View Full Version : painting doldrums

10-21-2014, 02:07 PM
Hello all, Have you ever had artists block? Perhaps a sense of lost direction, lost in a sea of mediums. Asked yourself am I maxed out, can I do better.
Should I concentrate on landscapes, still life's, or portraits. then of course which medium. I would like to do portraits but will I ever be good enough.
These are some of the questions floating around in my mind. Let me explain how I arrived at this stumbling block as I see it. After reading and studying Robert Maugham's. drawing the Head. I decided to start by drawing some of the drawings that Maugham illustrated in his book I was more than happy with the way that turned out however my next step was to try my own reference using his described technique, this I was not so happy with. As for turning the drawings into pastel paintings this was a complete disaster, so bad I destroyed the results Now a small dilemma should I post the drawings here to show you the results or post in another thread in the gallery? I would like to hear your experiences on this subject.

Barbara WC
10-21-2014, 02:32 PM

One direction you are going is the right one- picking a subject that interests you and captivates your attention. I so very much wish I had interest in landscape paintings- I live close to the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific ocean, rolling farm land hills, and wine country. Nothing could be prettier. But, I don't really like to paint the landscape, it doesn't interest me, and alas, my landscape paintings show that.

People get my attention. So I like to paint portraits.

I started like you- looking at books, watching a video or two, working from photos. I wasn't getting anywhere. Painting after painting was thrown in the trash.

What really changed my portrait and figure work is when I took a class by a good teacher in figure drawing. I learned how to "see" the shapes of the face, the body. Realized when you break it down, the face really is just a bunch of shapes with different values. Not much different than painting pears, tomatoes, and the like. Our mind get confused though because we think we know what the face looks like and we tend to draw like our mind thinks, but not what we are seeing. We focus on the details, but really it is the larger shapes and values that make a portrait have a good likeness.

It is very difficult to learn to paint portraits, in my opinion, from photographs until you have worked from life and know what to expect. Photographs often have distorted proportions, and the values are always off- and the rich skin tones and subtle variations don't show up. I can now work from photos, but I have to make a lot of changes to the photos based on what I have learned from life.

Is there a community college by you? Or an art league?

If portraits really are your interest, I suggest finding a good teacher and taking a few classes. Here is a link to figure drawing groups around the country: http://www.artmodelbook.com/figure-drawing-directory.htm

Don't give up. Stick with the subject you most love, and work in the medium that is most familiar. I find charcoal is very forgiving when working in figure studies- I did that for about a year and a half before jumping into color...

10-21-2014, 04:09 PM
Hi Barbara thanks so much for your reply. I have never had the opportunity to draw people from life. I think the reason for that is I feel that the process is so much different from working from pictures, I am thinking about the dimensional aspect. However there is a club in my city that hires models for its members I will look into Joining, after all I was very skeptical about plein air at first but I got used to it.
I did post the drawings in the pastel gallery.

10-21-2014, 05:33 PM
The full color portrait is the hardest subject to paint, in my opinion. So, don't worry if the transition from a monochromatic portrait to color doesn't work out. I took a look at the portraits you posted in the Gallery and they are excellent. I'll tell you a little secret. Even though I used to do an occasional portrait - usually for friends and co-workers - they were all done in pencil. When I started trying to do portraits in full color - whether pastel, oils or watercolor - they just didn't work out. Eventually, I gave up trying - until I was asked to do the portrait class that is in our learning center. The color portraits that are part of my demos are the first successful color portraits I had ever done! (Shhh, don't tell anyone....) It took 30 years to transition from black & white to color! (And some would say that even my color portraits are more-or-less monochromatic...) If I were asked to do a portrait today, I would almost certainly do it monochromatically, as it would be far more likely to turn out well!

For figures, I would choose pastels, as any attempt at figures in oils or acrylics is not going to work as well. For landscapes, I would choose oils or acrylics if I wanted the best results. So for me anyway, the subject influences my choice in medium (and vice versa).


10-21-2014, 05:34 PM
- i saw your Gallery thread , then came over here .

> ! not to worry .

a standard question for the PR is , ' who are your influennces/do you like ' ...
- but , more importantly , your shift to something new , yet familiar ;
maybe something in the back of your mind that comes together .

your pics do catch a moment , the sense of the person ,
and a painting breakthru :thumbsup:


10-21-2014, 05:34 PM
If you do a lot of portraits you will be good enough whether or not you are at start. The one time in my life I learned most about portraits was when I decided to live on it and sketched pastel portraits for $25 each in the French Quarter. I dared to go into life portraits cold after years of carefully measured portraits from photos, with a bolder medium so I'd finish fast. My first few were awful, not even up to previous levels because I couldn't measure - but that was by my standards, not the tourists' standards. I wasn't charging that much and they still had the fun of the performance, seeing a live artist turn a flat piece of paper into a recognizable picture of themselves or loved one.

By the end of that first weekend I'd done 21 of them and in that one weekend I improved dramatically. Each one was an improvement. Nothing beats just jumping in head first. If this is what you want to do, go for it! Jump in the deep end and you'll get better faster. Pastel is so fast that you'll get there before you know it, you get more tries than if you were doing oils or colored pencils or something.

One of the best things to try for practice would be self portraits from life. Just sit in front of a mirror, set up side lighting and try to sketch your own face. Timed portraits are good too. My first ones I spent about an hour getting the likeness, then practice brought that down to a half hour.

10-22-2014, 05:29 PM
Don I agree portraits in full colour are extremely hard to get perfect,
however I must give it an honest effort. I think what i will do is try Robert Maughans method of transition from Drawing to painting. Making a W.I.P. of it perhaps if it turns out it may be of a help to others and if I get in trouble I will have lots of help.
Ed nice to hear from you it has been awhile. Thanks for the kind comments,and support. starting this thread has already set me back on track.
Robert I am afraid I am no where as brave as you.I will however persevere. Thanks so much for your confidence in my abilities I do sometimes tend to be my most severe critique,I guess we are all a little that way

10-24-2014, 03:22 PM
It is always good to work in tone alone for a long time, because you only then have to deal with form and tone.

When you switch to colour, you have to deal with tone, form AND colour. Knowing how to translate tone into colour is an entirely different kettle of fish, a totally different learning curve, and it doesn't just come naturally, there is MUCH to learn. Time spent translating tones into colours will be time well spent.

A good book with colour exercises will be useful....learn all you can about colour temperature, how one colour reacts against another, how to translate tone ACCURATELY into colour, the way light affects colour....and only then will you have the tools to translate your tonal drawings into colour pieces.

10-25-2014, 10:52 AM
Hi Jackie I could not agree more translating tone into color for me is very hard.when I work on a portrait I try to put my thoughts in a sculpting mode where I feel that I am working on a ball of clay moulding pushing and pulling modelling face on a flat piece of paper.pushing cool colors back and pulling warm colors forward. Still in the end it becomes a lot of trial and error.

10-28-2014, 05:37 PM
good points from Jackie .

however , while using one colour , sticks + value mixes makes it's own visual base ,
it is not the same as wet media , > underpaint/dry/glaze/colour thinned with whatever .

pastel has it's own character .
- is ' trial and error ' such a bad thing ? :D