Practice, practice, practice

My first full week back to work after the holidays had me in jury duty. I was hoping I’d get to hang out at the courthouse for a day, using the time to noodle quietly on some independent work projects. But I was chosen.

I spent one day in the jury selection process two days on a trial. The case involved a man fighting a DUII charge. The incident in question happened sometime before the COVID lockdown. The courts will be working through their backlog for years.

The case was sad, mostly. The man had no real defense. If he had only taken his lumps at the time of the incident it would have been a distant memory by now. Three years later he was scratching open an old wound to prove some kind of point. He fought the law, and the law won.

3 days of jury duty put me 3 weeks behind at work. Even though I felt too harried to try to get away, our long weekend in Netarts was restorative.  It also gave me a chance to catch up on some painting practice.

I keep a folder full of marketing emails from Uniqlo. I tell my work that I subscribe to these for reference purposes, as we create a lot of marketing emails for our clients. This is a lie. I subscribe to Uniqlo emails because I’m a super fan and I steal their images to use as reference material for paintings.

I found a face in an email which seemed to have good directional light, well defined shadows, clear edges, and the subject of the photo was not a sultry pouty-lipped model. I took a screen capture of the email and cropped the photo down to just the head and shoulders. The background was a blurry non-distinct window. Perfect for practice.

I struggled. I hadn’t done any painting in a while and I was super rusty. When I try to get back into the swing of things, I give myself some crutches till I learn to walk again.

In my drawing app I placed the original photo on a layer, dimmed it to about 50% opacity, and then drew right on top of it on a new layer. Sort of a blend of tracing and sort of looking “through” my drawing to the reference material. It helps me to retrain my hand and eye. Not that an artist should ever apologize for tracing. There’s no nobility in doing things the hard way for no good reason.

Even with my crutches I just couldn’t see right. I kept fouling up the values (light and dark) and couldn’t seem to find the structure of the face. I nearly scrapped it and started over. After brief break I found my feet under me again and managed to finish off a B- effort.

Later that morning I found a second wind and decided to dive back into another practice painting. I found another face and began to paint, but this time my eyes and hands were working together again. I kept the reference photo on my phone’s screen and just drew and painted from site. This time it flowed. I found the shape and structure of the head quickly. Lights and darks didn’t elude me, and I completed the painting quickly.

All I needed was a 3 hour warmup exercise.

Later, looking back at the second painting, I do see some drawing problems on her right eye…but I can live with it. If I decide to use this image as part of another work, I’ll creatively crop it.

Read in your inbox

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox. uses Buttondown for its newsletter service.