Heres a detail of a recent portrait. I painted this using the usual process of working over a grisaille. Her skin tones were very subtle and perhaps the rendering is not so easy to see in a photo. I painted about 5 or 6 glazes over the grisaille, and it was a challenge to capture the translucency of the skin. This is exactly what glazing does so well though and in the way it allows light to shine through it functions in a similar way to skin, which is essentially translucent itself. I’m not after the most polished look and like to have a painterly surface where brush marks are still visible, as I think this adds to the magical illusion of painting.
One thing I love when glazing an oil painting is painting hands, and here is another detail:
Up close they are rendered in a fairly loose way, and with about 3 or 4 glazes as I remember.
Here is the finished painting:
I loved painting the Chinese dress and glazed it a few times with a mixture of Cadmium Red and Rose Madder, then added the details as a final touch to the painting. I decided not to paint the chair she was sitting on, wanting to simplify the format. I like the vertical tautness this gives the composition – perhaps it has echoes of a Chinese portrait. I like to ‘declutter’ the background that appears in my reference photos, most of the time. It depends on the relevancy to the portrait of an individual as a whole. I felt here that there were enough references to the sitter here without any additional details, and these weren’t discussed during the photo session.
Artists have always provided visual clues about the character of a sitter in their paintings – for this painting the client asked that a favourite teddy was involved, and the child chose her favourite dress. Clues that represent the social life of the sitter are included by the artist to show the sitter’s ‘relational self’, the self that is seen by others and relates to others in a social context. To give an extreme example, royalty are often portrayed with all the trappings of their position, personifications of the ruling power, before they are portrayed as individuals (Brilliant, Portraiture P. 104). Despite having the odd reference here and there, I am always focussed on the sitter as an individual, before any externals. I want to focus on the sitter’s uniqueness and their shining humanity. I believe that if the artist looks long enough and hard enough, that humanity is visible in a person’s face and can be captured in paint on canvas.