Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons Learned at a Portrait Workshop

Work in Progress
from workshop with Susan Carlin

This past weekend I took a portrait workshop online from Susan Carlin.  She demonstrated painting a portrait in oils and offered multiple critiques on our work. I thought I'd highlight some of the things I learned.

In the morning I worked happily away and then sent in my work for critique... (cue the music)

It was very clear that my drawing was off, way off. Susan suggested I just trace the photo and work on that for the rest of the time. I started tracing but realized what I really wanted out of this class was an understanding of how to pull a drawing back together. When a drawing gets askew, how do you get it straightened out? This is important to me because even if I start with a grid (which I didn't this time), I get things wrong.

In the afternoon, after choosing my "rightest" part, I started making adjustments. The drawing definitely got back on track. Here's what I did differently:

Work at arm's length.
I didn't do this for the first half and I think my posture really affected my ability to get the drawing correct. For the afternoon, I did work at arm's length and the resulting change in the correctness of my drawing was amazing. It's still not perfect, but it is much closer.

Compare, compare, compare.
Compare values, compare measurements, compare angles, compare it all. Pick one "rightest part" and hang the rest of the drawing on that. Get one part right (completely right, without-a-doubt right), and then compare everything in relation to that.

Expect it to be hard.
There were points where I felt very tired. There was one point when I wanted to quit. But just at that point a discussion rose up about how portraiture requires good drawing skills. You can't fudge the human form like you can fudge a pair of shoes. This is even more true when trying to capture a likeness....if your eyes were in a slightly different position, you wouldn't like yourself, so everything needs to be in the right place. It made me realize that everyone finds it hard, because it is hard. I'm sure it gets easier with time, but in the way that brain surgery gets easier with time - it is still a difficult occupation that requires your utmost attention.

Stand back from your work, often.
No one likes to do this - we feel in the zone, we fear stopping progress will break the spell, we're lazy, whatever the reason - but stepping back does help. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe taking your eyes off the work for a moment helps break the bond you have your most recent strokes and then you can view them more objectively? Even if I don't know why, I know it works.

All in all, it was a great day. I had fun, met some new people, and learned a ton. And yes, I do think I learned that one thing I most wanted to learn - how to pull a drawing back from the brink!

At the top of the post is where the drawing finished up on the day. I have continued working on it this week - I'll post at least one more update to let you know where it ends up.

A month or so ago I made some updates to the look of the blog...be sure to take a peek. I plan to update the featured works (in the header and sidebar) with some regularity. :-)


Teresa Mallen said...

Hi Rose, this WIP looks great! So you moved a year ago, that was about the time I entered my blogging break. :-)

I see you are focusing on cps again. I thought we had lost you to other media! If you don't have a copy of Bernard Poulin's 'The Complete Colored Pencil Book', I can recommend it highly. Bernard does children's portraits (as well as adult portraits and he is also accomplished in other media) and he works in a stroke showing manner similar to your style. He will place diagonal streaks of colour across a cheek in a way that seems absolutely fearless (my diagonal stroke tends to go uneaven).

I have enjoyed catching up on your past work. Oh and great photo of yourself by the way! :-)

Rose Welty said...

Thanks Teresa for the comments and stopping by! I'll check out the book, I think someone mentioned his name to me a few weeks ago.

photos... :D