Painting a Portrait from a Photograph

This week was the first week of my second year long art course.  Let’s Face It focuses on, as the title implies, drawing and painting the human face.  Since I draw humans or human-like characters so much, it seemed like the perfect course for me to develop my skills and improve my abilities.  Life Book kicked off with a bang with lots of lessons in quick succession.  Similarly Let’s Face also started with two exercises for the first lesson, both taken by the course organiser, Kara Bullock, whose WordPress blog I follow.

The first exercise was about painting from a photograph, not in an attempt at precise verisimilitude but as scaffolding for constructing a work of art that resembles the angles and proportions of the original image.  Working from photographs is not something that I do.  I sometimes refer to images just to fix in my head a particular feature, such as what a hand holding an object looks like or what colour the “eyebrow” feathers of a rockhopper penguin are, but I don’t work with that photograph underpinning my drawing or painting.  Partly this is because I simply enjoy working from my imagination but it is also because I imagine that I would experience a creative block if what was emerging on the paper did not resemble the photographic image.  I prefer having nothing to compare to for fear of failure essentially.  Having determined that I am going to strive to stop fearing failure, therefore, this was a welcome exercise in testing my resolve.

A random google turned up a front facing portrait of a young woman that I thought would make the good foundation for a painting.  I liked the soft colours, the warm skin tones, and the dark hair piled around the face.  I knew that a more painterly approach was going to be time consuming and necessitated working on the painting for longer chunks of time than I am used to devoting to a piece in one go.  I, therefore, worked on this painting late at night and I was very glad I did so because it took me much, much longer than I usually work in one sitting.  That in itself was an interesting learning experience.

I can see lots of shortcomings in this painting: the proportions of the head are a bit awry, the skin tones are not as blended in some areas as in others, the mouth is a bit too small and pinched, and I have lost the youthfulness of the subject of the photograph.  However, there are elements that I really like such as the choppy but neutral background, the colour of the lips and the rendering of the eyes.  Considering I used to be entirely inept at painting not so long ago, I can see from this painting how far I have come.  I can also see how far I still have to go with my painting skills but that is the point in doing these art courses after all.

1 Portrait from a Photograph 1

1 Portrait from a Photograph 2

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18 thoughts on “Painting a Portrait from a Photograph

    • Thank you very much, Ellen. It’s the technical gubbins where I see all the flaws. I do think I translated the feeling of the photograph into my painting and that is largely because the eyes are actually successful.

  1. Pingback: Drawing Faces from my Imagination | A Pict in PA

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