View Full Version : Starting a portrait painting
05-21-2017, 09:03 AM
I am a newbie, when it comes to pastels and painting in general, so I was wondering how do you start a portrait painting? I tend to start with hard pastels, drawing eyes, nose and so on, basically doing a lineart. While drawing I make a lot of adjustments, and when I finally start to see a resemblence to a reference I use hard pastels to block the main values. Then, I make some more adjustments and in the end I use soft pastels for colors and refining the values.
Recently, I saw Alain Picard video on youtube, and he does it completely differently. He seems to not do any lineart at all, he just roughly measures the head, and then start blocking the values right away with soft pastels, without getting to details such as eyes or lips too early. His method seems to give a great results, and it looks much faster, but I wonder, what happens with such approach when you get something wrong? I mean, you will see that the eye is wrongly placed, only near the the end, when you will have it. But then correcting it would be a nightmare, wouldn't it? As you have most values already in place and you would have to correct them as well. Any thoughts on that? What approach do you use? Are then any resources related to the method Alain Picard uses? Thanks for help :)
05-21-2017, 03:33 PM
I think what you describe is, generally speaking, the two basic methods of drawing/painting. Many folks begin drawing by using lines and outlines to draw the object - regardless of whether it is a portrait or anything else. When the line art is complete (whether fully realized or just a sketch) then the addition of full color and values is begun. The other method - as you say - is by blocking in the large shapes and then creating smaller and smaller shapes.
As someone who first did portraits in pencil and not full color, I was more used to doing a line drawing first. When painting, however, I found that when doing a fairly detailed drawing first, then one tends to continue with the mindset of not messing up the drawing. As you add more pastel (or oil or acrylic depending on the medium) the danger of messing up the drawing becomes greater and greater. Ultimately, on non-portrait paintings, I have found that blocking in and working from large shapes to small produces a much more painterly looking painting. Since the details come last, corrections may be easier at the early stages of the painting.
Since I haven't done any portraits in quite a while, I have never used the blocking-in method for one. It might be worth giving it a try and see how you like it in comparison. Obviously, my experiences may not match those of other painters. If you haven't had that feeling of needing to work carefully to not mess up a painting begun with a detailed drawing, then you may find that method easier. There are probably advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
05-22-2017, 11:48 AM
Hi and welcome to the Pastel forum! I don't do portraits either but wanted to add to what Don said. You asked, " what happens with such approach when you get something wrong? I mean, you will see that the eye is wrongly placed, only near the the end, when you will have it. But then correcting it would be a nightmare, wouldn't it?" I tend to think of creating a portrait in the way a sculptor would and that helps me to grasp the importance of getting the big shapes right first before thinking about adding specifics like the shape of someone's eye or nose. Like a sculptor, we need to create an accurate foundation on which to place those details. The most beautifully rendered eye won't look right if the socket it sits in is not correctly shaped. As far as making corrections, it is much easier to make minor changes on top of a correctly defined structure than to realize that the entire structure is wrong and have to rebuild it. With pastels we can correct small errors very easily (thank goodness!) because we save our details and highlights for the very end. Here's a link (http://terrymiura.blogspot.com/2015/10/a-head-study-after-sargent.html)to a blog article by oil painter Terry Miura. He explains the process of working from big shapes and why he doesn't commit to a tight outline from the beginning. We can follow the same steps with pastels as he does with oils. I hope some of this is helpful.
05-23-2017, 11:44 AM
Thank you for the answers.
It might be worth giving it a try and see how you like it in comparison. Obviously, my experiences may not match those of other painters. If you haven't had that feeling of needing to work carefully to not mess up a painting begun with a detailed drawing, then you may find that method easier.
Yeah, it happens, when using soft pastels I sometimes lose some shapes from my lineart. This is frustrating, although usually only the shape is lost, not the placement of the detail. But I think I will give it a shot as I would like to have a more 'painterly' look in my portraits. Do you think I should start with soft pastels (I use Senneliers), or rather with hard ones (I have conte)?
I tend to think of creating a portrait in the way a sculptor would and that helps me to grasp the importance of getting the big shapes right first before thinking about adding specifics like the shape of someone's eye or nose. Like a sculptor, we need to create an accurate foundation on which to place those details. The most beautifully rendered eye won't look right if the socket it sits in is not correctly shaped.
This is a nice analogy :) Although making a sculpture seems like magic to me, so thats a little bit terrifying :lol:
Here's a link (http://terrymiura.blogspot.com/2015/10/a-head-study-after-sargent.html)to a blog article by oil painter Terry Miura. He explains the process of working from big shapes and why he doesn't commit to a tight outline from the beginning. We can follow the same steps with pastels as he does with oils. I hope some of this is helpful.
Thanks for the link, very interesting.
05-23-2017, 05:18 PM
Welcome to Pastel forum.
Alain Picard is a great pastel artist and I have seen his video. In MPO, his technique is like painting in oil, and difficult to imitate, at least for me. On other end Daniel Green is the other pastel artist who has more traditional schooling. It is a lot easier to follow and to understand. I have all his videos, and watch them when I am ready to do portraits. He starts with a very accurate drawing using hard pastels and he goes at least 2 0 3 times with the drawing until the proportions are correct and the likeness is achieved. Then he blocks the darks first, he then follows with the middle tones, lights and finally the highlights. His video is very instructive and easy to follow. For all my portraits I use this technique. Other artists use different techniques which are more complicated and sophisticated. At the end the results are the same.
The videos of Daniel Greene are on sale via internet. In the meantime, I would recommend watching tutorials about pastel portraits especially from European artists via Internet. Good luck with portraits.
One last thing: values are more important than colors.
05-24-2017, 01:12 PM
Thank you for all the answers. Both, Terry Miura and Daniel Greene, have some lovely works, so I will definitely look into their creative process.
It happens sometimes, that after using soft pastels I lose some of my initial lines and shapes, and it is a little bit frustrating, so maybe this painterly approach will be a good idea for me. I will try it with my next portrait :) Do you think I should start with soft pastels when blocking the big shapes (I use Senneliers)? Or maybe start with hard ones to get more layers?
05-24-2017, 05:01 PM
No, try for now hard pastels since they are easier to apply in a linear fashion like a pencil so long you shave the ends of the sticks to a sharp point. All my hard pastel, especially the dark hues are sharpened to a point(look the videos of Daniel Greene or his wife, Wendy Caporale, who also has a very easy and instructive video about portraits in children.
The use of the soft pastels is mainly for the last steps of the painting when the portrait is completed with the application of the hard pastels.
The other technique is to apply hard pastel in small increments and many layers like the artist Ellen Eagle does. I had the same problem like you when I used the soft pastels first since they could cover some lines and mess up your drawing unless you are Alain Pickard or Mr. Greene. The problem at times of the type of paper you may use since too many layers will obliterate the tooth of the paper. Well, I hope you enjoy your art, and good luck with pastels.
One more thing, be careful which side of the paper you use since the "right" side may be too rough and the portrait may look "holy" like this portrait of my grandson Christopher where you can see the paper through the pastel rendering. I should have used the smoother side instead.
06-03-2017, 08:54 PM
I fell somewhat in between the detailed drawing and loose block in methods. I'd get the drawing in but it's a fairly loose one mostly for positioning, with a few smudges for where shading goes. Then start blocking in over that. I didn't try to get a lot of detail but would get things like the shape of the eye and lips accurate, length of nose, shapes of features as outlines. I'd use a color that blends well into the colors I planned to use too.
A mid value dusty gray-violet actually works well for the line art, on some areas a light value neutral.
When I did portraits in pencil all the shading was meticulous but in pastels I'd get a lot looser and blend on the early layers.
There's my two cents worth, my experience is that I was a street portrait artist with a B license in New Orleans. I had to do fast pastel portraits within half an hour to an hour, as long as a tourist would hold still for it, and get the likeness. I wasn't charging much but on the up side, doing hundreds of them, sometimes a couple dozen in a weekend or more, meant I improved constantly.
So lots of freehand portrait sketching helps, also freehand sketching in charcoal and white on mid value paper. Practice gets accuracy! And likeness on a portrait relies strongly on eye shape and eye expression, which is all in the shape of the eyelids and opening rather than the iris and pupil. Iris and pupil are about the same on anyone. Mouths same thing except more mobile, mistakes can easily turn into a change in expression.
vBulletin® v3.5.8, Copyright ©2000-2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.