Sunday, November 23, 2008

Creating a portrait

It's been some time since I have updated my artist blog so I thought I would do a post showing how I create a portrait. These were the progress shots I was sending to Rodney while painting his portrait for the Adams National Portrait Award in 2007.

For this painting I selected hardboard (about 1 x 1.5 metres) and coated it with gesso, which is a little like liquid chalk. This has two purposes. It acts as a receiver for the first coat of paint. But more importantly I use it to form a relief. So instead of having a canvas tooth, I have uniform waves of brushwork creating an under-surface. Canvas tends to grip paint whereas gesso on hardboard lets the paint flow and blend.

When the gesso is dry I coat the surface with, in this case, yellow ochre. This has a unifying effect. Wherever the overlaying image doesn't completely cover the board, yellow comes through. Some artists use this technique very skilfully in impressionist work, overlaying beautiful lilacs and violets over ochre which makes for wonderful skies. As undercoat colouring (thinned with turps) I nearly always use ochre or burnt sienna.

When the yellow ochre is dry I start work with a series of photos and sketch in the rough image in charcoal. Then using paint I block in the major colours and a rough likeness of the face.

Next time I start attacking the background. Particularly difficult in this portrait is the set of wooden steps which I wanted to give depth and interest to. And I need to make Rodney look like he is actually sitting on them rather than squatting.

Of course there are many other interims steps but by now I am starting to hone it. Now I am looking for what I want in the face, which is the expression I perceive.

Final submission in which I have polished the shoes, added the watch details, lightened the grass and whitened the shirt. It's hard to get a photograph that doesn't distort a work of this size (eg this looks foreshortened) but this is a fair representation of the final work which was one of those accepted for exhibition at the end of 2007.


Lucy said...


Anonymous said...

Is this for sale? Yes, wow! What a talent, you should do this full time, the blog is great, but the art is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Can I purchase this from you, Lindsay? I love it!

Tanya Stebbing said...

Yes, this is wonderful, what a talent, you should do one of John Key!

Anonymous said...

That is an incredible likeness. You are very, very good.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Like any 'struggling' artist I am open to offers. But I am rather attached to it.

Anonymous said...

Having the face of the camera parallel to the canvas will help with reducing distortion.

Anonymous said...

I never realised he had such big feet.
His shoes could be used as emergentcy housing.