View Full Version : Family Portrait WIP--help! X-post Portraiture

Deborah Secor
12-19-2007, 06:10 PM
I'm posting this very early on because I hope you all will help me with the likeness right off the bat.

I photoshopped my mom and her sister, Mary, together. Mary died a couple of years back and Mom misses her terribly, so I thought I'd try to paint them together. It won't be a Christmas present, so I don't need to rush. BTW, Mom is 95, but this photo was taken maybe ten years ago, so she looks pretty good. She'll love it! I need to make them look the same age, however, so take that into consideration, if possible.

Here's my ref:

And here's my initial block-in, just loosely schelepping the pastel around to find the shapes:

It's on an 18x24" piece of Wallis sandpaper, but I made it large so I can crop down to whatever seems best (and I hope snug into an already-on-hand frame, of which there are several choices.)

I can already see a lot of miscalculations, such as the angle of the mouth on Mom (left-hand side). One good thing: my son just walked in the studio and smiled, recognizing both of them without my saying anything! Amazing! I'm blown away that I can even come close. I guess I am learning. He says Mary looks right, but Mom doesn't quite yet. I see that too. Anyway--HELP of all kinds welcome! :heart:

Many thanks...


12-19-2007, 06:21 PM
Deborah I'm going to sit back a bit and watch what you figure out yourself as I know just about the time I make a suggestion you'll already have seen it yourself! Well ok, maybe just one suggestion about "Mom" - to me, her neck appears a bit too long and her shoulders too sloped (look at the negative area between their heads). Otherwise great beginning, and she should be thrilled with the end result.


Deborah Secor
12-19-2007, 06:41 PM
Oooooh, thanks--no, I hadn't seen that 'yet'. I like to think I would have! :lol: Thank you sweetie!


WC Lee
12-19-2007, 08:21 PM
The resemblance of a portrait is determined on the structure of the face rather than the features of the face. How the light falls on the face and the shapes of the shadows creates the forms of the face. If one or both are slightly incorrect, the resemblance is lost.

From what I see so far on the "Mom", the cheek bone area on the left side isn't full enough and the cheek near the lower jaw on the left side should be slimmed down a bit. And also, shorten the neck as peggy mentioned and also, slim it down a bit. Otherwise, a very good start.

David Patterson
12-19-2007, 08:44 PM
Looks like a wonderful start Deborah! I see your mom's nose as being a little narrower then you depict. Maybe changing the shadowing a tad would help give the right "look". The nose is such an important feature when doing portraits..I mean look at my big honker....if you get my nose wrong, you don't have David!:D

Mary Brigid
12-20-2007, 07:41 AM
What a great start Deborah... I am going to sit back, watch and enjoy this one.
Mary Brigid

12-20-2007, 08:19 AM
I wish I could help, but I have no doubt you are going to pull this off. So I also am going to sit back and enjoy watching you create

12-20-2007, 08:51 AM
Deb, the first thing I notice is that you have drawn both women with their features centered on their faces as if they were looking straight ahead, but each woman has her face turned slightly towards the other. I have put this in photoshop quickly, and drawn some measuring lines on each face showing how the distances on one side are greater than the other. Also it looks like the hair of the woman on the left is parted the other way. It is hard to tell because of the crop. Hope this helps.


P.S. I apologize for drawing colored lines on your Mom and Aunt's faces!


Deborah Secor
12-20-2007, 10:27 AM
Actually, Don, I did (most of) that on purpose. I totally photoshopped the photo and wanted to give the appearance that that were together... I thought about how if I was shooting a picture they would look right at me. Maybe I should rethink that. It might be boring. I'll look at it and see if I think they should be turned more, as in the ref. In a way it makes the heads relate more. Hmmmm...thanks!


12-20-2007, 11:59 AM
Deborah, no help here as I have never done a portrait. But I wanted to encourage you, this is looking wonderful so far! The likenesses are terrific, just minor issues that others have pointed out to you already. I will be watching your progress!

12-20-2007, 12:05 PM
Hi Deb, me again. I already mentioned this in your other thread, but even with her head slightly turned (in the photo) the figure on the left is looking at you. It's not necessary to have her head pointed dead straight to achieve that look. Having their faces pointed a little towards each other gives a more affectionate feel to the piece; then it becomes about their relationship to each other as opposed to their interaction with the viewer. IMHO, having their faces pointed straight out gives a more "Photoshopped" feel than it would if you had retained the slight angle of their faces.

This is definitely a challenge. I don't think I'd have the nerve to cut and paste to figures together as you did, but you're doing a great job.

Deborah Secor
12-20-2007, 01:14 PM
Mmm, good point! I see what you mean... Back to the old drawing board--but actually this may be easier in the long run because I can use the photo more as a guide. Thanks!


Deborah Secor
12-20-2007, 05:20 PM
I could swear I posted a reply to W.C., David, Mary Brigid and Paula last night. Guess I never pushed the POST button! Thanks to you all....

I need to go paint!

Pat Isaac
12-20-2007, 05:50 PM
You have been given great advice so far. What an ambitious piece and it is always nice when there is some emotional feeling for the painting.
Looking forward to the progress.


12-20-2007, 07:45 PM
I think you are off to a very good start and you are getting some fantastic help from folks...(note to self: learn how to use photo shop!).
Merry Christmas.

Deborah Secor
12-21-2007, 12:11 AM
Here's the next installment. I can see a lot of changes I want to make yet, and I plan to add their jewelry.


These two were always wearing jewelry! I changed the collar on Mom because I knew she'd hate that plain neckline. I considered making it a scarf--which is not impossible even now. I might. The two inboard ears are too bright, obviously, but I left them because there will be earrings. Mom's nose is still off! I changed Mary's mouth because she had a stoke and I wanted to return her mouth to the way it used to look. Hope I've done it....

And of course you can see that I tilted the heads. It really does look better--rather endearing, I think. Mom is the older sister and was always best friends with her little sister.

There is far more to do, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you think I need to change anything major, just say so. This nighttime pic is VERY bad color, so I'll re-shoot in daylight and post it.

Thanks for your help!


David Patterson
12-21-2007, 03:48 AM
Oh gosh Deborah...that is so much better of your mom. The tilt of the heads works well also. Can't wait to see what you do with the jewelry.


cal studio
12-21-2007, 07:51 AM
Deborah, This is such a wonderful portrait. You have added such tenderness to the two of them. You can tell they were very close. I really like your color palette too.

Deborah Secor
12-21-2007, 09:52 AM
Thanks so much, David. I agree that the two heads leaning in is far better than before. That part makes me happy.

Thanks Cathleen, too. I'm so glad that feeling shows...

But, well, looking at it this morning my mom's face looks like it's curved! Aarrgghhh! I want to give her a bit more of a smile and there's something about her chin that's off. Oh well, back to the drawing board... It's not like I didn't plan to be in there all day working on this one.

I'd appreciate comments on the background, the collars, the shadows, and any likeness issues you can help me resolve, too! Thanks for your fresh eyes...


Donna T
12-21-2007, 10:41 AM
I've been following your progress on this one, Deborah. To say that this will be special is putting it mildly. I really like the blues in the background, they make Mary's eyes look so good and enhance the skin tones, too. Even though these girls are older in this portrait they are so beautiful.


Pat Isaac
12-21-2007, 10:59 AM
This is so lovely and the bond they have really shows through. I like the colors and the addition of the color is much better.


Mary Brigid
12-21-2007, 01:22 PM
Deborah, you have captured the sisterly love here. Its a very emotional piece. I could look at it all day and hear their stories.
Mary Brigid

12-21-2007, 01:52 PM
Hello Deborah

My you have done a wonderful job of your mother. Her eyes may be a little wider-set than in the photo but certainly not enough to even worry about. I don't know that she needs more of a smile as she has a very happy look to her entire face that relates how good she feels.

You have captured the lower half of Mary's face very well however her left eye (on our right) is slightly higher than the other and possibly tilted up at the outside corner. If this was mine, I would lower her widow's peak when you get to finishing up her hair and widen out her face on our left around the cheek bone area as I see more of "vee" shape to her face on that side.

Great job and tremendous undertaking. Bravo! :thumbsup:


12-21-2007, 02:05 PM
im enjoying watching this one progress :)

Deborah Secor
12-21-2007, 02:18 PM
Thanks, Diana--I'll take a close look at those aspects! I'm in the final stretch of this kind of thing, so I appreciate your eyes!

Thanks, Fiannah, I hope I can pull it off... :D

Here's stage 3, a full page shot as I want to start thinking about a good crop:


More realistic color in this version, as I balanced it next to the painting. Still considering a lot of tweaks. I think I finally got closer to Mom's mouth and caught the crooked smile without making her look bent. I can see what you men now, Diana about Mary's eye. It is tilted up at the corner. Easy fix...I grayed Mom's hair more, which catches far more of the likeness than before for me. I'm using a photo from several years back and her hair is much lighter now, so I'm splitting the difference. Plus, I didn't mention that I 'transplanted' a new hairstyle to the photo! I love photoshop!

Okay, continuing help appreciated. Here are a couple detail shots:





12-21-2007, 06:25 PM
LOVE - thats what this painting reflects so beautifully!

The 'love' of the sisters for each other, as well as the 'love' for these beautiful ladies expressed by the wonderful pastelist painting this picture!

Very moving and excellently painted - 'Mom' will love and cherish this forever! Thank you for sharing with us - all your work is outstanding but this one is 'special'!

A very Merry Christmas to you and your family - enjoy!....'blue....':thumbsup:

12-21-2007, 08:40 PM
Hi Deborah, Wow this is just wonderful and I'm so thrilled you included the close ups of your strokes so we can see the powerful placement of each thought out placement of pastel.

I believe the woman on the left is your aunt - and she's spot on in most ways I can see.

On your mom's left side of her face.. does it look like the chin is too narrow and the jowl could use some volume? Or is it the fact that there is a bit of a shadow on the edge of the cheek that causes it to look set back more?

Anyway - measure this a bit more.

Don't give mom a black left eye - it's shadow is a little "bruised" looking from the image you posted but that may not be the case.

All in all - outstanding and I hope you are feeling a sense of true accomplishment. Look what you have done this year!!!

Congratulations. Barb

Deborah Secor
12-21-2007, 09:18 PM
Thanks, blue.

Nice to hear, Barb! But wait...Mom is on my (the viewer's) left-hand side of the painting and Mary is on my right-hand side. Okay, yeah, I see that the bluish purple looks a bit too dark. I'll work on that and check the jowl too.

If the woman on my right-hand side (Mary) looks a bit blank it's because she had a stroke ten years before she died. She was in a wheelchair and one whole side of her body was paralyzed. I've taken the droopiness out of her mouth. The photo I used she was 'talking' (more of a series of grunts) and her mouth was open slightly. I chose this one because her 'alive' side was facing the camera.

I've already made some changes but I'm turning blue from trying to do all this little ditsy detail. Man, it reminds me why I paint fast and loose landscapes most of the time. :wink2:

Thanks for all the help and if you have other thoughts, I am really open--just not until Wednesday or Thursday next week!


12-21-2007, 09:28 PM
Well - goes to show you how well I know the family.... tee hee.

Give it a break! Give yourself a break!

Merry Christmas to you my dear!!! Barb

12-21-2007, 09:56 PM
Wow Debora, what a lovely portrait, I lost my Mother-In law last year , she was 91. I think I would like to do a portrait of her . You have inspired me!
Great painting.

Deborah Secor
12-21-2007, 11:56 PM
Tee hee, Barb! I don't think you met Mom when you were here... Taking a break, as directed!

Thanks, Gerry. I hope you enjoy painting your mom-in-law's portrait! :)


Karen Margulis
12-22-2007, 09:40 AM
I am in awe!! You have tackled a big project and did a wonderful job. It is so moving! Thank you for the closeups and sharing your progress..as always you inspire me.
Merry Christmas!!

12-22-2007, 12:34 PM
Deborah, this is so beautiful! Your love shows and the love they have for eachother shows. Thank you so much for sharing the process with us!

12-22-2007, 12:53 PM
Deborah, this portrait is wonderful. I have been watching throughout and I think you have an amazing talent for portraits! All the love and caring you have put into it really shows! The colors are perfect. Just beautiful! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Deborah Secor
12-22-2007, 01:33 PM
Thanks, Karen. I still feel so new to painting portraits! It's intriguing, that's for sure.

And thanks to you, too, Diana. I really shared the process to get the help I needed--but if that helps others along the way, great!

Tracy, that's nice to hear. I'm not sure I have a talent for portraits but I know I want to learn how to do them. I think a good part of the reason I've been an art teacher is because it never came easy to me. I had to WORK to learn (enjoyable, true, but work nonetheless.) That's what gave me the material to teach--it was and is still a matter of 'try this way, I learned a lot from it', instead of being one of those that just had paintings flow out from under their hands.

May God bless all of you this Christmas!