Monday, November 9, 2015

Postcard Portraits

Posted by: Kate

I love painting kids (but until kids come taxidermied, from photos only).  This past year I've been making some small scale portrait commissions, mostly of kids.  Some are alla prima (if all goes well) and some take a few passes.  What I like most is the chance to nail a likeness (thrilling), play with colours (since kids usually wear bright colours, and those colours tend to bounce around into the under jaw area), have fun with paint quality, drop mic and walk away at the end of the day.

Now for some blow by blow.  Below you can see my very brief umber drawing and the very beginning of my colour application.  I've found it's nice to attack a cheek first.  That way I can establish my flesh colour range all the way from the dark shadow under the chin, through the cool halftone colour, into the red of the cheek, and right up to the highlight on the cheekbone.  My "flesh rainbow," if you will, which also happens to be the name of Dave's former thrash metal band.  But now that I have my darkest note, my halftone, my reddest note, and my second highest note (after the forehead) established, the flesh colours in the rest of the face will magically fall into place, like the first level of tetris.

I like to nail the eyes one at a time.  This sounds like a bad idea in theory, because common sense says that the eyes really ought to be developed in tandem to make sure they work with each other, but I find this works so much better for me for some reason.  And that makes me a Hypocritical Teacher because I would totally force my students to work out both the eyes at the same time.

Just getting more paint up.  I'm just sticking to all the same colours I worked out in my flesh rainbow:

Sculpting the mouth and nose, finessing that first eye, plunking a little more red into the cheek:

 Finally developing that second eye and refining the transitions all over the place with a soft touch:

Lots of cool colour in the hair.  When I paint ears, I like to start off by drawing the rich red shapes hiding out in the fold of the helix and in the concha.  This nails down the drawing of the ear and makes the whole ear-painting process tidier.  It's really easy to paint light flesh tones around the red shapes, but hard to plunk clean red shapes in if there's flesh tone already there mucking the area up.

Before I could really call it done I noticed the second eye I painted was a bit too far out to the left and hurt the likeness and dropped his perceived IQ by about 10 points.  That was a quick fix the next day.

Doesn't he look perfectly angelic?  Now, I know that's how everyone wants their child painted, but you see, I know this kid.  I'm an honorary aunt.  I was playing it safe when I picked this shot.  The next shot I picked for me, and I was snickering the whole time I painted it:

Above is the kid I know and love.  The kid who matter of factly says, "I just farted on you," while I'm reading him a book.

Most of these portrait paintings that I've been doing are 6x9" or thereabouts.  For more information about my portrait commissions, please visit my website.


  1. I just found your blog today and I will be spending a lot of time reading and catching up! I love your work and your writing!

  2. Amazing. And completely relatable as I have 2 and 4 year old boys.