Owen is a model I have had the great pleasure of painting over the years since I started training at the atelier. I have actually only worked with him 3 times but coincidentally once for every year I was training at the school. I thought it would be cool to demonstrate my artistic growth and hardships in portrait using Owen to keep it as consistent as possible.
This portrait is actually 3 terms into my studies which is technically already a year in (there are 3 terms to a year) When I first started at the school I focused a lot more on drawing in charcoal to not over complicate and over think things. I didn't want to worry about colour too much or mixing when I still needed to work on my drawing and values etc. Charcoal handling in itself especially willow charcoal is exceptionally hard. We joke that you could sneeze around your drawing and if you're not careful it could all blow away. Although I was not trying to emulate any of my teachers at the time, more so just draw accurately I did end up drawing in a similar style to my teacher for this class. He has a very beautiful simplistic approach to drawing but simple doesn't always mean easy, it's actually far more sophisticated than one would imagine it to be. To simplify and make choices to not add everything you see into a drawing is very difficult, so that the image you're left with packs a real punch. John Singer Sargent was a master of this. Simplicity was key for him and in the early days of studying Sargent was a god to me. Below is my first portrait of Owen. He very politely asked if he could take a picture of my drawing before he left however since I knew this was only a practice run for me and I was going to throw it away immediately after class I offered to give it to him. He was elated and I still remember him saying he shall carry it home 'with a hope and a prayer' not folding it or rolling it up. He took it straight to his parents house who loved it. We recently spoke again in school almost 2/3 years later about this drawing and he said they still revere this drawing of his as their favorite. Coming from one's parents and the knowing their child the best, I think that's the biggest praise one can ever receive. Thanks Owens mom and dad for making me feel great!
Below is a beautiful example of John Singer Sargent's charcoal drawing. Observe how simple yet sophisticated his portrait is. We are worms!
Second year in and I start to paint a lot more and at this stage a little more comfortable with paints however not so much! This portrait of Owen I painted below was done under the guidance of another teacher, the founder of the school. Ann has a completely different style to the teacher that supervised me for my first portrait of owen and you can see very very close similarities in my work and theirs which is quite hilarious. I seemed to have adopted their styles for each portrait as in learning I found this the easiest thing to do. ''Good artists borrow, great artists steal.'' I remember this painting going horribly wrong and my teacher Ann saying I have the tendency of painting like my models have stockings over their heads like a robber. This was not cute. This meant everything was one tone and overly smooth and horrible. It also meant I had no dimension to my portraits in terms of plane changes and everything just looked flat. I was desperate to do well and not be known as the girl that makes everyone look like they are wearing ski masks or stockings on their face so I decided that in fact my teachers way of painting was the most drastic approach to aim for. She has a beautiful and highly sophisticated way of making images look simple, however they are so far from that. My thought was that if I could try and do what she does than I could later adapt her approach to painting in the style I actually want to paint in. Adapting myself to each teachers style helped me not only reach an understanding of painting and drawing easier but I also believe these were necessary steps to take to reach my end goal. From my first teacher I learnt to simplify drawing and that portrait was mostly focused on drawing and simplification and trying to show form with as little values as possible.
The portrait below incorporated that but than also being in paint I tried to paint with cleaner colours and non muddy colours. I actually don't have images of the portrait in its beginning stages and I believe this may have been a 10 week portrait. I remember it going so horribly wrong I refused to take images of it in the early stages. I now wish I had and swallowed my pride.
Below a portrait by Ann Witheridge.
You can see how she's masterfully placed colours like blues and greens in the portrait keeping the values very close together. Giving depth to the face and showing the different planes of the head as well as making it interesting for the viewer.
I am able to give you a few examples of how I developed this portrait over the weeks. Hopefully you can see how as each week passed I got a little more confident and started to develop the portrait further and further with the help of Ann and her haunting ski mask comments. The first portrait below to the left is still actually 3 weeks in. So you can image how pear shaped it was going prior to that. I tried to add some blues to the portrait like Ann does to make it look like his face has angles to it and isn't flat. The second one in I warmed up the flesh tones and almost covered everything I did prior to the previous week. Amending drawing mistakes as I went along. I went in circles like this over the next few weeks until the term ended and I felt like I had learnt a ton! From this point on I adopted Ann's way of painting a lot more and felt like I was finally making some sort of break through in painting.
Before we move onto my most recent painting of Owen I must demonstrate what Ann meant when she said I painted everyone flat and like they are wearing women's stockings on their faces. This is SO cringe but it must be done. No blog dedicated to development is truly true to its audience if you can't see where I started from. These images that follow are from March 2018. My second term at the school. It's important to note that before I came to the school I could draw fairly decently however I could ONLY draw from pictures. This meant I 100% could not draw from life or my imagination or even slightly alter any of my drawings before I joined the school because I simply did not know how to. Drawing from life and drawing from pictures and two completely different things. Most people (not all) that draw from photos can never really draw from life, that's where you see ones artistic abilities really crumble. Many artists that joined the school that thought they were good quickly realise they had no clue. In my own words. We didn't know shit about shit until we went back to basics and classically trained in all the fundamentals like the old masters did.
Behold. Annam in March 2018. Flat faces, and ski masks. My value shifts were SO subtle and overly blended out that it made everything look flat. Hair lines were also wickedly sharp as well as lips and eyebrows.
Fast forward to February 2020 (Thank you Jesus) We return back to Owen. This time being a little more confident with my style, I now know how I want to paint and have a fair idea of how to get there. I also have Nneka as a teacher for this portrait and I highly admire her work. We started off with just a grisaille which is an underpainting. I wasn't totally happy with my portrait at this stage. I didn't think I had quite captured him yet. However I thought that I would be able to hopefully get it when I start painting him. You never stop drawing even when you're adding colour to a drawing so with this in mind I was hoping a few tweaks here or there would get it for me. This was a 3 week portrait project. I am also currently really into round canvases and was told by Ann to place his portrait slightly more to the left rather than dead on in the middle. Many of the students asked why I has chosen to do this and I simply replied cause Ann told me to. I also think it's because she didn't want the portrait to look like a pound coin and secondly as a general rule for portraits wherever the models gaze is directed to the artist will tend to leave a little more space in that direction. So if the model is in profile facing the right we leave more space to the right so it looks like they have 'space' to look out into.
I never question my teachers or their decisions, I only really ask questions to understand the knowledge they give me. They are far more experienced and skilled than I and only a fool would question the process. I only try and understand the process so I can learn to make the same choices and develop the way I think and see in the same way. I say this because many students I find fight the process and in turn drastically slow down their learning thinking they know better, or that they can develop a short cut. When people look at the old masters we often say we love (insert your favorite artist here) because of their style. This is not wrong to say, however I find it slightly juvenile. What the old masters did amazingly was make their own choices. Sargent's choice to masterfully simplify a painting was spectacular. He could make a hand look fully rendered in what seemed like only a few brush strokes! Rembrandt was the master of light, hence even naming a style of lighting in photography now as Rembrandt lighting and so on and so forth. Therefore I do not question my teachers because their training is far more extensive than mine and they understand how to make choices far better than I at this point in my career.
Below is the first session grisaille.
Week two I started to add colour!
I managed to adjust the portrait a little more drawing wise. I was very pleased with the way I kept my colours clean and nice and I also managed to make the background interesting and look like atmosphere around him (also a big weakness of mine, backgrounds)
Coming back to the same painting a week later I just a wanted to share what I come back to a week later, and almost every time when painting. Since the paint layers have dried quite a bit if not fully they tend to sink into the canvas and go a little dull. The remedy to this is to add a tiny bit of turpentine and medium to bring out the colours again to their true state and gently wash it over your painting. This is needed I believe so that when you're adding a fresh layer of paint on top you match the values correctly to what's actually there and not a value lighter or darker because of the dull sunken in colours.
I know I have one session left now to once again further develop the skin, amend his ear, paint his hair, fix any drawing issues AND finish his clothes.
I did not get to finish his clothes however in the last 10 mins I did manage to paint his awesome leopard print scarf he was wearing around his neck. I ignored everyone around me for this session and tried to paint as fast as I could as carefully as possible and squeeze in as much as I could.
Take a look at how now, compared to 2018 my hair lines and eyebrows are much softer. Lips are softer and I have a greater knowledge of where to put hard and soft edges.
One thing I did want to finally add was something one of the senior tutors taught we as well as Ann, however I never quite understood how to do it until now. They told me to observe weather in a portrait there are many value shifts or in fact if it's a shift in chroma.
Turning one of my photos into a black and white image we can try and understand what they meant a little better. Look at his cheeks below and see how I have added a bit of pinky blush to his face on the portrait to the right. In black white you actually cannot see this change. This means its a shift in colour and not value. Changes in colour and temperature can be seen throughout the portrait and it is what I love about Ann's work, the 10 week portrait of Owen taught me this. This is what I mean but simple sophistications in art, going darker in value on the cheeks would make it look like there is a plane change, A change in plane is a change in value. However there is no plane change in that section of his cheek, so we have to keep the value and paint the rouge on top in the exact value to not distract the viewer and make it look like an anatomical issue. HARD!
That's 3 years of development finally clicking! Although you may think the second portrait I did of Owen is not so bad observe how long it took me to get there! 10 whole sessions. The last portrait was done in 3. To really put that into perspective 3 sessions is 9 hours without breaks and 10 sessions is 30 hours without breaks. That's growth.