I spent my entire summer working on still life paintings and it got to a point where I needed a change of pace. So, I turned to portraiture. Which was a large step in a different direction. To me, portrait painting is more of a challenge than still life painting and incredibly different than even full figure painting. The major difference being that portraiture involves capturing the likeness of the model. A portrait can be off by just a little bit, be it a nose length, lip width, or cheek bone height, or anything, and that minor difference can cause the portrait to not resemble the model. When I sat down to paint my father, I made sure to constantly check measurements and relationships so that I was getting a solid resemblance.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to have my dad sit down for me whenever I wanted to paint, so I had to take a photo of him and use that as reference. I had him bring home his prescription magnifying goggles/glasses from his dental office and wear them around his neck. Then I had him wear a white dress shirt. My dad wore the dress shirt loose and I liked the contrast that had. It felt professional, but also relaxed.
I blocked in the drawing with some general color ideas instead of doing an underpainting. I wanted to get into the actual painting as quickly as possible.
During the early stages of the painting I constantly fidgeted with the right side of my dad’s face. I saw that as the defining element of the portrait. People can be recognized by their silhouettes, and I needed to get his silhouette as close to the reference as possible.
After covering the entire canvas with one good paint-through, I felt pretty good. Except for one thing. I had misjudged the figure size. As I painted, I adjusted the head and fiddled with the proportions and wound up losing the top of the head off the canvas. At that point I had two options. 1. Shrink everything down. 2. Deal with it. I contemplated the first option, but I was painting small as it was (11×14) and I did not want to have to go down in brush size. So I dealt with it and chalked it up to the learning process. Besides, it didn’t look that bad and it helped me decide that my next portrait will be larger. That way I won’t feel constrained.
Every painting session was a give and take. One shoulder needed to be dipped and the other raised. The ear needed to be raised and the head widened. Back and forth, back and forth. I spent most of my time making constant adjustments.
Once I had the head mostly where I wanted it, I went into the shirt. I relished the simplicity of the whites and grays. It was an entirely different world than the flesh tones. I sailed right through it, leaving it loose in order to keep the focus on the face.