Revisiting THAT portrait: nose, eyes, mouth and teeth

Could I have chosen a more difficult image? Probably not; wrinkled, crumpled faces give room for manoeuvre but flawless beauty is unforgiving. But I don’t much like being beaten, and anyway, what am I here for? I’m here to learn how to paint.

My books arrived, one on Kindle (Yim and Yim, 2017), the other in actuality (Sin, 2019), and immediately I could see how I was getting this so wrong (and will continue to do so unless I also get more practice which is tricky in a pandemic when all possible sitters are either of an age or constitution that keeps them at arm’s length from anything on two legs, or have become boundary-fluid due to kids at school, back-to-work, or experience some other kind of erosion that they present a risk to first category me).

For now though, using the drawing guidelines, it’s obvious I’ve been fiddling about with edges instead of standing back and making boxes. This is compounded by reading glasses which make three square inches my entire focus. Hardly surprising then that a few steps back and with the glasses on my head where they can’t interfere, the image looks like an inadvertent Picasso with its features in all kinds of odd alignments. I should learn to trust my long vision. The first painting was done gesturally and without close up focus. It had life and movement to it even though the nose was a boxer’s after losing too many fights.

This is where we are now. I have some areas to lighten and others to deepen. Brightening up the shine on her forehead and cheek I’ll tackle with a Naples yellow layer followed by Burnt sienna wash. The deepening – on her lips mainly – will be with dark brown mixed with Burnt sienna. I’ve written a contract with myself not to touch anything else. Except maybe a tiny darkening to the left of her teeth.

This image is far closer to the photo reference than any of the others. The tilt of her head isn’t right – her chin is higher and the tilt goes slightly back as well as to the side. But I have a better nose, a better mouth, and halfway decent eyes so it will be time to stop.

LED light so there’s reflection; welcome to nearly GMT!

Different positions in relation to the LEDs. I’m not sure it makes much difference. I’m calling it done, anyway; I can only mess it up if I persevere trying to correct a few details. I did risk a wash of Payne’s grey over the cheek – it was too bright and made her look jowly. Deepening the shadow under her cheekbone gives her face the right shape. It’s not the best nose in the world but I’m heading in the right direction with the help of those books.

Ok, when I chose the featured image the area displayed is exactly the tip of the nose and it looks a lot less well formed than I’d thought so I’ll give it some attention tomorrow.

31st October. I made some changes last night, which is usually a big mistake but this time I think may have caught the shape a little better.

The nostril on the left needs reducing and flattening a little, and the colour base over-layering now. I’ve got the aspect wrong in that there’s far less cheek bone and cheek on the left in the photo, but hopefully I’ve somehow balanced the rest of her features towards consistency. I should probably spend a week doing nothing but noses in awkward aspect portraits, and here lies one of the problems of a course that is so contemporary it favours abstraction and gestural impressionism over at least some focus on fundamental realism. Whenever I think of how much I enjoy the more expressionistic style, I’m aware of a suspicion that I do this because I can’t do the other, and of the reality that Banksy could do both. Check out his painting of the House of Commons full of apes.

31st October and I’m at the tiny adjustment stage, each dot a painstaking risk that reminds me of a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde who said of his day that he’d spent all morning putting in a comma, and all afternoon taking it out again. This is where I am only with paint.

I was thinking her face needed some highlights to prevent it looking flat but rather than paint these in, I chose to scratch them out instead. I quite like the impact of this but I’ll take another look tomorrow. And her left eye needs some attention.

1st November. Last few flurries of activity, most of them teeny tiny and somehow of critical importance to the whole thing.

I still have some way to go with noses but this is progress.

Sin, O. 2019. Drawing the Head for Artists. Quarry Books.

Mau-Kun Yim, Iris Yim. 2017. Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing – a classical approach to drawing the head. North Light Books. Kindle edition.

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