher – I scratched my way along looking not only for accuracy and direction, but structure. When dealing with our furry friends it isn’t always easy to tell how limbs attach to the body or how exactly the head overlaps the neck and shoulders or overlaps a paw depending on the pose.
The next day I drew the contour drawing of the sunflower. I consciously reminded myself that the fewer lines I use, the more each line has to count. So in a manner which is completely counterintuitive in the “quick sketch” I drew slowly and deliberately.
Really good drawings involve a degree of study akin to learning to read. You might have already learned to read before kindergarten but just because you did not remember the actual learning process, you still must have learned it. And if it is otherwise, than I am at a loss!
Some of the things I study are anatomy (animals and human), color theory and dynamic composition. Lastly, you have to use your imagination. That is the other thing I have thought about a lot lately. The whole imagination thing. The be creative thing. I tend to think as people who are not artists think – that the imagination is just there. I find I have to work at it.
I drew the dog reminding myself that the line can not go in two directions at once When I drew the sunflower, I pretended I was a dancer and my fingers were my feet. I must keep my pen firmly on the paper or lose my balance. For these drawings anyway – they are contours not gestures…as in writing – i before e except after c, but then again in “their”……another time I will tell you the secret of getting a likeness.