Never fear!

Never fear!

It is finished. It took a month, dozens of glazes, and I have given up (and resumed) twice in the process.

I’ve been using a traditional glazing technique under instruction of my teacher. There were three hues used – Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow – single color glazes. I am not sure anymore how many glazes it took, I’ve lost count after 15, the total is probably as many as 25 in some places and as little as 2 in others.

The painting looked amazingly ugly until the very end. And this is why I have given up on it two times. I just didn’t have the heart to continue and be faced with my inadequacy. Interestingly I have been reading Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland while I was struggling with the glazes. I think this book is a must-read for every artist, it gives an insight what the fears are about. And while it doesn’t give a cure from the fear, it leaves you with a conscious choice of how to face it.

In the end I chose to persevere. I really wanted to know if I have what it takes. The other thing that kept me going was that I soft of knew that the ugly color splotches must gel into something coherent at some point (and everybody was saying so as well). I wanted to reach that point and see for myself. It happened in the evening of Dec. 9th. I painted the pupils and while they were drying was working on the background. And then I saw it – something happened to the painting, some threshold got reached after all this time, – there was skin where moments before I could only see color splotches. It was an amazing thing to experience. In honor of that moment and the book that helped me along I call this painting “Never fear!”

On a technical note, my teacher had me do several studies for this painting. I am posting them as well, my daughter aptly called them my “little monsters”: a graphite study, a brush drawing and 2 monochromatic value studies.

Quite a ride this was. While this work is rather wobbly and unsure, there are a couple things I am pleased with – I managed the likeness, expression and correct age.

5.5″ x 5.5″ (13 x 13 cm) on Arches CP, Cotman pans colors (these are my dad’s watercolors. It pleases me to no end that I am painting with my dad’s pigments!)

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18 thoughts on “Never fear!

  1. The skin is translucent, and he looks a tad sea sick with the green. Also looks a little like the cartoon character Dennis the Menace. Basically, not having a good day. Keep up the great work.

  2. I had to look up Dennis the Menace… This sweet boy is no Menace, but he is indeed a little green around the edges. I will have to work more on my portrait skills. Perhaps a husband’s portrait would be a good practice… 🙂

    • Thank you for stopping by here and commenting, Barbara! This one was a tough one. As a watercolor artist yourself, you probably know what it took. There are still mistakes galore in this portrait, but I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t finish it. Besides, I learned so much!

  3. Hi Alex! I learned about you from Leslie White’s blog. Isn’t she wonderful? You are doing an amazing job! This portrait is incredible! Her skin is so perfect and so transparent. I would have never guessed that it went thru all of the stages it went thru! I’m glad you stayed with it. Very beautiful!

    A side note about her age…. I turn 7 year old girls into 40 year old hookers, when I paint them. Not a pretty site. *giggle*

    • Thank you, Beth! Leslie IS great! You are lucky if you know her in person, I only met her through her blog. I know what you are saying about getting the age right, I think it is even trickier than getting the likeness. Being a newbie I cannot offer any suggestions, I can only sympathize. I only know that persistence pays back. After half a dozen portraits I can almost get the age right in graphite. I will keep working on my watercolor faces. With this one I got lucky, but I also think that 4 studies I did for it had something to do with my luck.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I am rather proud of myself, but mainly because of my effort and the fact that I finished the painting, against all odds. Something that I heard from professional artists while I was working on this portrait: a portrait should not be treated any different than a painting of an apple – there are colors, lights and darks, and shapes to be depicted as close to what you actually see as possible. There is a notion out there that a portrait is the most difficult subject an artist can attempt, which introduces hesitation to try. When you take this thought of shapes, lights and shadows to it, it alleviates some of the fears. Now, that I have done one, I can confirm that it is true. All the best to you in your portrait painting!

  4. Alex,
    First let me say how sorry I am that it has taken me this long to visit your blog again.
    Quiet time has been in short supply lately!

    Now on to the GOOD stuff. You are growing in leaps and bounds as an artist. I’m so delighted to watch the transformation as you tackle each new subject. Fear holds many people back from all sorts of wonderful things, not just art. Your decision to tackle it head-on is a perfect place to start. From here, doors will open and before you know it you’ll be running through them with eyes wide open!

    I love this portrait.

    The delicate glazing is beautiful, the expression so perfect and childlike.

    The colours “pop” and make me happy. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Heaven forbid that you concern yourself with whether or not they are the “right” colours. Look at one of the most famous self-portraits of all time, by Vincent Van Gogh – one wonders if it would have had the same appeal had it been painted in peaches and creams.

    By experimenting with layers and glazes of different colours, you are learning what works and what doesn’t. If and when the time comes around where you have to paint in traditional portrait colours (say, for a specific portrait commission) well, you’ll have the knowledge and tools ready to do it.

    Well done and keep it up!
    ~Christy DeKoning, Portrait Artist

    • Thank you so much, Christy! No time is good! It means you are busy, productive and hopefully making some money! I wish you more of that in the new year!

      I was wondering if you can help me with a bit of advice. I am getting ready to put an order for some Daniel Smith paints. Could you share your “portrait” colors? What would be a minimum list to get? I am hoping to start with 10-12 colors and add on later. Your help would be so great!

      Happy New Year to you!

  5. If I only had 10 colours in my palette, they would be:

    Permanent Alizarin Crimson
    Perylene Green
    Sap Green
    French Ultramarine Blue
    Burnt Sienna
    Raw Umber
    Quinacridone Rose
    Quinacridone Gold
    Manganese Blue Hue
    Cobalt Yellow (Aureolin)

    the next two:

    Quinacridone Burnt Orange
    Ultramarine Turquoise (mix this with alizarin crimson for black)

    Some other handy colours:
    Imperial Purple (great for neutralizing yellows and oranges)
    Idanthrone Blue (similar to French Ultramarine)
    phthalo blue (very transparent, very very strong and vibrant)
    perylene red (more of a Christmas red)
    Yellow Ochre – great colour for portraits, but not very transparent – you can’t glaze with it very well, so use it on the bottom layers.

    • Thank you for the suggestion, Christy! I am adding this to my list of notes. This being my first portrait, I followed the reference as literally as I could. There is Cobalt Blue on the “white” of his scleras, the scan doesn’t show it well, but indeed I used a mixed gray to curve the eyeball. I will try blue next time.

  6. Hi Alex, you have done a beautiful job with your portrait. This is well done and really not easy with watercolors.
    May I also add a note?
    The inner of the nostrils should be warm and not looking black or grey. Use an underwash of yellow there and then add a mix of yellow and red. To darken this you could add also a mix of your red with burnt umber, that would be perfect.
    Christy is also correct with saying that the white of the eyes is not white. Add maybe some blue or a mix of blue and red, this gives a very nice shadow colour.

    I am looking forward to see your next one.

    • Hi Doris, thank you so much for your suggestion! Now that you mentioned it, it makes perfect sense to make the inside of the nostrils warm. Being new to portrait, I didn’t think of it at the time.

      It doesn’t stop to amaze me how much help and advice I am getting from wonderful artists I meet on the net through this blog. I am grateful to know you, at least virtually. I am subscribed to your blog and am looking forward to your next work as well.

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