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A Couple Of Quick Portraits

Posted Feb 02 2011 6:22pm



I painted these two portraits yesterday using acrylic paints.  The top painting was done on a 11" x 14" canvas and is based on a photograph someone in my family took of my mother's mother (nana) when she was quite old.  The other portrait was done on a 10" x 10" canvas and is based on a photograph I got for free online.

I approached these two paintings differently.  In the painting of my nana I began with a canvas that I had recently done a primitive self portrait on.  The portrait was done vertically and so I turned it on its side to create a horizontal picture and began to draw with ultramarine blue paint over the previous painting.  This was a bit tricky, trying to create new shapes over old shapes, but it also forced me to paint more boldly.  In the second painting, I began with a new canvas and I drew the details of this girl's face with a pencil.  I painted thinly, barely covering the canvas.  The brush marks are therefore less obvious than in the first painting, though there are thin spots in that one as well.  Though I enjoyed painting both of these portraits, I respond more to the way the first painting was painted.  Using the paint to draw over an already covered surface means I go for approximate shapes and overemphasize them in a dark color, so that I can paint into them with a lighter color.  I did that with the eyes particularly.  This is something I learned in a 5 day a week figure oil painting class from an exacting and talented artist named Mary Beth McKenzie.

I think these two painting have different head sets.  The first one done in a painterly style and the second done in a design style.  The reason I respond to the first style a bit more is that I am not a careful designer, which is why I also like to paint abstract painting that are not carefully designed but more spontaneous.  Actually there is some careful designing within the spontaneity, pauses that make up intuition, but mostly it is me in action.  

I was watching a program that was on PBS called Art21 which is a series of documentaries on artists and one artist who caught my attention was a young woman who grew up in Pakistan.  She paints miniatures in a very old style, very traditional, but with modern accents in the subject matter, carefully constructed and political.  She is a design type painter, extremely precise and patient, and I admire her because I haven't painted that way and probably can't because it takes so many years of practice.  And yet, I have put in enough time painting over the years to apply the lessons I've learned through trial and error and this is still exciting to me.  The learning process is magical.  I felt the same way when I used to developed film photography prints in the darkroom watching the image materialize in the developer.
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