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!

0 thoughts on “How it came about & Portrait #4

  1. Shirley says:

    I congratulate you on your project – the portraits are lovely. They appear very loose although reading your explanation makes me know how much thought you are putting into it.

  2. ellen says:

    I like thinking about painting/drawing/etc as shapes. As a non-drawer/painter, etc., it gives me the tiniest bit of confidence to sketch, because I can think only about the shape, not the intricacies. Thanks Jennifer!

  3. Anna Wolf says:

    Lovely portrait! And thanks for sharing your tips and colours! I am just learning to do portraits my self, think I will try your method and see what comes out some day 🙂

  4. EscapeHatch says:

    This is an exceptional portrait! Clearly you’re gaining confidence and command of the medium. I can see the influence of Charles Reid (do you have his “Natural Way to Paint”? Highly recommended if not).

    I’ve recently started a series of small portraits myself (working in ink with brush) and have been very pleased with my own progress. I admire your ambitious goal of 100! Maybe I’ll shoot for 10 to start.

    Feel fee to check out all my portraits in various media here:

    And stop my my blog if you like…I’ll be posting about my “Faces of Flickr” series soon.

    Keep up the fantastic work (this is my first visit to your corner of the internet but I promise it won’t be the last). Inspiring!

  5. Raena says:

    Excellent portrait! I can see you loosening up on the face already. And I soak up all of your tips and info like a sponge. I’m thinking shapes, shapes, shapes. Must remember that when I paint!

  6. Timaree (freebird) says:

    Thanks for sharing some of the hows and whys. I think you are doing terrifically already but you have started at a point of already being a good painter so of course you expect more of yourself. If I understand correctly, a painter will never be totally satisfied that they have mastered the painting so I guess you are in good company. I think it’s a good thing to think of these as your personal thing rather than commercial. Could you sell these? In a heartbeat! But then you’d feel all the pressure and you wouldn’t feel so free to keep experimenting. Well keep up the good work. We’ll keep cheering you on!

  7. Raena says:

    Had to come back and say thanks for the color advice on skin tones. I just went out and bought both alizarin crimson and new gamboge, figuring it’s a good investment if I’m going to do 97 more portraits!

  8. ffyrebird says:

    Congrats on another wonderful portrait! I enjoy your style of painting immensely and to have a peak into your thought process about painting is quite a treat!

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