marathon portrait

Posted on by Wess Foreman

portrait1.jpgThis commissioned portrait turned into a marathon painting for me, and I'm still not sure why. It started off simple enough: I marked the position of the figure with a few brush strokes, then went about the business of blocking in the color. No problem there.

portrait2.jpgNext, I roughed in the bench and gave the figure a face. This may have been the genesis of the problem that arose later on, putting in details too early in the process. More on that later.

portrait3.jpgThe third image just shows more clarification of the bench and the background. From the beginning, the client wasn't sure if she wanted the bench to have the tulip design in the finished painting nor if she wanted the bench to remain white. Since she wasn't sure and since it wasn't much work just to paint in the bench, that's what I proceeded to do. It was additionally decided that the hairdo would be different than in the reference photo, but until I got a new reference photo for the hair, I went ahead with the short, pulled-up hair.

portrait4.jpgIn the fourth picture, I have completed the white tulip bench, and it was decided that the bench would distract a little too much from the figure.

portrait5.jpgAfter the decision was made that the white tulip design was too much, I went ahead with a bench from my own imagination, hoping this design would be visually thinner and maybe less cluttered-looking. Ultimately, it was still a little too much.

portrait6.jpgIn the sixth picture I have changed the bench to black, which definitely allowed the figure to stand out more; additionally, I had to lighten the background so the darker bench could be seen. I have also changed the hair to a basic hair-down hair style [though lacking any style at this point, not to mention the artificial-looking color, as I had no reference photo to go by yet].

And it was somewhere between the previous stage and the final product that this painting turned into a marathon for me. Part of it was that several things came up in the meantime - a scheduled family trip, my first Northshore Art Market, not to mention other paintings I needed to complete along the way - but mainly it was just the elusiveness of capturing the likeness of a person's face. I worked and reworked the face so many times I was seeing double. And maybe it was something about this particular face: I completed two other, smaller, portraits just fine while struggling with this one. I haven't done too many portraits in my career as an artist and I'm far from a portrait artist, so I don't mind saying that this has been a good learning experience for me, and I've picked up many valuable lessons along the way. If nothing else, I know now not to promise a client a certain date of completion.