Andy and I knew that we wanted to try a more realistic portrait for our 3-hour challenge this time, and so I shared some of my photographs with Andy. It being his turn to choose, he selected a photo of Gill looking rather wistful. He was attracted particularly by the way the light hit her face and hair, with very bright highlights on the left side, and some additional reflected light on the right.
I was intrigued, as this wasn’t an image of Gill I would normally have chosen to paint. Game on! After the experience of the previous challenge, I knuckled down and did a couple of preliminary studies which I hoped would help me get to grips with this painting, in particular looking at how to mix flesh tones.
Now, I must declare an advantage in this challenge with Andy: I have known Gill, the portrait model, for some years, and am therefore pretty well acquainted with her face in ‘real life’. Andy on the other hand has never met her.
We agreed that it would be ok to do underpainting and sketch out the features before the challenge timer started, so that we could focus on just painting during the 3 hours. This proved a helpful decision, as it took me ages to sketch in Gill’s face, with a good deal of rubbing out and ‘hmmm’ing. Even then I wasn’t entirely satisfied, but decided that it would have to do. (Next time I might save a lot of agony by drawing a grid and working to that). I chose (maybe foolishly) to add in an ear and more hair to the right hand side of the picture, as the photo crop wasn’t quite what I had in mind. This gave me some problems – making up body parts doesn’t seem to be my forte.
The challenge morning arrived, and after a quick FaceTime pow-wow, Andy and I set to. My method of approach was to begin with the background (for courage) and then paint in the mid-tones and darks. This was quite haphazard, using a rather dry brush so that the straw-coloured underpainting showed through. I built up the flesh tones in layers, increasingly dark initially, then adding more mid-tones as I progressed. The highlights and bluish reflections were last to be added to the face. This process took about two and a quarter hours. That left 45 mins for the hair and clothing which fortunately were fairly straightforward – I didn’t want to get too finicky with them anyway as I didn’t see them as the main focus of the picture. I scraped in with the last orange zip detail just as Andy was FaceTiming me at the end of our challenge. Phew!
Looking back on this picture I can see some areas that I intended to return to, and then forgot under the pressure of time – these are the parts which stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’ll have to take a more thorough approach next time. However, there are some parts I feel were quite successful, such as the light on the right hand side jaw, and the left side of the nose.
Once again, it was fascinating to see how our approaches differ, and also the areas where we both made similar decisions. I think Andy nailed the eyes, giving them a really liquid luminosity, and I especially like the left side of the face where the bright sunshine merges into the flesh tones. For me his portrait really captured the wistful expression of the photograph.
It’s very likely that there will be a pause in the joint challenges now, due to work pressures up to the end of January. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that we’ll stop thinking about what we’d like to try next! Roll on February…