Sunday, April 27, 2008

Behind the Portrait Curtain

Here is a bonus entry this week. There is a magazine titled Step Inside Design. Before it was called this, it was titled Step-By-Step Graphics. I found it a source of inspiration when they had my illustration heroes demonstrate how one of their paintings went from blank canvas to final art. Here is my own documentation. This is one of the several charcoal portraits I've been working on as of late. I thought this particular one was interesting to see her appearance change from beginning to end.

After projecting it to paper, I'll lay down some vine charcoal. This step is where the fun happens. What takes place here will form the foundation for everything -- from dark/light patterns to linework to every unexpected "happy accident," so it's the place to get loose and let the interest happen. Everything after this is basically refinement. Angles are important in portraiture. I am paying attention to those within the face -- the lids of the eye, the nostril, the mouth, the eyebrows, the contour of the cheek -- these make or break a portrait. I'm also focusing on a more posterized version of the final -- leaving the middle values of gray to come as part of the blending. It is interesting for me to look at this first image from a distance and see how I could find the map for the final art located here.

Next, I'll take a blending stump, chamois, and kneaded eraser to soften the marks and pull out the lightest lights in the eyes, teeth, hair, and highlights of the face. Windsor Newton seems to have made their soft vine charcoal even softer. Which means it doesn't take much to lose all of the interest created in the stage prior. I blend lightly to hang-on to lines and texture. As Emeril says, it's easier to add more of an ingredient -- much harder to take away. Meaning, it's easier to continue to blend and soften an edge, but impossible to truly bring back that unexpected mark once it's gone. That's the crux of my artistic challenge -- how much cool stuff to keep versus how much refinement to give. That's a variable that can be manipulated and, in the long run, helps keep things interesting for me.

Hair can be a source of fits for some, but I actually enjoy rendering it, especially when it's filled with energy, like in the subject here. I think the potential for creating movement with charcoal complements its nature.

After giving the drawing a shot of spray fixative, I go back in with a compressed charcoal pencil and more vine charcoal to add darks (usually starting with the eyes, nostrils, and mouth) and continue refinement of the facial tones and shapes, and hair. Next, it's scanned into the computer and made ready to send.

Here she is again.

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