Onwards, with a Smile

I’ve been trying to summon up the courage to get on with this portrait of the lovely Amy for some time. Then, having got stuck in, it’s suffered a few setbacks on the way, which hasn’t made the process entirely plain sailing, but then, whenever is this an entirely straighforward experience? And where would the fun be if it was?

Initially I chose quite a deep, Air Force blue for the underpainting. This gave me a lot of trouble with my initial drawing as I couldn’t see my pencil marks properly. I tried overdrawing in watercolour pencils, and once I could see what I’d drawn (and redrawn, several times) decided that it wasn’t good enough anyway. Lesson learned. In the end I abandoned ship and started afresh on a new canvas, drawing straight onto the white, which felt much better. The hardest part to capture was the mouth, trying to suggest the start of laughter which I knew was there. I spent a long time on that. Redrawing the lines meant that there wasn’t enough time to complete the portrait in one sitting (which I would normally prefer to do). So this picture was completed over about three days, in shorter bursts.

However, the advantage of returning to the painting over several sessions is that I’ve been able to step back in between stages and consider my next move, making adjustments as necessary. I think that’s been helpful, although I wonder if I’ve sacrificed a little spontaneity in the search for accuracy. Maybe it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.


Normally I hesitate to edit what I see, but in this portrait I did omit a necklace which I felt was going to detract from the face. Doing this required a confidence I didn’t feel, first imagining and then trying to convincingly paint the area which would have been covered by the jewellery – a good lesson, no doubt.

Since I’m currently painting portraits from photos I’ve taken, I’m really discovering how important the source image is. This one didn’t offer as much tonal contrast on Amy’s face as I’d have liked; a bit more lighting drama would have been good, so that’s something to bear in mind in future attempts. Also, painting people I actually know is a very interesting situation: on the one hand you can choose to bring to bear your experience of your interactions with them, and your knowledge of their personality, but then the ultimate aim of trying to capture the essence of the person, not just how they appear in a single image, can be terribly hard to achieve. It’s a very trying business!

The ideal behind painting these portraits from photographs is that I’ll eventually be sufficiently familiar with general facial features and perceiving individual characteristics to be able to sketch and paint faces more accurately and quickly from life. I do get the impression that this is going to be a loooong project – I’ll just have to approach it with a smile!

30 thoughts on “Onwards, with a Smile

  1. I think that after all the hours you dedicated on it you can be pleased with the results Rebecca. The expression of eyes and mouth are very natural and expressive. You also gave a brightness to her that seems sheΒ΄s coming out of the canvas. Nice portrait!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gorgeous and warm portrait! It might be a shame about the reference’s lighting, but I think your choice of background really helps there – it really brings out her (superb, by the way!) features.

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  3. Hi Rebecca. I think it looks great and you’ve maintained some of the freshness of a one sitting. Interesting thoughts on using photos, something I’ve not solved is when subjects wear quite a bit of make up, really struggle to find a way ‘in’ to the face. Any tips?

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    • I’m so glad you think I’ve still managed to capture a little of the immediacy I was looking for – thank you. Yeah, makeup…Amy goes completely ‘au naturel’ but then she’s just plain gorgeous. Luckily for me, none of my subjects have worn any make-up to speak of. And come to think of it, that was part of their attraction, that they are ‘real’ people with wrinkles and imperfections. I can definitely see how heavy cosmetics would be tricky, and that asking them to remove it isn’t really an option! I suppose I would try to either tone the effect down, or else make a feature of the makeup itself – it does reflect on the sitter’s identity, after all, I guess. Maybe the approach depends on who you’re painting for. If it’s a commission from the subject, that’s a really tough call. How have you tried to tackle it? And, if you find a satisfactory way round it, please could you share your discovery?! πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚

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  4. You’ve done really well with flat frontal lighting, some really subtle tonal shifts which give the face a fresh feel. I am always fighting with the local life drawing groups to spend more time on lighting. Invariably they have light sources from everywhere killing off any hint of shadow.

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  5. This is wonderful! A perfect expression of being about laugh. You said you took ages to get the mouth to show this but as I scrolled down I couldn’t see her mouth to start with and the laughter was still very obviously there in eyes. Stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

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