The Trouble with Heads

Have you ever been working on a painting, specifically the head part of a figure and it just won’t materialize the way you envisioned. I recently had this happen and thought I’d share my remedy to “the head that will not work“.

It’s good in the beginning to realize the reference head is a difficult one. What makes one head more of a challenge than another? I’ve brought out some of my older portrait studies to see.

face1

The example above is a easier head because it has strong lighting which defines the planes, but more important it is straight on vertically and horizontally. Not the most interesting pose, but definitely the easiest.

example2

This one is more difficult, although there are some good defining shadows the head is not only tilted to one side, but tilted upwards, Notice how the ears are going lower on the side of the face, this is always the tell tail sign of a head tilted up.

example3

In many ways this head is more difficult than the one above because it is so slightly tipped to one side and tilted up (notice the under side of the chin being visible). This being a rounder, softer face makes it more challenging than one with sharp angles.

example4

An extreme angle like this is hard because it’s a strain to come to terms with the fact that the nose can appear to touch the eye. This is when you have to trust what you see and not what you think you know.

After I’ve made a few attempts at a face from photo reference and it just isn’t working this is what I do:

Making sure the photo head is the same size as the painting head, I draw a square box around the head, placing the head at one side. Label the size of the box, than divide it into eighths if need be. In this photo the right side of the box was mostly her hair, a shape I could easily grasp so I only divided the left side of the box.

example5

On the painting, draw the same size box where the head is. Using the divisions as guide lines, draw in the main elements in the correct locations. Sometimes I’ll do a dry run on a piece of scrap canvas.

IMG_2597

Here is the box and pencil drawing on the canvas. Now I see it! The hair line was off, but I know have a good guide to move forward.

 

 

 

Back to Painting Again!

Getting somewhat settled into our new Phoenix home, it is finally time to work in the studio. Still tripping over boxes …. where’s that ruler and X-acto knife, I know there’s more solvent somewhere….. but anyway it felt great to be face to face with a canvas again.

I took the opportunity to attend an open studio session for 5 hours on friday at Scottsdale Artists School, knowing that I would complete the painting at home.

julian-lr-1

Basic block in. I can’t believe I forgot the basic rule of painting glasses, and was reminded by another artist in the class…paint the eyes first, than put the glasses on.

julian-lr-2

At this point my concern was blocking in the masses with the right shape and temperature. Decided to use a limited palette to put the focus on textures; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and ivory black. Could have got away using the burnt umber instead of black but wanted to get those cold darks on the tie and vest.final-letter

The first thing I like to do when getting back to the studio is evaluate what I have so far and where I want to go. Looking at the painting, not the reference photo making a list (spelling and grammar are the last things on my mind), of what needs to be done helps me to focus and not get off track.

julian-lr-final
Julian with a Hat

After four more hours in the studio, the end result is the painting below.

 

Portrait to Pin

Sometimes I like to build a step by step of a painting and make a Pinterest Pin out of it. This was a recent open studio session, with an abbreviated breakdown of my process –

UkrainianDemo