avery’s my oldest grandkid, and so i tried a portrait of him for his great-grandmother, name of granny. i took about 50 photos of him, and wouldn’t you know it but the first couple of photos were the best, so i used this one. he’s 9.
because my daughter allison has been doing portraits of people starting with a tracing, i thought i would try it myself. it’s much more accurate than drawing by eye, but of course, when you draw something by eye it reflects how you see and how your brain and muscles translate what you see to the paper. when you trace something, on the other hand, you’re making not exactly a contour drawing, but a drawing of the values in your picture.
i used to do this in my schoolbooks as a kid. they were all black and white photos in those days, and i would draw lines around all the masses of different tones in the photos. drawing avery on a light box wasn’t all that difficult, but there are many details that just didn’t come thru the thickness of the watercolor paper, and i also had to guess at many contours that were in shadow. this is what i ended up with once i’d finished tracing out what i could see onto the paper:
the next step is always intimidating. in a portrait, one wrong eyelash and it doesn’t look like the person anymore. and tho i can’t rely on true accuracy in my paintings (my eyes are wonky, so is my brain and my hand), i do try for a likeness – but it doesn’t really matter because in ten years they won’t look anything like they do now, no matter what age they are when you take the likeness.
i used the traditional watercolor method of working light to dark. usually i don’t, but in this case, with the likeness so important, working light to dark means not making (too many) mistakes i can’t back down from. so, skin tones first, lightest hair colors, underlying shadows of drapery. (i believe i’m missing the photo of the very first session, with just the barest color. what’s here is several layers of skin tone, some freckles, some shadows, and the second layer of hair details.
and tho it’s really hard to tell the next photo from the last, i’ve actually done a bit of work on the skin tones. it started out way too yellow, so i had to add a great deal of red, and orange. this risks being too dark, and almost muddy in the ears, but i know i’m going to have a dark background, and this means the lights have to be rather garish in order to stand up.
then more hair stuff, including some blue and a great deal of burnt sienna, even tho his hair isn’t really red. shadows on the face, details of the ears, neck and mouth, work on the eyes. these are the most delicate things to get right – eyes and mouth. it’s really easy to overdo it, or put things in the wrong place, and then the painting is ruined. but this one continued to do just fine. i was pleased and surprised it went so easily.
a few final touches on the face and head. i swear the fairies painted this for me because i don’t know how i did it, and couldn’t tell you if a had to.
then a bold declaration of background, hookers green and ultramarine. and then i stopped because i was afraid of making it muddy.
but once i’d put the camo patterns on his shirt, i realized i needed to hit the background again. it was not too much, and i was pleased with it.
after a few more things than you see here, like a signature, i tripped it down to the same size as the photo reference, matted it and framed it behind glass. and of course i didn’t get a photo of the finished product. but if i remember to take my phone in with me next time i go see granny, i can get a photo of it on her wall.
merry xmas, granny.