Project 2 Exercise 2 – Head and shoulder portrait

I have had a lot of tries at this exercise. I tried some rough sketches in my sketchbook to see how I would attempt this, which ideally should be done with a strong light from one side to cast shadows across the person’s face, as well as provide a bit of visual interest. It was whilst watching TV a few weeks ago that I spotted my granddaughter sitting with the de rigeur cellphone and she was lit from the side by a corner lamp. I thought that would make a nice study of her. I did a quick sketch and made notes all over it, so that I wouldn’t forget how she was positioned. I took a few reference photos as I was not set up to paint her at that time.

rough working sketch

I decided to use acrylics for this exercise and chose an acrylic canvas paper by Galeria, which is lovely to work on. It is acid free 140lb 16″ x 12″ in size. I decided on a very minimal palette: burnt sienna, white, ultramarine blue and just a dab of cadmium yellow to tint the background wash, which I applied with a wide brush – making the area on the left lighter than the right hand side of the paper.

I used charcoal to first draw the main shapes and blocked in the back of the cellphone with 4B pencil. I then used white to highlight the main areas on the face neck and upper body, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to encroach on those areas. I mixed up a very light skin tone with burnt sienna and white and used the underlying wash to provide mid tones on the fingers, face and upper body, as well as the legs. I took note of what my tutor had told me in my assignment two feedback report and put the black paint away. I mixed the ultramarine blue with burnt sienna to form a very dark blue-grey which is what I used to the top of her dark top, her hair and some of the couch area.

working up the tones

I knew that I had made her legs way too dark and there were areas on her face that I wasn’t happy with, as well as her hair. I waited for the pait to dry and then mixed some fresh paint and completed the painting. I used a pencil to indicate the finer features on her face as I’ve lost my rigger brush!

Head and shoulders – Acrylics on canvas paper – A3

Feedback from the sitter and others has been positive. The sitter liked it – being a teenager of course, she wants to look like her Instagram photos! She didn’t think I’d captured her eyes properly and I agree but others in the family said it was definitely a very good likeness. Everyone like the colour palette.

My critique

I can get the head and body shape down reasonably well but I get terrified when it comes to attempting the face. I find it much easier to draw the face than paint it. Sometimes with paint, I get the face spot on but most times I will stuff it up, I know I will. I suppose I could take heart in the knowledge that Lucian Freud generally took months to do a portrait. It is also the idea of capturing a person’s character that is important in doing portraits, I think. I have seen many portraits that were quite a mess, no realism involved at all, yet the artist managed to convey the personality of the sitter really well (sorry, can’t think of any examples right now but i know what I mean). I was surprised how much can be achieved with only three colours. I have ordered more white paint (and other colours – acrylics), as well as a new rigger brush.

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