Posts tagged ‘Portrait painting’

A Portrait of Artistic Multimodality

“Julian” Oil on Canvas 30″ x  40″

It’s been quite a while since I’ve dabbled in the world of WordPress.  So, all week long I’ll be posting a backlog of paintings beginning with this one.  It’s a near to life sized portrait of my son, Julian; composer, arranger, singer/songwriter, musician, writer, teacher, and visual artist.  Below are links to a partial catalog of Julian’s work:

Julian’s twelve and counting, independently written, performed, produced albums: Band Camp Julian Cartwright  (album artwork included).

A performance and interview    Julian’s spoken word work on Sound Cloud.

And his visual art.

A shout out to all of my blogger friends.  I look forward to visiting you this week to see what you’ve been up to.



(There is now a “Pause” gallery  page on this blog.  The tab above or this click  will take you there.  Clicking on the Behance  Network will take you to an edited “Pause” gallery there as well.)

Now loyal, patient friends, I will tell you in more personal words than you will read in my artist’s statement, what this work is all about, how and why I made it, and why I can’t wait to make more.

Portraits, faces, and captured gestures fascinate me.  I’d love to have the power to pause time and to really understand what I am seeing or witnessing in the face of another.  Naturally, what I may glimpse in a passing gesture or expression runs through my filter and I come away with an impression of an expression. While that process works well enough for most of us, I often wonder just how similar our perceptions are.  I delight in reading expressions. Conversely, I sometimes wonder about the sincerity of an expression.  I find micro expressions captivating.

I am equally enamored with technology that plays with our perceptions. particularly technology that broadens the opportunities for artists. I love my digital camera, computer and my Wacom tablet. These tools help me capture expression in a most immediate and gratifying way. However, I also recognize that the old-fashioned, traditional methods of working feed my need for personal expression in a more intrinsic fashion.

Strange as it may seem, I have also been thinking about fabric.  It is the first and last “material” in the world that literally touches us.  We spend time and dollars searching for garments, home furnishings and bedding that are to are liking. Fabric literally hides us. Fabric is loaded iconography.

The Pause series weaves these three attractions of mine into one project. This the ungarnished process:

I ask a portrait subject to pose for a portrait, and to use the fabric I give them in any way they choose.  I digitally photograph the subject in between “poses”, while the subject is thinking about what to do next with the prop, or before they settle into a new pose.  These resulting images become reference for a traditionally painted oil portrait.  I employ the digital camera again to take photos of the completed oil painting, and then print these photos onto silk fabric.  I manipulate the fabric to present various new isolated expressions and distortions of the subject’s expression. I digitally photograph these manipulations. The work finally culminates in large-scale prints of re-arranged expression.

I must add here that I do get  permission to manipulate the portraits, but the subjects do not know what will happen to their images before the shoot.  Everybody to date has allowed me to proceed with wonderful good humor. Thank you to my subjects.  And thank you to you for your interest and your comments about the project. I have many more portraits in the works and look forward to sharing them with you.

The Unsuccessful Portrait

(An unsuccessful portrait study and unsuccessful painting)

A portrait by definition, must embody the personality, the light, the very being of a subject, filtered through the artist’s eyes.  Of course, this does not have to be in a traditional or figurative fashion.  But, if we are talking about a figurative portrait, a likeness of face, gesture and personality is essential.  Sometimes-HA CHA, it all comes together naturally. When this happens, an artist may feel a little bit like a magician or an instrument of an artsy spirit;)  When it doesn’t happen, a young or novice artist may become frustrated.  I’m sure there are parallels in all of the arts.

I am personally awed and  thrilled when a piece just happens seemingly on its own. But, I’ve been working long enough to know that I can’t count on the magic.  There are times when a portrait becomes a bit of a struggle. It can seem as if everybody but the subject have made an appearance on my canvas.  When this occurs, I don’t worry , I don’t stress about it.  I walk away…

But I do come back.  Here are my tips. They can often save a portrait;

I always work on at least two pieces or projects at a time, so when I abandon one for a while, I move to another. This allows me to disentangle from the work and when I see it again, it’s with fresh eyes and attitude.

I’ve also created a “formula” for getting at an elusive likeness. The formula link will take you to my blog for young artists (directly under the sketchbook info, at the bottom of the PRACTICAL INSPIRATION page). It’s useful for helping me analyse the spacing between features. Since none us are completely symmetrical, the shape of a space surrounding a feature and the shapes that comprise a feature are great places to troubleshoot a portrait that isn’t working.

I use a mirror behind my easel to check the subject against the work. This changes up the perception and allows for delightful moments of discovery.  It invites the magic in and what’s not quite right in the work often becomes clear.

If working from photos I turn them and my canvas upside-down. This allows for the same sort of magic as the mirror.

I include errant hairs and moles and wrinkles in a portrait that I’m struggling with to act as landmarks or anchors within a face. If I’m working in an opaque medium, I can easily edit and remove them or make them more subtle later on.

I always try to get to know the subject a little, see how the subject interacts with others, and pick up as much as I can understand about the individual.  If I must work from photos that I have not taken myself  (because the subject is no longer with us), I ask lots of questions about the subject and request as many photos as I can get my hands on.

If the subject is a child, but appears too young or too mature in my portrait, I check the spacing of the forehead. As you see below, the spacing of a forehead does make a difference.

Values play a huge role in the molding of form. So, correcting the value of an area can change the structure of a face or body in subtle but important ways.


Despite using all of these tips, this portrait isn’t working. You can clearly see it in the progression below.  This subject’s youth and freedom of spirit inspired a really loose and colorful underpainting that soon became a loose cannon. As you can see, I’ve wrangled with this likeness, and it shows.

Occasionally, despite all of my tried and true tips, a painting simply does not work.  If  (for lack of a better word),  the “spirit” isn’t there, then I don’t have a good painting.  Sometimes the struggles show, and the painting  reflects the battle, so I’ve got a bad painting all ’round.  I’m showing off some really bad work here, because it’s honest and part of the process. Every now and then it happens.  It is not a reflection on the subject, just a poor attempt.   This portrait is a perfect example of a do- over.   But that’s ok.  The experience just gets me more fired up to paint a much better portrait.🙂

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