A progression of noggins

Three attempts at portraits, with steady improvement.

Three attempts at portraits, with steady improvement.

Work and train schedule permitting, I try to get to Thursday night open studio every week. A few weeks ago I finally summoned the courage to be that guy who brings his glowing glass rectangle to art class and I’ve been using it primarily ever since. I may warm up a bit in a sketchbook with a pen, but I’ve taken to trying to paint a portrait each week during class.

My second attempt at drawing from life with ProCreate on the iPad was anemic at best. Bad drawing. Poor likeness. Stiff. I did a warm-up sketch that felt OK - but then jumped right into attempting to paint from life. I tried building up a tonal, greyscale image and then (digitally) glazing on top with color. I rushed. I should have spent more time drawing. I should have just started over. I’m reasonably happy with some of my color choices, but the rest is just garbage.

Last week I made it back to studio and tried again. Much improved. I spent more time nailing down the drawing. I still butchered her eyes - the nose is too tight and fidgety. Her lips look pasted on, not integrated with her head. But the overall drawing is much better and the color is stronger as well.

Then, the other night, with a martini, I pulled up a bad photo of myself I accidentally took while reading on the train. Weird green light. Squinty eyes. I tried turning this into a quick portrait and had much better success. Better color. I worked very quickly and didn’t fidget. Also had a martini so maybe I couldn’t fidget. Another important factor is that photos don’t move around.

I was able to rough in the important shapes and not have to re-interpret things because the model’s head had drooped a bit.

Lessons learned

Maybe I should bring a martini to studio.

I could stand to go find a bunch of photos on the internet and spend time drawing eyes and mouths. The structures are complex and sometimes hard to see. I am failing at interpreting them - and failing at just laying them out correctly. A simplified eye in the right place is better than a detailed eye pointed in the wrong direction.

Really this is about slowing down when drawing from life. I have three hours. I should spend more time layout out the image. Maybe even set a timer for myself. Or use the models timer - 20 minute intervals. Put color away until I’ve spent the first 20 minutes getting the features into position.

Having every option available to me right away while working on the iPad is a bit distracting and overwhelming. Physical media has a natural limiting cadence. Digital media allows taking off at full throttle before you’re ready.

Other thoughts

I wonder if I could convince the folks at the studio that we could maybe have a background behind the model. I realize the point is to practice drawing the human form - but the dark brown curtain behind the figure becomes the same inky void in every drawing. A different color or some other detail might be interesting. It might reflect some color onto the subjects.

I tend to focus on a portrait instead of the full figure. Partially this is because I think faces are the most challenging thing to work from. But I am also a tiny bit shy about sharing paintings and drawings of nude people. I’m not prude, but I want to put my work on Instagram and share it on Facebook - and those places are prudish. I’m sure the models are aware that their likeness might wind up in a portfolio or a gallery wall - but I’m not sure if they understand that artists share their work on social media - and therefore their likenesses are being shared as well.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402