Thursday, January 13, 2011

A portrait - from embarrassing to not too bad

I went up to DC yesterday to work with Rob Vander Zee.  He's a very good teacher.  He has a school two days a week in which he gives demos and individual instruction.  I feel like I learn a lot from him each time I work with him.

Yesterday I took a piece I'd started on a while back and had given up on because it was so awful.  I had decided to work on an old canvas so I painted over the old painting with a mixture of palette mud and pumice, thinking I might draw with pastels rather than paint.  Then I changed my mind and decided to paint, but my goodness!  The canvas was horrific.  It was like trying to drag a brush through dry sand.  I couldn't get it to work on teh canvas. It was terrible.  Despite that, I was pretty determined so I perservered, but I just couldn't get the painting to work.  It is a gorgous portrait of Valley, the model I've been collaborating with for the upcoming show Artists and Writers at Randolph Macon (opening Feb 20), and I love the image, so I was excited to do the painting.  I started using the method Rob had taught me, loosely, lightly, using Galkyd for glaze.  That stuff REALLY didn't like the surface I'd created!  Also, in choosing to work lightly and loosely, I went at the face with an approximation of how it should look, not being persnickety and exacting, figuring I would go back into it and refine it later.  That is NOT a good way to do a face!

The first part was fine - the bathing suit turned out nicely.  Her hair looks good.  I grided in her face so I would have guidelines to work with.
And now at the risk of embarrassing myself completely, I'll post the first rendition of her face.  It was horrible!  Poor thing, she looks like one of those dessicated faces made out of dried apples.  Sorry, Valley!
Quite discouraged, I painted over her face and put the canvas aside for a couple of months.  My son and husband kept coming out to the studio though and commenting on the piece and saying they really liked her hair and her bathing suit and that I should work on it some more.  NO.  Too discouraged.

Until Monday night when I was trying to figure out what to take to DC the next day.  My printer is totally wrecked so I can't print out any photos right now, so I had to work on something I already had a photo for.  I decided to be bold and brave and to try working on this picture again. 

When I got up there I gridded the face again so I could do it with a lot of accuracy.  Then I began painting.  It was helpful to have Rob there to point out when I was headed off in the wrong direction.  I did all the features with great detail until he suggested I soften all the lines, and blur the ones between her teeth.  That was very helpful.

I managed to make some very good progress on her face and came home feeling like perhaps it wasn't a completely lost cause.

This afternoon I worked on a few things on her face then re-painted her arm and bathing suit so the colors were in harmony with her face which was no longer lavender.  Now it's feeling close to finished, and I'm not so embarrassed to show the darn thing in public!  I think I need to work on her eyes a bit more but otherwise it may be close to done.  I know it doesn't look 100% like Valley, but I think most people who know her would know that's what I had in mind.  I hope so at least!  Portraits are not easy to paint.  It's significantly easier just to paint a body with no hands or feet or face!!

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