View Full Version : My Mother, a portrait

03-26-2013, 03:22 PM
There was a photo of my Mum, from back in the 30s - early 40s, which I have always loved. Here it is

not very big, or very clear as you can see!

Last December I tried to paint her portrait from it and was not happy with the results. It looked way too soft focus and I felt I hadn't "caught" her. Here it is

Oh, I can hardly bear to look at it :o

But today I felt it was time to try again. This isn't really a WIP as there aren't many pics of stages. However, this was the first pic I took and I was encouraged at that point, thinking I may be getting a likeness.


But, you know, as I work on things I lose the shapes and some of the nuances. There's still a lot to do to this (like get a likeness!) and I wanted to show it in case someone can see where I'm going wrong. I think I've expanded the base of the nose some so will work on that. the mouth isn't quite right (when is a mouth right in a portrait) and maybe the eyes aren't quite there either.
Rembrandt and Roché pastels on re-claimed pastelmat. Any comments welcome!


03-26-2013, 03:46 PM
Ruthie, what a lovely idea to do this portrait of your mother when she was young - and what a beautiful photo! I like your bolder approach; you're off to a good start!
The left side of the face is bothering me a bit, though; to show you more clearly what I mean I've resized both photos, put them next to each other and outlined the face. As you can see there are some differences which make her look older in the painting than in the photo. Love the eyes and that gentle smile, you caught that really well!


03-26-2013, 04:23 PM
Wow Ruthie, this is looking good already! I love the expression, you are right, it's a beautiful photo.

Take a look at her forehead, you might have it a bit short. I agree about the shape of her face, an easy tweak. I would also consider not having her teeth as bright as you do, they really aren't that bright in the photo. I always try to avoid putting the teeth in too bright, they always steal attention when you do that. Also look at the shape of the bottom of her teeth, that needs to be right. Maybe soften the shadows under her eyes a bit? I know this is early in the process, and you probably intend to do that without me mentioning it. You also might have her chin a tad short, take some measurements and see if I'm right. I would also darken her right (our left) ear, as it's more in shadow. Take a look at her nose, our right (her left) nostril. The shape is a bit off, I think it seems to come up a bit in the photo. You also might have it a tad wide, just a tad. The bridge of her nose looks a tad wide as well. The area above her lip on our left should be darker, as it is in shadow. Look closely at the photo and you will see. Also, her eyebrows are not as dark as you have them, that makes a difference too in capturing a likeness.

I hope you don't mind these comments, these are all just tweaks, you really are almost there! What a difficult portrait to paint, I don't know if I could do it yet, you are so brave! Your Mum looks like she was a beautiful woman :heart: , very warm.

03-26-2013, 04:56 PM
Ruthie: a secret my prof. taught me: look at the painting in the mirror. Anything that is a wee bit off will be exaggerated. I like the first one by the way and your mum looks so sweet.
I find the right eye (on our right) is a bit high in relationship to the left.
Good luck...it will be a lovely portrait.

03-26-2013, 08:49 PM
Ruthie, you have taken on a dificult task but you can do it. You look a lot like your Mum, two beautiful ladies. It's hard to do someone you love as you have the picture in your head as well as the one in front of you. I think her nose is a little wide. Just a tweak here and there and you will have her.

03-27-2013, 05:01 AM
Ruthie, working from a sepia photo is really hard, and you're doing wonders! As it is clear that you favour your mother (is that English for 'looking like her'?), you can use yourself in a mirror as help.

I'm no portrait artist, but one trick I do when I want to keep a likeness is to have the outlines, or marks placing key elements, on a piece of tracing paper which is exactly the same size as the painting. Put it over the painting, and it is easy to see where one has deviated in the throes of creative activity.

You'll get there, as you always do!

03-27-2013, 05:20 AM
Dorothea, thanks! Actually I had that side of the face too wide and trying to bring it back was one of the last things I did on this. I've definitely overplayed the shapes haven't I!

Chris, thanks for your considered advice! Yes, the teeth definitely need taking down a little and, of course, you're right about the shapes at the bottom. It's so hard to get them right. I'm working from a bigger photo too which actuslly doesn't work as it's rather pixelated. Will have to refer to the original I think.

Dear Derek, thanks! I will definitely do that.

Jen, thanks for the cheering on! In the first stage I posted I really had her look, as I remember her. I must get that back, even if every feature isn't exactly correct.

Charlie, thanks! Actually I think I look more like my Dad (heaven help me) but many people would say that Mum and I looked similar. I could certainly try the tracing paper trick on her as the painting is much the same size as the photo I'm working from.

Also many thanks to Don for the PM with the descriptive lines showing me where I went wrong!

I don't think I'll be able to get back to this today, though I'm itching to, because I have to go out soon. Thanks everyone, I really appreciate it

03-27-2013, 06:35 PM
a wonderful expression to work from and thoughtful colour adaptations . :)

excellent suggestions from all .

if i may offer some personal experience ;
sometimes , when working from a palette idea ,
things will be mapped/blocked out with specific sticks
with a certain confidence about other sticks to follow ,
but the painting starts to drift away because of ( rightly or wrongly )
new ideas that come to mind as things are going along .
> a good time for me to step back and look , make/write some mental notes , and not paint .

an additional line drawing on paper sometimes helps .
> it works from the geometric/rough lines approach , plain and simple .

not for nothing - looked up some maddy prior/steeleye span ' tubes ' today ...
lifted my spirits , i'll say . :D


Mary Brigid
03-28-2013, 08:30 AM
Hi Ruth,
Your Mom is very beautiful in the photo and I think you are doing a wonderful job. :clap: You have had very good advice from those before me. I do not feel accomplished in portraiture to give you advice Ruthie. So I will just tell you how I feel. The first thing that caught my attention in your Mom's photo was her eyes. She has the most beautiful kind eyes Ruth. I am drawn to them each time I look at it. In my humble opinion Ruth I would soften her eyes in the portrait and that would capture that beautiful serene quality I see in the photo. I am looking forward to seeing your progress. I love how you are doing her hair. Very soft and I love the colour .
Mary Brigid

03-28-2013, 12:12 PM
What a delight to see another portrait. This is a beautiful photo and I can tell you are doing a loving painting. As you place you and your mom in the mirror... watch what you notice. Besides the resemblance.

Love the red hair! As I said to Chris, enjoy the visit and conversation that accompanies the painting process. Barb

03-28-2013, 04:29 PM
Ed, I hear you! It's not the colours I have problems with though, it's the likeness. And what starts as fun ends up as a fight to the death, or so it feels, with those tiny details which I convince myself will give me the likeness....but of course they don't. I may listen to "All around my hat" later :wink2:

Mary Brigid, thank you! I understand what you mean but it's softening portraits which makes me hate them! And I've done it again.......

Barb, thanks! When I look I see a smile, from me, as hers was always so infectious. The hair, shame I didn't inherit that auburn hair! As she aged it turned to spun gold, hardly any grey. Here, a photo of her taken 3 years ago, aged 90.


03-28-2013, 05:05 PM
So, here it is, finished. Thank you all so much for your help!


I'm not happy with it. But I feel there's nothing more I can do without making it even worse. Oh well, such is life. :( :thumbsup:

Mary Brigid
03-28-2013, 05:31 PM
Oh Ruth you did it as I knew you would. It is a beautiful emotional portrait of your lovely Mom. I love her eyes. They are moist and are soulful. I hope that you enjoyed your journey with her Ruth. Thank you for sharing. :heart:

03-28-2013, 09:36 PM
I think it's a lovely portrait Ruth. It's not easy drawing a loved one. I want to do a portrait of my mother but I know I'm not quite up to the challenge - yet!

03-28-2013, 11:10 PM
You did a beautiful job Ruthie,. Such a lovely, kind looking lady. She would be proud of your work.

03-28-2013, 11:57 PM
What a beautiful portrait you ended up with Ruthie. Her eyes are soulful, such warmth and depth. I know she is looking at this and feeling so proud of what you've accomplished, a portrait filled with love done by her daughter. Beautiful painting!

03-29-2013, 06:20 AM
I think it's great! Sargent said it was harder to paint someone that you know, so take heart! You came out on the other side of the struggle with a beautiful signed painting and not another wasted sheet of paper. (I hate wasting paper)

03-29-2013, 12:17 PM
Ruthie you are awesome and she is wonderful....and wow would have never guess 90 :)

03-29-2013, 02:51 PM
Ruthie, you did pull it together! She's lovely, and you did wonders working with a sepia photo. How old was Mum when it was taken?

I think there is much of her in you.

03-29-2013, 04:42 PM
Mary Brigid, thank you! I'm glad you think the eyes work. I actually changed them quite a lot (well in fractions of millimetres that is :wink2: )

Thanks Jayde. You're right. In this case the photo was taken way before I was born but, although the face is so much younger, the eyes were the same and I kept seeing her as she was a couple of years ago before the dementia really got too bad.

Jen, thanks! She was the kindest most unselfish person I have ever known :)

Chris, thank you so much! It's partly down to your keen eye that I managed to improve it. I really appreciate it.

Jude, Thank you! I've done some portraits of people I know, including myself, which were much easier to get a likeness. But sometimes I just get stuck. I find it's either there from the beginning or it's not going to happen. This is not the best likeness but will have to do!

Donna, thank you! She actually looked much younger until she was in her mid eighties. I think the blonde hair helped :cat:

Charlie, thanks! That photo was actually smaller than posted on here. It was hard but I didn't really have any trouble with the colours, I knew her skintones and could remember her hair. I don't know her age when it was taken but I imagine early 20s? She was 38 when I was born. Oh, I do hope there is something of her in me....and I don't mean looks.

Amazing what a night's sleep can do. I'm happier with this today than I was yesterday. :)

John Palmer Fine Art
03-30-2013, 08:08 AM
Wow, great finish Ruthie, I came to this late but I have read the previous posts. I think you have been a little too hard on yourself, I wouldn't even contemplate something like this. Any attempts at portraiture I have made have been some of the most challenging and frustrating works, a slight alteration here or there and the likeness you thought was appearing suddenly disappears or comes and goes. You did great with this.

03-30-2013, 01:48 PM
Such a wonderful portrait, Ruthie. A classic beauty for sure. I know some of your struggles with doing this. A few years back I did a graphite from a very old "oval type" photo of my mother (its still on here somewhere if you want to talke a look) http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=151363&page=2&highlight=kayek
One of the most trying, saddest and yet cherished pieces of artwork I have ever done.

03-30-2013, 03:45 PM
Thank you John! You're right, portraits are the most frustrating paintings I ever do. Why do I do them....Hmm, not sure really, except it's a great feeling when one gets a likeness!

Thanks Kayek! The portrait you did is very nice. I hope the Brothers appreciated it!

03-30-2013, 10:03 PM
Wow Ruthie:
Splendid: You came to a really nice finish on Dear Mum. It
all came together. Ye're a' richt lassie!

:clap: derek

03-31-2013, 07:26 AM
Och, Derek, Thenk ye mah mukker, Ye ur sae kin' :D Google is an amazing resource :evil:

03-31-2013, 10:47 PM
I think you did a wonderful job . . . its hard to draw/paint from old photos, I think. I just tried doing the same with a photo of my Dad as a boy. Her eyes are very expressive. I also love how you did the background.

04-01-2013, 03:25 PM
Thank you Rainy! And go on with your Dad. You'll get there!

Donna T
04-01-2013, 07:26 PM
What a lovely portrait ... just beautiful work, Ruthie!

04-02-2013, 12:18 PM
Thank you Donna!