Process of Painting a Large, Colorful Portrait

I have been a landscape painter all my life.  I love the land and feel happy being able to move things around. In the landscape I have the ability to move a bush from one place to another, take out a tree, lighten or darken an image as I need in order to make the whole image work more harmoniously. Painting a portrait is not as easy.

I tried altering the portrait of Mark, below, but instead I created a different person. I wasn’t able to make the same kind of changes I could in landscape painting. Portraits are a whole new language for me. I figure after doing 30 or more I  hope to have a better handle on it, but for now, this is where I am.

                        Mark (4)           Mark lightened and tilted 3 degrees cropped again

Above are two photos of Mark Clopton of The Actor’s Studio of Newburyport . The one on the left is the one I started with and the one on the right is how I cropped and lightened the photo before I started painting. Below is the block-in and some of the ideas I had for the clothes and background.  To me, Mark is bigger than life. He is strong in body, character and personality and also incredibly warm and gentle. I wanted the painting to depict that. I chose a 30×40 gallery wrap canvas and warm bright colors.

                                                           Mark in the first stages 1-2 (3)

   The application of paint starts out loose and thin using a big brush. For me, blocking-in is like talking out loud with paint, trying to figure things out. I knew I wanted the painting to be large, colorful, strong  and expressive. The drawing at this stage doesn’t have to be right-on because part of my process is to start out messy and find my way as I go along. It doesn’t always work out right off the bat but as I go along I make corrections to the drawing, painting and background.

                                                            Mark in the first stages 4(6)

                        Mark in the middle stages (1)                            Mark in the middle stages (4)

Notice the corrections on the nose and chin in charcoal. The background became too stiff and important so I took it all out. At the same time I changed the color of his jacket. The final version feels successful especially because it is only my second portrait. I keep reminding myself as I do all of you, to have patience and compassion as we learn new things.

                                                Mark finished

Twenty five or so years ago I did a couple of traditional, tight portrait commissions.  I found that I didn’t like having to copy photographs perfectly; partly because I didn’t have the skill but mostly because people kept changing their minds as to what they wanted. It was very frustrating trying to please people. However, painting these portraits is just for me. I am painting who I want – the way I want. Below are a few of the portraits I have done since Mark’s portrait (finished, above). I feel like I am finding my way little by little.

                                                    Zack Fields

                                                                          Zach Field

                                                               Steven Haley finished 24x36

Stephen Haley, above, was the very first portrait I attempted in this series. We all think he looks a little like Clint Eastwood. Although, I am happy to say everyone does recognize him as Steven Haley. It is a little funny to me that although I want the person to look like themselves  I am more  interested in expressing with paint, (mostly color), what I think and feel about the person. For instance, see how intense Steven’s eyes are and how calm Zach’s are, even in the midst of the chaotic background.

Stay tuned. I have done 8 more since these 3 but still feel I have a long way to go. I’ll show them at another time.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have fun drawing and painting this fall.

About Pat

I love painting and teaching and I have owned The Artists Playground, in Newburyport for over 25 years.
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