A few months ago I offered to paint a portrait as a gift for my mother in law. She decided she would like me to paint a portrait of her mother, Doris Jean. I discovered this beautiful pose amongst the family photos. We believe the photo was taken sometime during the decade of the 1920’s. I never knew Doris Jean (my husband’s grandmother) as she had passed away several years before I married into the family. Among Doris Jean’s ancestors was a Sioux Indian chief.
The original photo was only wallet size and in fairly poor condition. A family member In North Carolina scanned the original photo and emailed me the photo file. I was disappointed with the lack of clarity evident when the photo was enlarged, but I decided to give it my best effort (as I didn’t have any alternative from which to choose).First Painting:
As with all of my portraits, the goal of my first painting is to establish the facial features as accurately as possible by painting the shadows (not the general skin tones this time). Her eyes in particular gave me a fit, and I had to depend on my calipers repeatedly to measure and re-measure. Even still, complete accuracy proved next to impossible due to the blurry nature of so many of the defining features on the study photo. I painted this first painting while vacationing at a beach in North Carolina and was relieved that my mother in law approved the resemblance at this early stage. My mother in law also told me that her mom's hair color was a very dark brown (even though it appears lighter in this photo)and that Doris's eye color was blue/green. I don’t always paint the pupil on the first fire, but decided to do so this time since it was important for me to determine if I’d captured her “gaze”. Fired to 016.Second Painting:
This painting I washed colors over her skin (Blonde Flesh in the light value areas and Reflected Light in the middle-value areas and Light Red used to contour her cheeks slightly. I darked her eyelids (notice that her eyelids are dark in contrast to her lighter upper lid area) This time her irises were painted with apple green (first painting the irises were light blue), and I shaded the whites of her eyes. If you refer back to the study photo, you'll notice that the lower portion of her eyes are streamed with light (in contrast to the rather heavy shading of the upper right portion of her iris. So it was important to shade only the top area of the iris while leaving the lower left portion very light. I continued defining her facial contours with more shading. I darkened her hair and textured her long curls on each side of her head (retaining a fairly bright highlight on each curl). After hard scrutiny, I finally decided that I could discern what appeared to be a corkscrew curl dangling out of her pulled over bangs, so I painted a curl in that location. I tried to keep all edges of her hair slightly loose and wispy. Fired painting to 017.Third Painting:
This 3rd painting is really only a partial painting. Actually both the second fire and the third fires were only partial paintings. I used this piece to demonstrate on while teaching an individual portrait seminar (demo'd techniques such as shading eyes, painting brows and lashes, etc.) I didn’t get to paint over the entire piece, but instead did what I had time to complete during the day and fired the piece with the other seminar pieces that night. I added subtle eyelashes on this painting. Much of the shadow along the left side of her face was painted with Rembrandt Green. I used Flesh Shadow to give slight definition to the length of her nose along the right side (bright light side). I shaded the folds of her fabric dress with some warm gray and then washed a bit of Flesh #1 over some areas of the sleeve and dress to give a sheer appearance to the fabric. This painting I shaded her pearls with Flesh Shadow and wiped out some highlights. Fired to 018.4th Painting:
Once I returned home from North Carolina, I finally had some time to give some serious attention to this painting. I decided I wanted a darker blue background since the dark blue will later be useful to wash over her darkened hair and should eventually “plant” her into her background. I felt the blue would also enhance her eyes. I continued to work on her skin tones and to darken the shadows around her eyes and along the left side of her face. I used a brush mix of black and rich brown to darken her hair and refined the texture of the hair and pulled some streaks of light highlight in strategic areas. (Whoops! I discovered to my dismay that she was completely missing any indication of an ear on the right side! One of the hazards of painting from a photo where the features are difficult to see! So, I managed to pull a slight highlight out of the dark hair in that area to hopefully give the impression
of a shaded earlobe concealed by hair overtop. Whew!!
At this point I need to do a thorough comparison under the grid, because I’m sensing a few areas that are slightly “off” and hopefully the grid will help me see exactly where I’m off and give me some direction for correcting the likeness. 4th Fired Under the Grid Comparison:
I see several areas where I’ve strayed off likeness, but fortunately I think I’ll be able to correction almost all of these variances. Compare the areas across the bridge of her nose. (Count the squares across the bridge of her nose on each photo. On the study, it appears to be only 2 squares wide but on the painting I can clearly count 3 squares across. The reason is I'm missing the very dark value of the shadow on the left side.) I obviously need to darken and define the shape of the dark shadow on the left bridge of her nose (from her left eyebrow down to just below her left tearduct) I also need to extend the shape of the shadow adjacent to the tearduct area of her right eye which should extend further onto the right bridge of her nose. Her right eyebrow needs to be widened (on the bottom edge of the brow). Comparing the shadow running down the left side length of her nose...the study shadow is pretty straight whereas my shadow line is curved inward. Thus, I need to straighten that shadow line. I also need to darken the shadow on the bottom of her nose (across the nostril area and particularly on the left side)
The edges of her irises and the lower lid line (especially on the left eye) might be off, but it was that is one of the areas so impossible to see clearly on the study photo. The outer corner of the left eye definitely must be pushed back by means of darker shadow in that area.
Now, I’ll crop out a few more problem areas so that you can see the comparison under the grid more clearly. Facial Silhouette Comparison - Left Side:
The crop of the left edge of Doris’s face reveals that I need to make a few slight adjustments. Notice that two squares down from the top the edge of the face on the study curves inward and disappears beneath her hair. The edge of the face on my painting extends upward in that area. I need to use dark brown to curve her face inward as in the study. Also notice the straighter slant of Doris’s jawline in the study compared with my more angular jawline of my painting. Once again, I can use hair color to push the jawline inward and slim that jawline more as it should be. (You can no doubt notice the left edge of her mouth and lips needs to extend over slightly to the left ….should tip slightly upward in a smile, and the left lip should be fattened up a bit also. (More detailed comparison of the lip will follow)Facial Silhouette Comparison – Right Side:
Notice the considerable variance between the shape of the right side of the study photo with the shape of the same area on my painting. Notice on the study photo how the side of the face angles straight upward from about the middle of the cropped area. On the painting, her face continues outward (fails to angle straight upward). Once again, I can correct this by painting the dark hair inward in this area)Mouth and Lips – Comparison:
For some reason I have a tendency to slim the lips on my paintings (argh!!). Here is another perfect example of how I’ve done that and gotten slightly off likeness. As you can see, her mouth needs to extend out further on both the left and the right sides (overall wider). On the right side, that center line needs to move outward fairly horizontally. In addition, I need to widen (plump) both the upper and lower lips and I need to move the dip of her upper lip slightly towards the right. Deep shadows (especially on the left side and in the center lip line) will be important to achieving that “look” and I need to work on “planting” both outer corners of her mouth within her face (proper shading of the outer corners). So, I’ve obviously got quite a few areas to correct as I proceed on to completion, but my grid comparison has helped me identify those areas and exactly how I need to proceed to make those correction.Fifth Painting:
Have you ever gotten to the end of your painting...made all the corrections you know about and you are all excited about how well it is turning out....but then all of the sudden get an overwhelming feeling that something is just not right about it? That is exactly what happened to me at this stage of my painting. I THOUGHT this should be the last painting...thought that I should be finished. But, all of the sudden, I felt like I had lost the "essense" of Doris Jean's personality. My painting looks older and much too sophisticated than the real Doris. And her eyes bothered me (I gave her too much makeup....I shaded the top of her eyes too much?) Suddenly I'm wallowing in self doubt.
So.....what could I do now?
I know! I'll ask Marci!
Marci noticed that Doris's bottom lip on the left side was still not plump enough and needed to be straighter. She suggested that that troublesome shadow on the left bridge of her nose still needed to grow and darken towards the center. And she agreed with my observation that the pattern of shadows down her left side needed to make sense (shade the left side of the headband and bow....darken the cast shadow beneath the chin and on her neck.....enhance the shading on the left side of her face also) So, I sat down to begin my 6th painting on this portrait.6th Painting (Finished):
I decided to use violet as the primary color for the shading over the left side of her face...it really enhanced those shaded areas well. In the darker areas, I brush mixed a bit of mahogany with my violet, but washed violet alone over areas of her lower left cheek, chin, area between her upper lip and the bottom of her nose, etc. I also shaded the left side of her forehead, gradually darkening as it moved into her hairline. What a huge difference that made! I suddenly realized that having her forehead entirely in highlight made her deeply shaded eyes look peculiar (THAT was the primary problem I was having with the look of her eyes!) Once her forehead was shaded, the entire left side fell into proper perspective. Conclusion:
I'm now at peace with my portrait of Doris Jean. Do I think she looks just like the real Doris? Honestly...."no"
I think I lost her essense...that innocence of her youth.
I realize that I overpainted her early on, which gave her a more grown up appearance. And, I can't fix that. But, I'm no longer distressed over it. Hopefully, my mother in law will like my portrait. There is a lot I do like about this portrait.
One goal for my future projects will be to figure out how to retain that look of youthful innocence. I've still got a LOT to learn!
Thanks for following along with me on this journey