Intuitive Portrait Painting

Week 17 of Life Book continued the theme of working intuitively with a lesson by Jenny Wentworth on portrait painting.  I found working on this lesson to be very challenging as it pushed me out of my comfort zone in a few respects.  That, however, is no bad thing.  I embarked on this course precisely so that I could be challenged to try new things, learn and develop, understand what works and doesn’t work for me and grow as a result.  This lesson really stretched me and I enjoyed it precisely because of that.

I spent the longest time I have ever spent on a Life Book lesson (so far) beavering away at this portrait, fidgeting and layering until my paper started pilling.  The idea of the lesson was to paint a portrait without sketching at all, just using the paint and whatever other media came to mind to develop a portrait, working intuitively the whole time.  I am beginning to appreciate that most paintings go through an ugly phase but this one went through several ugly phases.  As someone who is much more comfortable and experienced with drawing than with painting, it was so tempting just to pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal and draw into the painting.  I did, however, resist that temptation and kept fidgeting away with the paint.  One consequence of not drawing any elements is that the eyes are not the same.  Annoying.  I also struggled trying to get the eyes to look life-like, not too starey-scary, the whites not too glaring.  I added some metallic paints, including the addictive splattering on hair, just to tie the whole thing together and add in some light among all the dark neutral tones.

Week 17 - Portrait Painting without drawing

Week 17 - Portrait Painting without drawing - Close Up

I am not sure how I feel about the outcome of my response to this lesson.  I definitely learned something about the perseverance I require to keep pushing through the ugly stages, my ability to mix skin tones is improving and I am definitely starting to feel the benefit of all the previous lessons requiring me to work intuitively – especially as I felt free enough to just reach for whatever media I thought would do the job without putting much thought into it.  However, I definitely remain more of an illustrator-drawer than a painter.  I think my work would have benefited from the scaffolding that a preliminary drawing would have provided.  And I still need to work on eyes.  I think I may need to add this to the long list of Life Book lessons to have another crack at later in the year.


21 thoughts on “Intuitive Portrait Painting

    • You are so kind with your comments, Denise. Overall I think I am pleased with how it turned out. It is hard not to focus on all the elements that did not work so well, however. That is something I clearly still have to work on.

  1. Hi Laura, I think your girl came out very nice! I love the eyes, very life-like!, I tried Tam’s free lesson today an I can see my skin tones are getting much better too. Enjoying your LB posts?

    • Thank you, Carmen. I’m hoping to try that free lesson too but I also want to return to some of the earlier LB lessons and see if I can do better this time. I certainly feel like I’m learning a lot and slowly improving as a result of LB. It’s been a good investment for me and I’m considering signing up for next year too.

    • Thank you very much, Jenny. Struggle is one of the tools of learning and I learned a great deal from the challenges of this lesson. Thanks for a wonderful lesson. I’m sure I will use this approach again.

    • Thank you. I think ultimately I’m pleased too. I just needed some time and distance to not be focused on my frustrations and wonky bits and instead be able to reflect on the elements that are successful. Thanks for your feedback which is, as ever, appreciated.

  2. Oh she is fabulous Laura! You did a great job. I think doing this without the basic drawing and braving it all was an assignment graded with flying colors. You nailed it my friend!

  3. Reminds me of iconography of the Greek Orthodox Church – very haunting quality in the eyes and the golden earth tones suggest Earth Mother figures from classical mythology. 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Mike. I appreciate the compliment. However, as we have discussed before, I was someone who until recently truly believed I was incapable of painting. I could draw and I could “paint” with ink and a little watercolour but proper painting was way beyond my ability. I have just determined to keep beavering away with it and the Life Book lessons are teaching me techniques and approaches that work for me. Therefore, I think if you keep at it you would be able to create something like this too. On that subject, how is your 100 Artworks challenge going?

  4. Pingback: Mixed Media Self-Portrait | A Pict in PA

  5. Pingback: Letting Go and Letting In | A Pict in PA

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