Very soon after my painting friend Andy and I had finished our first challenge, we started discussing what our next should be, and came up with the idea of painting a portrait. I was very keen indeed to do this, as I know I need the practice, and this synchronous painting venture would make me just get on with it. Andy kindly shortlisted a few photos, and this one appealed the most to me:
Fortunately Andy was also happy to paint ‘Beardy’ as he became fondly known. There was a bit of an extra challenge in this one, as it was a black and white image*, and we both wanted to paint in colour. That would mean finding a ‘key’ to translate tones into colours. Interesting.
In the run-up, Andy messaged me the preliminary sketches he’d been doing. Cripes – I hadn’t intended to do any prep (lazy), but guilt pushed me into making a quick study of the photo, and some possible colour notes. There’s a first time for everything. It turned out that this was a good thing, as the sketch highlighted some troublesome areas to watch out for.
Andy also upped the ante by boldly saying he was going to work at roughly A2 size. I hadn’t planned to go this big, given that it would make it harder to scale up the image successfully, but in the spirit of the enterprise I threw caution to the winds and broke out an A2 canvas board. Gulp.
Today was the big day, a 3 hour painting session with a mutual reveal at 3pm. Time to knuckle down. I knew that I would start with underpainting, but had been shilly-shallying over the colour. In the end I went for a mix of cobalt and cerulean blue, as I wanted the mid tones and highlights to be in oranges, and the deepest areas to be a dark purply-blue. Underpainting done, I sketched the main features in graphite. Then it was on with the deep purple, in all the shaded areas (and there were a lot of them). This took about 45 mins. If I’m honest I quite liked how the picture looked at this stage, and was tempted to leave it there. But I got a grip, mixed up some orange and laid that in for the mid-light areas. I wasn’t at all sure I’d done the right thing at this point. The orange was turning greenish where it was only thinly laid over the underpainting – not what I’d hoped for. I bumped up the coverage a little, which improved matters. Nearly another hour gone, and only 2 colours on!
Things then progressed very quickly. Flecks of red lowlights to deepen some of the oranges, a very pale yellow for the brightest areas, and a dry brush to skim highlights over the existing paint. Then back in with the purple to balance out more of the darks throughout. It was an intense experience, with multiple struggles and minor victories over problem areas. Time to stop became evident when I realised I was faffing over small details. Brush down. 20 mins left on the clock, and Andy Face Timed me that he’d also finished. Wonderful. We agreed that it had been a very good challenge, making us face fears and rise to the occasion, finding creative solutions to the many problems we’d encountered. Happy, tired painters.
It is once again fascinating to see how differently we have interpreted the picture, and where the similarities lie. On my own picture I’m especially pleased with the eyes, and how the dramatic colours worked together. I particularly like the way Andy’s laid the paint on in his picture with the flat brush, building up and contouring the skin out of the shadows and red underpainting. I came away from the experience absolutely buzzing, and I know Andy did too. There will be more!
*There’s an interesting footnote to this tale, which is that when investigating the photographer so that I could offer credit here, we were astounded to discover that the image we’d painted from was actually a stunningly executed photo-realistic drawing by the amazing Franco Clun. Franco has kindly given permission for us to post our images (and his) here. Franco, thanks again if you’re reading this! I’d encourage anyone to have a good look at Franco’s tremendous graphite drawings at http://francoclun.deviantart.com/gallery/ Truly astonishing, breathtakingly-detailed work.