Sunday, 30 August 2009

Development of a Portrait: 1

I recently attempted to paint the portrait of a female friend, inspired by the style of Arthur Rackham whose work we both admire. But before I made a finished painting that I felt reflected the beauty of my source photo I had to make several developments and photocopy tests, and although my final painting is not at all like the work of Rackham, I've decided to share some images that reflect the working process for this project and write about what was happening...

I started off by looking at a lot of the Arthur Rackham illustrations saved on my computer [3 examples below] that I had originally sourced here from
I do this kind of initial artists/influences research for many of my projects, which I'd like to think helps me keep things fresh and prevents my artwork from looking the same time after time...

From that initial research into the visual style of Rackham (whose work I was aiming to imitate for my friend), I drew out her portrait with pencil onto card. I was surprisingly happy with how well the portrait worked as a simple pencil 'outline' drawing, but as I wasn't planning to write a blog post about it at that time I don't have a good quality image of the pencil drawing to illustrate - I did however take a low-resolution photo using my laptop's webcam so that I could quickly test a possible colour scheme within Photoshop. [Below is an image showing both the initial sketch on the left, and the Photoshop colour test on the right].

From the Photoshop colouring test, I laid down a yellowish base coat everywhere bar the main part of her hair, which I wanted to keep clear/white. And from there I just added some tonal variation as I felt necessary.
Originally it was all painted with Yellow Ochre (avoiding the use of really dark tones like in the Photoshop test), but I eventually decided to make use of some Burnt Umber too so that I could get more variation in the tonal depths.
The painting worked fine without the darker Umber tones, but it just felt a little too plain/flat, and now with the aid of a second colour, the painting does seem to have more 'pop'.
I was unsure about the darker tones at first (especially the rough texture on the jumper), which was quite messy and didn't have any sense of form, but I now think that the texture of the jumper has helped to make the texture on her face look smoother while the darker tone of the jumper has mitigated the dark washiness around her eye.
This is how I have left that painting, but I think there is still room to further heighten the tonal depth, and perhaps using darker/bolder outlines (like in the work of Rackham), would help to make it further stand out...

As I am quite happy with the painting the way it is [above right], and because I had strong reservations about what bolder outlines would do to the overall aesthetic, I decided to make a photocopy of my painting so that I could test a style more like Rackham's on my painting without potentially ruining my original.
I didn't fully commit to the relatively bold lines that are so common with Rackham; instead I just built-up the lines using a ballpoint pen, which I thought would create a more subtle effect. I wanted to keep the lines subtle because the source photograph worked wonderfully well with minimal texture and colour, and I was worried that using too many bold lines would distract from the minimalist beauty of the source photograph.
I think the ballpoint pen crosshatching works really well on her jumper by creating a texture that contrasts nicely with the rest of the image, while the outline down the profile of her face also works (although it should perhaps be made bolder?) The only area I'm not keen on the ballpoint pen is in her hair, because I think the lines are too heavy and create dark clusters, which I find really distracting.
The ballpoint pen inking above suggests that I could still develop the painting further and continue pushing the aesthetic closer towards the style of Arthur Rackham's work, but I decided that it was worth trying out something completely different with the image.

I was originally inspired to paint this particular image because it shows her beautiful side profile combined with hair in a really cool form. Despite this, I felt that my first painting(s) were not making best use of those qualities, so I decided to do a new painting in a simpler yet bolder visual style more inspired by the work of Rene Gruau [see my previous blog post] in order to achieve an aesthetic that placed a greater emphasis on the qualities that first attracted me to the source photo.

The new painting was much more illustrative: showing only the form of her cool hair along with a simple outline of the profile of her face.
The working process was just the same as the first painting, as can be seen in the image above showing my initial Photoshop test on the left, and the acrylic painting on the right.

I'm not 100% sure about the cropping - would it have been better to show the full head? But anyway, that's too late now...
The last thing I did was use Photoshop to adjust the levels of the photographed painting so that the white was purer (because the photograph made it look a dirty grey tone), and now, at long last, here is the final result:

Annoyingly however, when I was in Edinburgh last night (for the first time in over a month!) I kept seeing a Beauty & The Beast poster at the bus stops with the same visual style.
Last night is the first time I had ever seen that black and white poster (you can see a similar version of the poster here), but I'm concerned that if people now look at my black and white portrait painting above, they will think it was just a straight-up copy of the Beauty & The Beast poster...

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