There are days when I just don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to paint, I don’t want to do yoga, I don’t want to do my job.
The whole thing just feels overwhelming. So, since I usually can’t skip whatever it is because hey, I’m a grown up and grown ups just carry on, I try to break it down into small, bite-sized pieces.
Today, for instance, I decided not to think about how hard portraits can be, and how much time they take to do, and instead I concentrated on just getting a board ready to paint. Sometimes just doing the stuff that leads up to the painting can help me feel better.
So I found a piece of mat board and cut it to the right size and taped it to my easel. Then I mixed up some acrylic pumice ground with a little water and brushed it on the board. While I let it dry, I opened my photo reference in Photoshop and cropped it and then printed out three references, one black and white, one posterized and one regular.
I took the regular photo reference and made pencil lines on it using a ruler, marking the picture into quarters and then putting lines in for where the eyes were, where the chin and top of the head fell, the edges of the face. I drew plumb lines from the corners of the eyes and the mouth and the nostrils.
When I got that done I decided to go ahead and begin the preliminary sketch using a blue pastel pencil and measuring as I went along. Once that I was done I took a break.
I like to sit and think about the painting and what kind of underpainting I’m going to do, what colors are in the photo, what kind of day it was when I took the picture, what color the light is and what the colors of the shadows should be.
After a little while I get out my pastels and start blocking in the shadows and the lights using the black and white reference. I generally use four values for the underpainting. In this case, I used 4 warm blues for the face and some purples for the background. Then I rub in the color with foam pipe insulation.
After the block in I use the posterized reference to put in some colors over the underpainting, keeping mostly the same values.
Another break and then I taped up the regular photo and began to put color in, trying to marry the sections together and bring what was already there more in line with what I saw in the photo. This is the hardest part and where I’m most likely to have a melt down. The trick is to squint a lot and be patient. Sometimes the painting doesn’t want to cooperate, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own. Those are the best days.
Today was a very good day. I’m glad I painted today.