Artistic Evolution Through Portrait Painting
It starts with an idea. Sometimes your idea, sometimes another person’s, but in the beginning art lives in the mind. And from the moment when the idea begins to the moment when you sign your name, there’s the emotional and ever evolving process of creativity. I make it my practice to explore that process, and my latest piece is a deeper look into how it unfolds.
As a commission portrait artist, I rarely get to paint people that I choose to. Not a big deal, because I love painting, and even when it’s a commission I dive into it with as much gusto as my own personal work. But for my own work I’m able to try different things for different reasons. This latest portrait, titled “Half Clown, Half Pirate, Half Prince,” is a piece that I did for the BP Portrait Award competition held by the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in Britain. I wanted to capture my friend’s eccentric and witty personality with energy and accuracy. I wanted to paint fast in order to achieve this, so I gave myself two weeks; a little mad. When you normally commission a portrait painting, unless it’s a deadline, expect your piece a few months in the future. These things take time, but for this one, as I said, I wanted to rush. It changed my creative process slightly but it also gave me the opportunity to observe it without any breaks. What I found is that working in stages is an essential element to painting, and following your initial instincts, without the luxury of time to second guess yourself, keeps you innovative and energetic.
Get It OUT!
My work is best when I begin by quickly getting my image onto the canvas. I find that it’s preferable when working on subjects like San Francisco cityscape paintings, but this explosive approach is often scary for most commission portrait artists . This is not odrd, by any means, because I find that artists, including myself, worry about getting everything right when it comes to people. By moving quickly you don’t have a lot of time to make sure that the proportions are correct and that the features are exact, but you also reduce your sense of worry. I also keep in mind that whatever I paint I can also cover up or even wipe away.
With this piece I began by painting the light and dark areas. Basically blocking in the shapes. I added some basic colors to demarcate form. The first stage of the painting is about getting the gesture and layout more or less correct. I often find that this stage contains the most energy, and in much of my commission work I sometimes miss the energy that a painting starts out with. I am constantly trying to balance between getting the rendering accurate, as well as capturing the feel of the subject throughout my years as a commission portrait artist. The trap that one can fall into is overworking pieces. For this painting I wanted to make sure this did not happen.
The Evolving Process
In the second stage I began to choose which parts I wanted to develop. Since it was a portrait I felt that it was important to render the face and what he was doing realistically. I started to lay in more color and made sure that the proportions and details were correct. It was in this phase when I decided to not cover up parts of the earlier stages that I already painted. Leaving parts of the underpainting and the sketch was a different aesthetic look than some of my previous work. Not a complete departure, but definitely a new direction. It opened up a greater sense of freedom and enabled me to try some new techniques which I want to integrate in my future work. It also gave this particular piece a sense of depth. This struck me as ironic, because by painting less, and leaving less developed areas untouched, I created a greater illusion of deepness. Both emotional and visual.
In the last two stages, I completely shaped and fleshed out the face, as well as decided on how much to develop the other areas. I felt as if I was molding the face out of clay as I added greater amounts of detail. I was not inhibited with how far I wanted to render it, as the face was the main focal point of the painting. I used a combination of brushes and palette knives on the other parts of the figure such as the hands, clothes, and accordion. For more refined detail, such as the right hand, I used brushes, but began using more palette knives as the emphasis moved away from the focal areas towards the edges of the figure. On much of the body of the figure and on the accordion I used palette knives to blend the edges into a vague and abstract background. I also wanted to leave signs of the earlier stages within the background, which added to the illusion of deepness.
A San Francisco Portrait Painter Learns His Lesson
When I was in art school, a more experienced artist gave me a bit of advice. He told me that every stage a painting goes through should look as if it could be a completed piece. I’ve taken that to heart even if I cover up what I’ve painted already. But I was amazed by how much I had relied on the stages of development in order to achieve the final product for this particular painting. This piece clearly demonstrated to me how important my fellow artist’s advice was. Letting earlier stages of the painting show through added a dynamic quality to the piece, and has forged a new direction for me and my art.
When I first began this portrait, I definitely wanted to say something new and special. Like all the stages in art, my idea developed along with the piece. It has enabled me to be a bit more free and experimental. Though I am grateful for being a commission portrait artist, sometimes it’s necessary to try out new things, and like putting on a new coat, it adds to one’s overall style. I look forward to my future paintings, both commissions and my own personal work.