View Full Version : Daughter and I

11-02-2015, 09:59 AM
Title: Daughter and I
Year Created:
Medium: Acrylic
Surface: Canvas
Dimension: 9x12
Allow digital alterations?: Yes!

Painting of my daughter and I.

Looking for general feedback. Generally paint landscapes, but found I really enjoyed doing this painting and would like to do more paintings of people and improve my skills.


11-02-2015, 10:06 AM
This is the reference photo:


11-02-2015, 02:24 PM
well, way to take on a big challenge!
you've done remarkable well if this is your first try.

it's kind of scratchily, an un-refined finish as yet
her shoulder is wider than it needs to be (which makes her head look too small)
her eyes are not the same size and her eyebrows don't line up
his eyes are too close together and he's got 'baby' cheeks vs cheek bones

little things make a very big difference in portraits


11-02-2015, 04:15 PM
Thanks for the feedback! Yes this is the first painting like this of people I have attempted and does seem to be much less forgiving than landscapes as far as accuracy which makes it challenging for me. I too felt the shoulders seemed a bit wide and the eyes for some reason is hard for me to work I guess due to my small canvas size (probably need better smaller brushes). I assume on the scratchness you mean I do not have the paint on thick enough and smoothly applied, I will work on that more. At this stage seem to have fear that the next paint stroke will hopelessly mess it up :).

11-02-2015, 07:35 PM
Re: Daughter and I

The thing about drawing or painting people is that we see them almost every day of our lives. For that reason we can often immediately notice when sizes, shapes or placement of features are off. One very traditional way to establish the size and placement of things is to visually measure distances using a pencil. And the traditional unit of measure when doing this is the length of the head. And when measuring you only need to measure vertically or horizontally.

If I take a pencil and measure the length of your head with my thumbnail, and then turn my pencil horizontal, I find that your left shoulder is about one head length from the middle of your chin. The middle of your daughter's face is one head length from your chin. The width of your daughter's shoulders is a little less than one and one-half heads.

In this way the size and placement of parts of almost any object can be established. And especially when drawing or painting people, it's very helpful to start by establishing the proportions of your subject as very simple shapes first before proceeding to finish the art. Hope this helps and wasn't too long winded.


11-02-2015, 09:14 PM
Thank you Gary. I had started using a 3x3 grid to try to get proportions right, and also started measuring similar to what you say, but my issue is as the painting is progressing and I am fixing errors, etc I tend to become less careful with the proportions I think and gradually convince myself that things are close enough until it seems too late to go back :). These comments remind me I need to really not get lax on this as I go and especially as you point out Gary, people will notice anything off even slightly when painting people.

11-04-2015, 12:14 AM
.. but my issue is as the painting is progressing and I am fixing errors, etc I tend to become less careful with the proportions I think and gradually convince myself that things are close enough until it seems too late to go back :).
Believe me; I know all about your mind saying "Oh, that's probably close enough." I had to learn through many sad experiences that when my mind whispers that to me, it isn't close enough. I had to learn the secret to a good piece of art is getting that initial drawing correct before proceeding with color. The initial drawing of proportions could be with charcoal, pencil or your brush using thinned paint. I don't remember how many paintings I threw away before I finally stopped listening to that #@&!!% voice in my mind.


11-05-2015, 06:05 PM
Yes, there is room to improve and that will come in time with practice. For a first attempt, you did a good job.

11-07-2015, 02:09 AM
Hi swbabin,
There's a great opportunity on a 9x12, I think: You can print off the photo in black and white on paper - if you can - resize it at printing so that you are 9 inches tall. Then you would have a black and white print 1:1 in proportion to your painting. Tape this right beside the painting. Flick your eyes back and forth a a lot while working to check things, and amazingly your brain very quickly spots discrepancies in proportions, especially as it's sitting right beside the painting.

I think because of the flash photography, the range of values in the photo is a bit lost. I've added a photo (with your painting background) where I've tried to add some contrast to the values - increasing the value range. Also, can you tell offhand how different the skin tones are between you two? I think it's greater in your original photo than the painting, and emphasized more in the photo here. Though, I wouldn't take these skin tones in the adjusted photo too literally, of course.

Capturing very subtle changes in colours in the face - these very tiny changes, is a challenge. It's often suggested not to directly paint the mouth, nor the nose etc, but rather the tonal shapes surrounding those features. A successful mouth could be rendered by capturing the subtle changes between the nose and the top of the lip and again bellow the bottom lip into the depression above the chin without painting lips at all. With the flash photo, those tonal shapes where originally washed away. And these little changes? They can be very lightly applied - not solid shapes but gentle suggestions with very diffuse edges (often barely any edge, sometimes slightly more of an edge).

One needs to be careful, I think, while I've tried to put some contrast back into the photo - this provides a "map" to see the areas of change better, I think if one were to paint these contrasts too literally, it would be way too over painted, if that makes sense. And here I'm reminded that we are painting the difference between things, not the thing itself, so careful consideration of how things change across a face helps.

Interesting thing, about faces, the largest area of brain real estate is dedicated to facial recognition. So, very little needs to be present for us to recognize a face. It is surprising how just a few details will suggest the features. I think much like landscape painting we can suggest a form, and simplify.

In the binary map, black shows all darker values, and white all the lighter values (based on my enhanced version of your photo). I thought I'd share this to illustrate two things: How little information is need to communicate facial recognition. Also, when I divided your painting along the same value scheme, just the pupils and hair were in the dark half. This suggests, I think, the flash washed out the darker tones pushing all the features into the lighter range in the photo. Of course, artistic freedom means the painter decides where to put the values. Mine was just an example.

Hopefully some of this helps. Good look! It really is an excellent start, as it captures character and energy for sure!

11-07-2015, 10:28 AM
KolinskyRed, I can't tell you how helpful this was to me. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I have noticed at back of my mind that on photo seems to be less information than real life to paint yet the photo itself looks very realistic. It's very interesting too how its just the slightest error in proportion of facial features can make face not very recognizable, yet when that is right, as you pointed out very little other information is needed for the mind to recognize. Very helpful to me.

At the beginning of painting this I did indeed notice the skin tone differences between the two of us and started painting them, but then as I was using same brush on details around the end... kind of became more similar tones.

On painting the mouth and nose very helpful, I have noticed that the more I concentrate on directly painting these seems the worse it looks :). Painting the difference instead of the thing itself, I can really see how that is true.

Again, thanks for the feedback.

11-07-2015, 01:04 PM
I am thinking that in the painting across the faces there are very nice contrasts of hue but they are largely within the same limited "range" of chroma (colourfullness), This looks good as paint patch samples, but lacks critical ( but still subtle) light-dark contrast for our faces. That is, the paint patches on the face are almost all one value. So, as an interesting exercise before addressing proportion, if that were part of the desired workflow: If the same patches of paint were tweeked the tiniest bit for appropriate value contrasts, the painting as it is now without changes in proportions would read better, I should guess. An interesting study exercise in contrasts.

Tip: I'd be careful about the eyes, as due to the flash the pupils in the photo are very light against a dark iris, and it should be dark pupil against lighter iris.

I've attached a little thumbnail map of just darker darks versus lights of the painting versus the enhanced photo just to illustrate the interesting effects of a simple light and dark pattern on information (readability). The same dark value range in the painting and in the enhanced photo are mapped to the black.

This is all a work in progress for me, so it's interesting to try and articulate this. I've only gotten as far as working on portraits in charcoal, while I continue to study and experiment with developing my paint mixing skills to capture subtle contrasts - plus there's the "not enough time" issue.:) Thanks so much for sharing!

11-07-2015, 01:11 PM
... here's a rough map of just four values plus white....

Another little tip is that the skull shape in men includes a more prominent brow bone than women. This prominent bone extends above the male eye brows, I think it's suggested here by the shading shape on the left side of your forehead. Also, we can see how strong your actual eyebrows are compared to your daughter's.

And it's also showing the stronger range of darker values on your face versus the more limited range and lighter values of your daughter's face, as well as her more delicate and lighter eye brows.

Portrait artists often speak of the planes of the face. Each plane is a surface oriented to the lighting creating our lights and darks. For example, this light dark pattern I'm sharing here unifies the planes across the face in a very general way, and is only a rough guide open to interpretation.

A sample value scale of 10 values on the right is there to help illustrate that the selection of values for the painting are largely midvalue and lighter. (of course, one may design any value plan)

11-07-2015, 01:35 PM
... and here, working from lightest to darkest.

The only little tip I would add is this: while keeping things very simplified - amazing how well that will read as our brain's massive ability to fill in the blanks with our facial recognition comes into play - I might adjust things to avoid painting the flash's highlight pattern and contrast. This I would subtly adjust - studying yourself in a mirror (self portrait thinking) may help.

In the last figure, I can see how the pupil is lighter than the iris, this should be reversed (of course with the all important little pupil and/or iris highlight added in as an artistic embellishment). Remembering hi-lights are rarely pure white. They are surprisingly tinted, usually the same tint as the colour of the overall lighting. Having said that, the whites mapped here are the lightest lights (below the highlights), and I actually have not added any "specular" highlights - those little patches of bouncing light.

Using the same colours as you did, adjusted for a lightness/darkness plan - perhaps a little tweeking from there.

Finally, thanks again for posting.

11-07-2015, 02:10 PM
Lastly, as a possible workflow, some portrait artists will lay down their desired patterns as shown above - establishing these general shapes (with less hard edges of course). This helps to show if the painting "reads well" in general terms, and helps illustrate, without detail, if the proportions are good.

Then, they return and begin again, adding subtle variations within each general (here four) zones. The first pass could be the middle colour for each zone - so to speak, one that can be made duller/darker/lighter/more colourful as desired.

11-07-2015, 05:28 PM
Many thanks again KolinskyRed on this. Your pictures really show how the values should read. It's amazing how I thought I was darkening areas when really it was a hue change with very similar value. I have done this before in non portrait paintings where only later do I realize the value contrasts not enough. I have heard of the advice to blur your eyes to really make out these changes. Also I was not even thinking of compensating for flash, your example of the pupil being lighter than the iris really shows how flash can affect. I guess I understand why sometimes portrait painters will work with several different pictures including some live sittings to make sure they have things right.

11-09-2015, 07:31 AM
Another stylistic thing that I noticed was that you definitely painted the background after you painted the people. Which leaves a halo effect around the object in the foreground. Your brushstrokes start to move with around the portrait, and not as they actually would, through the subject. This makes it look like the subject is bending the background towards them, or away from them, (depending on your stroke work).

There are ways to avoid that. One is by continuing your background line through the subject. The way I usually do it when I don't place my background first is to vary my strokes in the background so that they don't matter. I especially concentrate while I am working around the subject so that the brush lines blend into the background and not around the background. Make your brushstroke go in every direction, use a circular motion with the brush. Doing this makes hides the strokes in plain sight and makes the "halo" around the subject disappear.

11-09-2015, 06:45 PM
Here's a couple of videos I've enjoyed, an example of a portrait. It's speeded up, the whole thing unfolds in a few minutes on the video, rather than the hour or two it took in real time. I've even viewed these types of videos by changing the Youtube setting to double the speed again.:)


I feel it illustrates general to specific (and laying out the correct proportions roughly first), seeing the face as an abstraction, painting unified lighting planes, painting the difference between things - the face as landscape. Of course, in the painter's own style and technique. I've included two examples just for the different style of the artists but roughly the same approach.

They take the same approach as I've mentioned previous, but not quite literally: The first general, and largest pass isn't solidly filled in, may start at other values and shows some slight slight suggestion of features already before they move on. They manage changes in saturation of colour very well too.

The thing about our brain's powerful facial recognition abilities comes into play as well, since we can see the face quite well after a couple of very general strokes.

Maybe helpful for a way of thinking? Enjoy!

11-10-2015, 02:40 PM
truntle - thanks for the background tip! KolinskyRed, thanks for the videos, will help as I am trying hard to be able to capture likeness as early as possible in my drawings.

11-11-2015, 03:53 PM
Just some thoughts on a possible workflow for establishing proportions:

For establishing proportions, having the 1:1 print out of the photo in black and white is very helpful, as mentioned earlier. It can be an option for starting out. Taping it right beside the canvas for visual checks, and/or for "landmarking" heights/widths/distances measuring with ruler, or just the brush handle then setting up those landmarks on the painting. Very instructive.

If the artist wished to paint larger, perhaps then it's just 2x the photo (if we couldn't print the photo larger too and where limited to an 8.5x11 inch page size). Which ever measure we got off the photo, then double it for the painting, that sort of logic.

Another approach for 1:1 (same size) printout to painting, is using a piece of acetate overhead sheet (remember those?) - overlay it on the photo and make little hatches of widths and lengths using a thin, erasable whiteboard (or overhead sheet) marker. While we should learn to see the proportions, I think at the beginning this gives us great feedback. So, starting with the most basic and the most important: the width and height of the head. Interestingly enough, it is a suggested strategy to consider this the entire shape of the head including all the hair. If this proportion isn't mapped correctly, we shouldn't be trying to move on to map out or edit/change the minor shapes.

Some markers are dry erase, some need a bit of water on the paper towel.
Perhaps there's a piece of plexiglass, or a piece of removable safety glass from the top of a small side table. Or even unused picture frame glass from a picture not being used (handle with care).

The next landmarks could be the hair lines next to the face top and sides. Get that correct before proceeding is very helpful. Next landmark once the previous are correct is the brow line, then next along with bottom tip of nose where it attaches to the face. Then the inside marks of the eyes near the nose (this landmarks the crinkles of the skin not just the "whites of the eyes"), and the outside of the eyes.

The eyes take great care, it's easy to have these tiny landmarks be "off". Tips to check besides widths and heights, are the overall horizontal line running across - how do the inside/outside eye landmarks sit relative to a horizontal imaginary line running across the face? Have we got that right?

Then the mouth, considering it as shapes and shadows too. More landmarking for the jaw - but this is a good one to think of painting out eventually as throat shadow versus face shadow/light shapes and not as a line stroked along the jaw line. So it's landmarks shouldn't lead us to paint it eventually as a line.

Another little tip for further on in the painting process is that the area under the tip of the nose - usually in shadow - is important for suggesting an individual's face. So, getting it's location and shape (even if abstract/simple) is very useful. It could easily be just about the only info we get from a painting about the nose, and it could work that way.

Perhaps editing the painting as-is may be very challenging? Especially when in context with assuring the larger shapes/proportions are in place first? But a check list of larger shapes first to smaller shapes may help. This is interesting too, since our interest in the final painting is often on the smaller features, yet the larger shapes play such an important role in setting the stage for the more important smaller shapes.

When I first tried this, I felt very impatient to "get on with it" and move past this stage.

Once, I had such trouble with one drawing, I finally realized I was making "landmarks" on a more specific thing, it never worked. Then I reassessed the larger more general landmarks and discovered that while the more detailed landmarks were correct amongst themselves, the were wrong in the overall effect because the largest most general proportions weren't correct. I could not see it until I took the simple step of moving through the "checklist" of large/general to more smaller/more specific. In this case I had a lot of work to fix it. So the lesson about getting the large, general proportions absolutely correct was really impressed on me.

Naturally, there are many ways to proceed, this is just one.

Once the proportions are working, I'd like to share another resource I've enjoyed. This is from Will Kemp, and illustrates about half way down the page modelling the dome of the forehead. Just subtle changes with very simple splotches of paint mixes, but applied with an understanding of a) the shape of the forehead and b) the direction and quality of the lighting. Very simple, yet very effective. Naturally this would work with more colourful paint - Mr. Kemp here is working with neutrals, and in oil. Testing on a side piece would help with fast-drying acrylics.


The other parts 1 and 2 are listed at the bottom of his instructions.

Having shared all that, of course there are painting styles that don't honour all the proportions as see in a photo/real world. Naturally, that's okay too.