Co-mMission Accomplished! Portrait #12

Perhaps you’ll remember the charcoal of this young lady, or the preliminary watercolor sketches of her.  I’m pleased as punch with this final 25″ x 22″ watercolor portrait.  Thankfully, her mom was too!

Aslan’s Girl: Portrait #11

There are times when friends endure such suffering, that the only thing I feel I can do, is draw…draw something for them to ultimately receive, but also something for me to process my own grief and compassion.  I don’t really know how to tell you the full story of this not-even-two-year-old girl, named Kate, who sometime in May, came down with a regular ole ear infection which led to something far worse within a few short weeks.  The good folks at Brenner’s Children’s Hospital tried many many things to pin point what was going wrong, as this little dear continued to worsen, her body showing the ravages of whatever disease had hold of her.  Eventually they were able to diagnose it as a rare form of a very rare disease.  I will not go into all that she has endured.  Suffice it to say, her sweet little body was taken to places none of us would ever want, wish, or entertain for even our worst enemies.  Unimaginable.

Unbelievable…she has just recently come home from her summer in the hospital.  She still needs a lot of care, but is on the improvement end of the continuum.  These friends of mine have walked and are walking a path of suffering that few of us have endured and which breaks my heart to see.  I want to make it all better, and I cannot.  I want to help, but most times those efforts seem to fall flat.  The ONE THING I can do, is uphold this family in prayer and plead for mercy on their behalf.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the beloved Narnia Chronicles, wrote stories surrounding the relationship between children and a great lion, named Aslan, a Christ-like character.  These books have been favorites of this family for many years.  Throughout the summer, I kept thinking of this precious girl in the arms of the great Lion Aslan.   There is a point in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Lucy asks the beavers what  Aslan is like.  She asks, “Is he safe?”  To which the beavers reply, ” ‘Course he isn’t safe, but he is good. He’s the king, I tell you.”  That phrase is both theologically rich AND confounding.  Only a family who is clinging to their Heavenly Father as they watch their little girl grow more and more sick, have any inkling what this phrase might mean.  No, he is not safe….but HE IS GOOD!

These parents do not only affirm this to be true now that their little girl is home from the hospital and is improving.  They affirmed this to be true even in the midst of huge unknowns as to what was ravaging their daughter’s health and whether or not there was any help for it.  Their affirmation was not made with a plastic smile on their faces…but rather with tears, questions, uncertainties, yet with an underlying assurance that He who brought them to that place of suffering was indeed WITH THEM and was GOOD. Not THEIR definition of good…but they were willing to humble themselves to Aslan’s idea of good, no matter what that might mean.

From an artistic standpoint, my aim was to make a portrait of Kate with Aslan in such a way that the two were one.  I like how their fur/hair (which she doesn’t have right now, but will one day!) emulate each other and blend together.  I like how the relaxed lion’s claws are still seen, but neither put away nor flexed (a hint at the whole idea of him not being safe).  I wanted her expression to be one of utter joy and comfort in his arms.  I wanted the lion’s eyes to be both strong yet compassionate.

She is indeed Aslan’s Girl…He will never leave her nor forsake her.  He is healing her and restoring joy to this family in doing so.  In this I rejoice.

Didn’t think I could…Portrait #10

I felt like “the little engine who couldn’t” as I painted this…I kept thinking: I don’t think I can do this! I don’t think I can do this!  But looking at it now, I think I did! It’s a weird thing to explain to someone that you really haven’t the foggiest notion how to go about a particular painting.  You have some vague notions about shape and value, but it really isn’t until you put paint to paper that you begin responding intuitively to what’s happening and somehow it begins to fall into place.  Not always…but sometimes.  And when that happens=oi! what a feelin’!

The drawing part gave me fits!  The angle of her face, plus the downward gazing eyes, the shadows from the hair, and the overall high-key feel to painting a blond.  This is my oldest daughter’s best friend who came over to help Catherine get ready for prom.    I painted this on the “good” stuff…the 140 lb. Saunders Waterford and I loved working on it this time!  I concentrated on laying down the color and not noodling it to death.  I’ll give it several more tries and then switch over to say, Arches, or Fabriano, just to get a feel for all these different papers.  If you are a watercolor painter…let me know what paper is YOUR favorite to paint on and why.

Wanna know what brush I’m using? Well, for many, many years I used Cheap Joe’s Starving Artist brushes, rounds in sizes 10 and 12 for all the sketchbook work and even some of the big paintings.  A few months back I purchased the same size brushes in Leow Cornell’s #7020 Series Ultra Round brush recommended by Laurelines some months back.  It has taken some adjustment, but I’m loving these brushes!  I used the size 12 throughout this 10″ x 11″ painting.  I’m learning to use the shape of the brush in different ways as I paint.  I’ve always wanted to own those cadillac sable brushes that all my favorite transparent watercolor heros use (Charles Reid, Eric Weigardt, Janet Rogers…), but have never been able to quite bring myself to spend the $100+ dollars on one of them.  I’m quite happy with these Leow Cornell brushes.  Perhaps if I ever tried the real sable brushes, I’d know what I was missing…but ignorance is bliss in this case and I’m happily painting with much cheaper brushes!

Happy painting to everyone and thanks again for sharing the portrait journey with me!

More Prom Beauty: Portrait #9

Well, I reverted back.  Back to the cheaper paper.  It’s actually an American Journey watercolor sketchbook from Cheap Joe’s and they “said” that it was filled with their Kilimanjaro paper, but I told them I didn’t think so.  It is much thinner than the Kilimanjaro 22″ x 30″ sheets and it doesn’t have the same cold press (or hot press) feel to it.  Anyway, it definitely has a different response than the Saunders Waterford paper did.  And I loved going back to it for this realization:  I felt just as “off my feet” as I did with the good paper.  Perhaps it’s because I’m reaching for something more now.  New territory in approach and in what I’m after, so I don’t feel confident.  I did rework this a good bit in places and it didn’t fall apart on me like my Aquabee sketchbook would have.  What I do like here is the “pieces of paint” effect I’m after.  But I’m realizing that it takes a very confident stroke, letting it stay there, and NOT noodling it to death.  I noodled A LOT in this painting! Oi!

I took great care with the drawing.  I do spend a bunch of time trying to get the drawing “correct”, so that my map for color shapes and values will allow the portrait to look something like a face.  It certainly did this.  But it wasn’t until I painted it, that I could see the flaws in my original drawing.  I won’t go into all the places where I should have drawn this here, paid more attention there, shifted this left, that right, elongated this, raised that.  Ah me.  It can be discouraging.  The likeness to our oldest daughter is not spot-on.  But I believe the overall effect is good:  a pleasing mix of colors, love the cropped, up-close view, and the hands.  Oh boy, did you see the hands?  I’m very tickled with those!  They turned out looking like hands AND having that tossed off look to them.  Can’t wait to do more hands!!  Oh, and I like the eyes here.  I ALWAYS like painting eyes and these were no exception.  Ahhhh…..<sigh of contentment>.

But the one thing I’ll remember about this portrait is: the unfortunate blue stripe down her neck.  <Meh..>:(  I can definitely say I’ve learned: don’t paint a blue stripe down the neck…you can’t lift it completely off.

“Good” Paper: Portrait #8

Perhaps it doesn’t show, but I felt quite “off my feet” working on this 140 lb. Saunders Waterford Cold Press Paper.  I used to use this paper all the time for full-sheet paintings using watercolor opaquely, thick & gloppy.  I didn’t know how it would behave using the watercolor transparently.  Now I know.  But one mustn’t judge based purely on one try.  I need to give it a few more tries before I say whether or not I like it.  This first go on “good” watercolor paper, was frought with: too much water, too little pigment, too much pigment, too little water, etc.  But here’s the thing I found out I liked: this paper allowed me to work and rework, to scrub a little, and it withstood the treatment!  With cheaper papers you can forget about any reworking, a very little will sometimes yield a hole in the paper, or a permanent blotch that forever says, “Here’s where the chik messed up!”  This “good” paper doesn’t scream that out at you:)

I’ll be working with a few of the photos I took of my oldest daughter getting ready for prom back at the beginning of May, so you’re in for a few Prom Works:)  Her best friend came over to help out with the hours of pre-prom hair and make-up, so you might see a portrait of her as well.  The photo I worked from here did not have the background…I made that up.  She was indeed in front of her dresser mirror, but you couldn’t see anything really because of how close we were to it.  So I “created” the image in the mirror, and I think it holds together.

So, to be picky and analytical (after all, I want to learn from this, right?), I have to ask myself some questions:

1.  Is this painting decidedly “mostly dark values” or “mostly light values”?  Skip Lawrence drilled into his students to be decisive about things like this…don’t let  a painting be 50/50 of ANYTHING!  Plan your values, and have MOSTLY light with a little bit of dark, OR MOSTLY dark with a little bit of light.  Hmmm…when it takes me a while to come up with an answer, it usually means I have a wishy/washy 50/50 going on.

2.  Did I connect shapes of values?  I did NOT want the dark hair be isolated, so I tried connecting it with the dresser and mirror behind.  I’m not sure that they create a nice flow through the painting however.  Ideally, you want your shapes of light and dark to create a flow through the picture area…hmmm…perhaps I did.  Perhaps not.  Again… when you’re on the fence, it is at best a weak connection.

So what did I do that I like??  Yes, well, I do like this portrait overall:  love the colors, both in the hair and face.  Love the oozly background in the mirror which I think does not detract from the face.  Love the presence of so many colors in the face, but am aiming for something not quite so smooth as this.  The smoothness was one of the things this paper “forced” me to into. (I know that sounds weird, but there it is!)  I really want “pieces” of paint which is what the cheaper paper gives me.  I may need to try out some Hot Press papers, or other cold press papers to see if I get different effects with the watercolor.  Overall, I am pleased with this one, even though it did take a good bit of wrestling!

Portraits #1/2 & #3/4

I’m so silly…I charged ahead with my 100 portraits in watercolor idea, began with the one of my husband in his chef’s hat, but wanted to include the other two portraits I had made in my cheapy sketchbook.  But how?  They were actually painted a day or so BEFORE the one of my husband (Portrait #1), and I do want to go in chronological order as much as possible, so how to include them?  Thus, the 1/2 and 3/4 numbering.  I don’t think I’ll consider these as part of the 100, but wanted you to see them anyhow.  These are both sketches of the girl in the final commissioned portrait I told you about (which has sort-of been the catalyst for all this 100 portrait hoopla).  She is a cheerleader at her high school and these are close-up versions of a couple of photos I’m choosing from.  I’ve decided on the first one, but the final painting will include her other hand as well as this hand.  The hands are in mid-clap.

They were painted very quickly…I was just trying to get a sense of the shapes and colors…but there’s something I like about them.  The light quality in the first one is pleasing and the colors in the second are lovely even if the hair values are just too dark.  These are examples of what I love most about art:  the AVANT, not the APRES.  Or, more plainly, the SKETCH as opposed to the FINISHED PAINTING.  Really and truly people, this is what I long to accomplish:

To have my “finished” paintings look like sketches!  Seriously, I want to be able to have final versions be as free, loose, effortless, sketchy…all the wonderful qualities I love so much about PRE-liminary artist’s work.  So hold me to it, folks!  When they start getting fussy, overworked, and stiff– I won’t quit!  No, I’ll continue to face the page and try again…if I’ve done it before, I can do it again, right??  Here again, these are painted on cheap paper…but final versions cannot be painted on this stuff.  So, I’m going to begin pulling out my “good” watercolor paper and making these portraits on the good stuff.  I need to dispel the thought that I make my best work only on cheap paper.  If I can mentally get over the “good paper” block, I’ll be one step further in my quest.

Thanks again for joining me on this lovely little journey!

Opening Night, Portrait #7

Our oldest daughter recently performed in her high school musical production of Wizard of Oz.  She and many other students worked long hours to produce one of THE best musicals Glenn High School had ever done!  Such talent! It was really amazing to watch.  My husband and I were so proud of her!  This portrait is of her opening night…we gave her some roses right before she headed off to get costumed, make-upped, and altogether ready for the big night.  I am almost as excited about this portrait as I am about the musical they performed!

I’m not going to dissect this one.  There’s no need to delve into what’s working, and what’s not working.  I just want to enjoy it no matter whether there are little things that could be done better here or there.  I’m pleased.  It IS a very good likeness of our Catherine.  And my overall desire was to have the flowers not compete with her face, but to have their effervescence extend up into the rest of the painting.  I think I accomplished this and so I’ll leave the rest of it alone.

Oh me…this is so very satisfying.  Could it be, that I have found something I enjoy THIS MUCH?  When I paint these portraits, life has an extra glow to it; there’s a zip in my step, and a little extra energy for my day.

Portrait #6: the Paper-Doll Relationship

You may feel this is not technically a portrait…but I like it as a portrait of my oldest daughter who loves to change the color of her nails no matter what time of day or night:)  This was the other abandoned drawing from last summer I found a week or so ago and decided to put the watercolor in this week.

Alex Powers, in his book, talks about two different ways of rendering a portrait:  Using the Paper-Doll Relationship or the Silhouette Relationship.  I quote: “The paper-doll relationship has the white shape coming forward in space as the dark shape recedes.  The only way to make a light shape come forward in space in a painting is to surround it on three or four sides with dark…The silhouette is the opposite of the paper-doll relationship of values in space.  The dark is in front, and the light is behind.” pgs. 44-45 margins.  This portrait is different from the others thus far, in that it is an example of the paper-doll relationship.  It was fun putting in all those dark luscious colors, but at one point I thought I had ruined the painting…

I am finding with each of these portraits, that I’m having a recurring experience:  I take a deep breath and begin painting.  I start with a color, any color and I respond to that color, that shape, that value and so on.  Pretty soon, the thought goes through my head, “Uh oh, this is not going to work.  These colors are all wrong, they won’t hold together, they are too wild.”  Water and pigment oozles and wazzles in places I hadn’t meant for it to, edges become too hard or too soft, or it just feels out of control.  I stick with it.  And eventually, it feels like pieces might be falling into place…”maybe this won’t be so bad after all.  Maybe, just MAYBE, I can salvage this, pull it off.”  And then, what-do-you-know?  It’s there, the finished painting.  And I’m pleased.  To be sure, there are adjustments to be made, minor (yet major) things to resolve, alter, shift; but it’s there…I can see that whatever was out of control has become a pleasing whole.

Perhaps I’m too easily pleased with my paintings.  I do think this is something I struggle with…  That of not being able to view my work absolutely unbiased and critically.  But that’s ok…I’ll grow in that too.  Oh, and here’s the drawing for this one:

Thanks again for dropping in!  I’m hoping your drawing and painting journeys are going well for you!

The Current Approach & #5

This is a drawing I did to begin a watercolor portrait of my youngest daughter LAST SUMMER.  I had these wonderful photos of her taken in winter when she came downstairs early one morning with curlers in her hair.  She curled up in a chair opposite me, and chatted away while the sun came up and streamed in on her through my studio window.  I had made a pastel and a half-finished charcoal from this batch of photos.  Towards the end of summer, I wanted to do a version in watercolor, got this far, and abandoned it.  I came across this, and one other abandoned drawing in a multi-media sketchbook I had been working in last summer.  I must have closed the book and put it away, because the two drawings are the last things in the book, with many pages left unused.  Remember that “fear” I’ve been talking about?  Hmmm…I have a hunch it was in full swing after making the drawings and I succombed to it.

So, brandishing my trusty #10 round paintbrush and palette, I tackled it last week.  It is interesting to note, that I have done the previous four (or so) portraits with a similar approach: starting with a drawing of the light and dark shapes.  It functions like a MAP for me, a guide as to where the value shapes will be in the portrait.  This weekend, I came across some wonderful watercolor portraits by an artist named Janet Rogers.  I also found a FREE downloadable mini-book written by her, titled 23 Free Watercolor Lessons for Portrait Painting.  In it, she says NOT to do this detailed a drawing before painting.  Oh well.  I enjoy the drawing as part of the process for now, and perhaps I can work towards having less and less mapped out beforehand.  But for now, I’ll stick with this kind of approach…it actually frees me to concentrate on color and paint quality, without having to worry or be so exact with where the shapes are.  Here’s what I ended up with:

There is much that I like about this portrait.  And there are things I am learning:

1. I need to make the shapes of light in the face a bit softer without the sharp corners.  Rounding these shapes will help contribute to the soft roundedness of her face, even though the light was strong and defined.  I can still achieve the strong light with not-so-sharp corners.

2.  I need to continue comparing values one to another throughout the painting.  I thought I had finished this portrait, when, just before photographing it, I saw that the shapes of light in the face and the eyeballs were the exact same white as in the bunny she is holding.  The photograph showed the lightest value to be the top of the bunny’s head, and not that I want to be a slave to the photo, but it was true that the light hit the bunny MORE than the side of her face, so it needed to be toned down a smidge.  This improved the light quality a great deal and kept the whites of her eyes from looking like they were glowing…much better!

3.  I need to consider whether or not I want to make the multi-color shadow near her left eye a more uniform color (ie. less variety of colors) or just paint them together more smoothly.  Seems a bit patchy here, like maybe she got socked in the eye.  Don’t want that, but I like how it echoes the multi-color areas in the hair and pillow to her left.  Hmmm…

It’s great to be learning these things, to be considering them.  I’m sure there are a multitude of things I’m not even aware that I need to be considering.  But for now, this is enough to absorb!  I only hope I can utilize what I’m learning from each of these into the next portrait…

How it came about & Portrait #4

A friend of mine, emailed me recently: “I’m really excited about this 100 portraits project–will be such a treat to follow you.  I would love to hear about your inspiration for it. ”  It is so lovely to be asked these kinds of questions, so I emailed the following to her:

“…I’d love to chat at length over coffee about how this 100 portrait thing came about.  I’m SO excited about it, not in an over-the-top giddy sort of way, but in a shimmering, hold-my-breath sort of way.  I worked on two more portraits of Maddie this week (the drawings take more time than the painting part almost) and felt something satisfying inside.  Not that they are “perfect”, or quite what I’m wanting to accomplish…but each is a step closer, a learning, one rung up the invisible ladder of becoming the artist I’d like to be.  Two weeks ago I had an interesting thought enter my mind.  I don’t remember any huge event precipitating it, but the thought was:  Jen, you’ve been in love with watercolor and scared of it all of your artist life.  I have longed to work in transparent watercolor just about the entire time (and indeed I have created and sold many a painting) but always felt it [transparent watercolor portraits] was beyond my reach and thought that perhaps I just wasn’t cut out for it.  It seemed too hard, too elusive.  So, I’d make attempts, they’d be “ok” but not really what I wanted and I’d abandon it for pastel or charcoal or even watercolor used in an opaque manner.  Now, of course, I do think all that work in charcoal and pastel has aided in my ability to work with watercolor better now.  But I’m ready to face the “fear”, the bad paintings….I’m ready for the journey of discovery that it is going to take to get there.  Isn’t that weird?  I told Randy [my husband] that I wanted to just do this for myself.  Perhaps one day I will be painting in a manner that I will feel ok with “marketing”, but for now, I am so content to just learn.  And what fun it is to be learning…to have a trajectory to shoot for.   And I feel so content in it.  Anyway, that’s a short version.  The long version will have to wait.”

The above painting is one of the two I worked on this past week.  I’m working from photographs with each of these portraits…I’ll let you know if I ever try painting a portrait in watercolor from life (THAT would really be facing the fear!).  I feel that I achieved a bit more in the area of making the face portion more free and fluid (like the hair and shirt are), but I still have a ways to go.  Looking at the portrait here on the blog, I see that I need to tone down the white of that left eye…and perhaps it turns in a bit too much.  Will have to look into that.  But, overall, I was pleased with the skin tones, the use of greens and blues, and yellows.

I’m finding that a bit of Alizarin Crimson and Gamboge are a wonderful combo for skin tone…preferable to my previous Permanent Rose and Gamboge.  The Alizarin is a bit warmer and works really well for the skin.  I love the inclusion of other colors in the face and hair, not limiting it to mere flesh tones, but using colors in the face and hair other than the “local color”.

Some of the things I’m concentrating on while I paint these portraits is:  Paint shapes, Jen, not facial features.  In other words, I try to see the portrait as a series of color shapes rather than a rendering of “here are the eyes, the nose, the mouth”.  Somehow, when you concentrate on the shapes, they end up giving the viewer the sense of the eyes, the nose, the mouth without having to describe every detail.  I want to grow in this more and more.  Another thing I’m thinking about as I paint is how to paint bits of abstraction within a representational whole.  So, in a sense to have areas that are beautiful for their own sake, rather than just pieces of a puzzle that have no beauty or meaning on their own.  Take this piece here:

Sort of reminiscent of a landscape, isn’t it?  Or just lovely color in a pleasing arrangement.  Of course, I want the whole thing to hang together…but goodness, it’s a lot to think about, isn’t it?  Well, it’s all quite fun.  Gotta keep it that way, you know!