I recently completed a portrait painting that I felt was one of my best figurative works yet. What makes it really moments for me is have painted very few figurative works in the past 10 or 15 years. I have been pondering whether to get back into this type of work and if I did how to do it. You see, I have been creating a name for myself with my other works and for me to just do a random painting of a figure would be really odd. I was thinking I would privately paint 6-8 images and then when I felt confident I would show them around and see what happens. Well, I started this journey by painting a little 8" x 8" painting of my daughter - just to see if I still had it in me. It wasn't a perfect painting, but it sure did inspire me. Here it is-
The inspiration from this one little painting led me to develop many sketches for various ideas. And then it led me to start to develop three of these into tangible ideas I could use for a painting. It was at this point when I got the invitation to be part of an invitational group show to help raise awareness for the Honey Bee and it's Colony Collapse Disorder disease. The moment I read the invitation an idea popped into my head, I grabbed my sketch book and did a quick sketch and then responded back with a "Yes, I want to be a part in this show!"
Here's the initial concept sketch-
All of my initial sketches look very.... ugly, rough, messy ..... not the best drawings that I make. But they are not meant to be shown around, they are only meant for me so I can record my thoughts and aspirations. To get this rough sketch ready for paint takes a lot of work. After three or four days I am nearly ready with a final sketch. Here it is-
The focus was always on the eyes. I wanted them to be angry, concerned, knowing, accusing and pleading all at once.
The raised arm was added to help tell the story within the painting and then it was time to play with color. I already have a pretty good idea of what colors I wanted but I think it's always good to test them out and see what's going on. These color studies are completed with colored pencils. I knew the yellows and greens but what developed as I was penciling in was the purple shadows, purple in the flowers on her crown and the black and white stripes on her shirt sleeve. For the sleeves, I was originally thinking black and yellow but that put too much yellow around the belly area and made the colors all kind of off balance from each other.
With the color study completed, I am ready to paint. In this image you can see the canvas with the gray base color on and I have all of my reference and drawing studies taped to wall to help me as I paint. The larger drawing to the right is just a few prints of the drawing printed out at a larger scale and taped together. I used this to transfer the drawing to the canvas. I like keeping this around until I have the painting under control because it never fails, I lose some of the transferred drawing as I paint.
And So the painting begins.
This is a very exciting time!!
On this image you can see my transferred drawing - it's the blue lines.
Here, I got the face blocked in with a single layer of paint. For me this is a good days' worth of work
I'm starting to paint the white background, so I can intermix the skin color with the background and create softer edges as needed, like on the far right side of her face.
You can see I have drawn the flowers in darker at the bottom. The blue easily comes off and melts away with the oil color. I used pencil for the flowers because I wanted to keep the outlines present as I was initially planning to use them in the final painting - but this idea was changed toward the end.
This day I am starting to add in some colors. I wanted to see what the green looked like and I knew in life a green shirt like this would affect the wearers skin by throwing reflected light around - like under the chin and other places. Getting the green in place let me start to deal with this and helped make the painting more realistic. Through the entire process of painting I am constantly refining the colors so they all work together and seem realistic.
Another thing that would be a major influence on a real person and also influences the painting as a painting is the white background. You can see here that as I added more white into the background the strong face colors I had before now looked a bit washed out (as seen in this image). This worked in my favor on the edges of skin next to the white but worked against me on area closer to the viewer, like her left cheek and eye. To fix this I added more color and a darker value to the skin tone (as seen in the next few images)
See how the cheek is noticeably darker and there are more reds in the forehead and cheek?
This is a good shot that shows other reference I had taped up to help me paint. I was using the flower images to help me paint the crown. Far right you can see reference for the hand - that's my wife's hand holding a random house key or something.
I'm getting really close to being done in this image. I have been trying various effects on other paper for the flowers at the bottom. I'm not totally sure how I want to finish them off yet. I do know I want them monochromatic. I was originally thinking I would just leave them penciled in and unfinished but that didn't look as good as I thought it would. I needed something more.
Following are a few close-ups of the completed flowers. The texture seen can be found all over this painting.
And here she is completed and hanging next to some other bees I had completed for this show.
She needs a frame!
I already have an idea for the frame, I just need to get working on it.
The completed painting, framed.
The framed is touched up with hand inlaid bee charms and hand panted gold accents. I think it's a very ornate, beautiful frame suitable for a queen. Did you notice the rougher wood frames for the workers? I think independently the frames work for each painting but brought together they also help with the story collectively. This was definitely a fun project from start to finish.
The original can bee seen at:
Toil Art Gallery
Located at Mind and Mill Headquarters
3615 Main Street, Suite 103 Riverside, CA 92501
October 13th through end of December 2018
If you have any questions regarding the process feel free to reach out to me.
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P.S. I am very close to having prints available for this painting. Let me know if you're interested so I can give you a shout out once they're ready!