I did some more work on my John Porter Bondage painting (photo from the Sky1 drama “Strike Back”). It still sucks. In some ways it’s improved, but you know how I love to whine.
I present a small image here of it, because the smallness hides some of the suckatude. Not all of it, just some of it.
Oil painting (work in progress!) depicting John Porter (Richard Armitage) in the Sky drama “Strike Back.” Oil on Panelli painting panel, 8×10 inches. Original reference photo was by David Clerihew.
I took the knife to the painting. Literally. I used a painting knife (OK just a cheap plastic one I got at Jerry’s Artarama!) to slather paint on the background. I want the background to look “distressed.” It just looks awful! The perspective of the “wall” in the background now looks wrong.
Oh well, the paint is drying rather quickly. So I should be able to try to deal with all of it fairly soon.
The likeness is better, but definitely not there yet. There was no likeness in the earlier stages of the painting, now there is a fleeting one. I guess that is progress.
Multiple other flaws are present, but I’m not aiming for perfection, or a perfect replication of the reference photo. Right now what I want is for it to look like John Porter and not look ugly!
This time he doesn’t look like he has mumps anymore, but his face (and especially his brow) are too narrow. The eyes are still wrong. But I did a side-by-side comparison between photo reference and painting and I feel like it’s not going to be a hopeless case. (But we all know, I can sometimes be deluded. ) As I am always saying on this blog, a painting or drawing often looks pretty funky before it is finally whipped into shape by the end!
My attempt to paint British actor Richard Armitage as Lucas North from BBC’s Spooks. Oil on 5×7″ Gessobord.
I didn’t use the Flake White with the ground glass in it this time. But I’ll try to remember to use it in the final layer! (Which I hope may be the final session needed for this painting. Ah, I’m such a dreamer.)
I love, love, love the Ampersand Gessobord I’m using as my substrate. (I admit that “substrate,” as it pertains to art materials, was an unfamiliar term for me until recently. It means a painting surface, like canvas or panel.) Gessobord is relatively affordable, archival (will stand the test of time), and I love the painting surface. Smooth, but with a small amount of tooth, so it’ll grab the paint. It’s wonderful for acrylics but also for oils. It suits my painting style perfectly, especially for portraits.
My scanner boosted the colors a little bit, but in real life they are a little more pale. Perhaps even “chalky.” (We say that a painting has “chalky” colors when that the color is sort of faded out and dull because too much white was used when mixing the colors.) However, I’m not too unhappy about the colors, because in the past I have tended to go for oversaturated colors. I hope this time I can avoid doing that. We’ll see how that goes.
After my recent fiasco with Lucas North (several incarnations of this drawing were made and I still think I hate it), I decided I deserved something low-pressure. So I chose a photo reference to draw, but with no goal of getting a good likeness. The photo was just a springboard—something to give me an idea for a portrait—but I wasn’t going to try to copy the photo exactly. Not in the least.
Since I was sitting by the computer as I started to draw, I scanned in the sketch about 15 minutes in. (I suspect that it may have been far less than 15 minutes—maybe 5 minutes–but I didn’t have a timer, and I know it was no longer than 15 minutes!)
Fifteen minutes in—I “blocked in” the basic structure of face, align features, and start putting in the dark shadow areas.
I see a lot of “work in progress” for pencil portraits on places like DeviantArt, and to be honest they rarely look anything like the way I do it. And yet I think the way I do it is the more “classic” way! When you’re drawing from a live model, you’re going to sketch in the model similar to this. (It depends on the methods your teachers show you.)
After one hour. All cross-hatching, NO blending or smearing of graphite!
This is what I got about 48 minutes after that initial 15-minute work in progress. I was able to get in the darks and lights, the features are in place and the drawing looks like (I hope) a human male. Just what I was aiming for!
Close up of some of the cross-hatching detail.
Here’s a close-up showing some of the cross-hatching in this portrait. The paper I used had a smooth surface, and I used a mechanical pencil (which kept a nice, sharp point) so I let the pencil strokes glide back and forth over the paper, in different directions, to create the different shades and values that made up the drawing.
Cross-hatching vs. “blending” or “smearing” graphite: Please forgive me for being insufferable for a minute and jumping up on my soap box, but I have to get this off my chest. I am a strictly crosshatching artist. I don’t use a tortillion to blend my pencil strokes. I know many artists do use the tortillion, and some of them do beautiful work with it. But I see too much blending and tortillion abuse and must have my say.
NO, IT’S NOT MANDATORY OR EXPECTED TO BLEND YOUR PENCIL STROKES WITH A TORTILLION!
There. I had to get that out of my system. Don’t listen to what some tutorials imply. You can create nice-looking drawings, even photorealistic drawings, without smearing the graphite. I happen to think that seeing the pencil strokes is a nice thing. It shows that a human being was behind that pencil, and that human being was leaving pencil marks on the paper.
So, so, so many tutorials show how to use the tortillion without even mentioning anything else (like crosshatching). It annoys me, not so much because I think the tortillion is so bad (it’s not!) but because a whole group of new artists are not even being exposed to crosshatching. They never even have a chance to learn how to use it.
I believe that pencil artists should be offered choices, in techniques, styles, and final looks of their final pencil works. NO, it doesn’t have to be completely smooth. YES, it’s okay to see the pencil strokes. NO, it doesn’t have to be really “tight” and photorealistic.
I love photorealistic work too (and I hope to do a “tight” pencil drawing soon, just to show how I do it) but I don’t think there’s some inherent virtue in adding every little hair strand in a pencil drawing. Sometimes knowing what to leave out takes as much skill as drawing in every pore on a person’s nose.
DRAWING METHODS (I get back up on the soap box).
Two different ways of approaching pencil portraits. Hang on, because I’m jumping up on that soap box again. I want to take a few minutes to talk about two distinct ways to approach drawing portraits in pencil.
The old fashioned way (and I think the “classic” way): You start with big, easy, light strokes and get the large shapes first—shape of the head (an oval), then block in the features (eyes, nose, mouth) and get the overall shape of the hair, neck, and so forth. Then after you get the large areas “blocked in” (that’s what we call it), you start to refine the details. You can start establishing some areas of light and dark. That’s how I was taught to do it.
The “paint by number” way: I’m not sure exactly why some artists do this, but I’ll describe what I see, based on many WIP (works in progress) on deviantART. They seem approach the drawing a little like a paint by number. There is a faint pencil outline, VERY detailed and exact, following around exactly the outline of shadows, contours of features, that is put down on the paper first. Kind of like a paint by number. Pretty much exactly like that, except there are no numbers.
Then the artist fills in the light and shadows of the portrait, often starting from one corner or area of the face (like the eye). The artist proceeds to fill everything in, very exactly (and to an almost-finished level) and then moves on, inch-by-inch, until they complete the drawing.
Why the “paint by number” way exists: Now I can’t know for sure how each pencil artist gets that very detailed “paint-by-number” type outline on their paper. One theory I have is that they draw freehand in their sketchbook, work out all the detailed areas, then transfer the outline of their own freehand drawing to a fresh, clean piece of paper. The other way (which I think happens far more often) is that they trace the reference photo straight onto their drawing paper.
Some criticisms, and “there’s another way!”
Do I sound critical of the second method (which involves only tracing and no drawing)? Yes, I have to say that I do. I don’t dispute that the finished work can sometimes look quite good, and I realize that the final product is the most important thing.
One of the concerns I have with this “paint by number” method is that I fear that new artists will be led to believe that it is the only, or most acceptable way to do a pencil portrait. That if it isn’t photorealistic, it’s “no good.”
I also find the tracing over the photo thing (if that’s what’s happening) a bit worrying. As you probably know if you read my other posts, I’m a big advocate of freehand drawing. Too much tracing can inhibit an artist’s growth, I feel.
So I just want to speak out and say, “There’s another way!” Yes, a lot of artists draw freehand. Don’t listen to those who imply that ‘everybody’ traces photos these days. It’s not true. No, a “good” pencil portrait doesn’t have to have all the pencil strokes blended away. Yes, it can still be a “good” pencil portrait even if it isn’t highly detailed with every little pore of skin and strand of hair rendered.
There. I feel better now that I’ve said all of that!
Before I go . . .
What about the grid? Some artists use the grid method (which I’ll describe in more detail later) to help them get an accurate drawing. To that I say, fine. Especially if you’re a new artist, I say that the grid is awesome. I wouldn’t encourage its use for every drawing you ever do for the rest of your life, but definitely, it has its uses. The Old Masters used the grid to transfer their sketches to canvas, to transfer their own sketches to murals, and so forth. Grids are here to stay! But also it’s good to draw from life, draw quick sketches, because all these different ways of drawing strengthen your skill and give you more confidence.
I don’t mean I can’t bear to look at Richard Armitage as John Thornton, only I can’t bear to look at this painting any longer.
It is mostly done. I added more to the painting a few nights ago and all the time I was worried that I’d mess it up somehow. So I went to a certain point and then stopped.
Looking at the scan of the painting in Photoshop (and comparing it to the original reference photo) I could see areas that needed refining. So I did a little “refining” with a paintbrush tool in Photoshop. I’d say about 5% of the painting was altered digitally. I don’t usually do this but I couldn’t take it any longer. I think I’ve had this painting lingering around, half-finished, for months. It needs to be DONE now.
So here it is:
Click on thumbnail to see the larger image.
The barebones facts: Original oil painting. 6×8 inches (or close to 15×20 cm) painted on RayMar Art board. Painted freehand, but I did some digital “correcting” of trouble areas in Photoshop because I can’t bear to touch this thing with a paintbrush at the moment!
You can see this painting on my DeviantArt account. I will probably update the painting with more minor fixes and probably make a print available (eventually) through DeviantArt.
Plus, here’s a little add-on. My work in progress (WIP) of the John Porter “bondage” painting. As you can see, it’s definitely unfinished, as his face isn’t painted in! But I thought some of you might find it interesting. Right now I’m painting in a “loose” painterly style (not tight and more detailed) but when I paint the face in more detail it will naturally “tighten” up a bit. But I hope to leave the background more “loose” because I like the look and hope that the painterly style will maybe convey the chaos that John Porter is experiencing.
Oh what the heck, that is a pile of artistic mumbo-jumbo, I just want to paint it looser!
As usual, click on the thumbnail to see it bigger.
I cropped the composition a bit, because as is often the problem with me, I don’t plan out the composition well enough beforehand. I’m not sure if cropping is an improvement. I suck at this! The colors are more vibrant in this scan and I can see that I’ve made a reddish area to the right of the seated John Porter that is too distracting and pushes “forward” too much. Must fix that!
It is an oil painting on 8×10 Panelli canvas board, which is quite nice—a fine weave to the canvas, but the board itself is thinnish and you can bend it if you try! But the place where I got it (Jerry’s Artarama) says it is “archival” (which means that it will stand the test of time) and what the heck, it’s quite affordable.