project – acrylic portrait of uncle harry

with the passing of my uncle harry, several years ago, my mother is now the oldest member of her family, and so we decided to paint a portrait of uncle harry for my mom’s 80th birthday.  uncle harry was an old fashioned patriarch, and a pillar of his community, a healer and innovative physician who lived his life in honor of the queen of heaven.  we visited him several years before he passed, and got the setup shots, from which we painted the first portrait, and gave it to him.  now we would paint another.

jim started with the drawing, which i don’t have a picture of.  after he drew it on a panel in charcoal, i went in and corrected it to my liking.  then he spray fixed the drawing, and made this subdued, restricted-palette painting.


at this point i realized that the shadow side of his face was very different, and that i had misdrawn the whole shadowed side of his head.  which meant that i needed to shadow down that side so the discrepancy wouldn’t be too great.  there was also something wrong with the ear, which is no surprise because the reference photo is so washed out on the right.


this is the severely restricted palette i’m working with.  ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, white.  with thick acrylic medium slathered in the bottom cups diluting various color mixtures.


at first all i did was to put on the red – burnt sienna.  it’s on the left side of his face and his ear.


then i got bolder, put in some burnt umber to shade down the shadows, and a little white on the shirt, over his ear, in his hair.  and some yellow ochre on the lit side of his face.  i have come in several times with the burnt umber, and finally i worked up enough courage to mix some burnt umber and ultramarine blue for my darkest dark, and put it over the entire left side.

it’s still not enough, and jim has pronounced the transition from light to dark to be too awkward.  his neck needs to recede some, and it’s still not dark enough in the shadows.


this is the portrait as it sits now, photographed outside instead of under artificial light in the studio.


and in the frame, in bright outdoor light, it looks pretty ghastly.  so there’ll be a second attempt at getting this picture finished in time for my trip to mom’s house.  hopefully it’ll be presentable after i mess with it another time.  stay tuned.

and here’s the final painting.  jim came back in with some buff titanium and blended out the harsh line down his brow, and now he looks much better.  so all i have to do is varnish the painting and nail it into the frame.


happy birthday, mom.


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