View Full Version : Experimental portraits

07-10-2009, 04:40 AM
Other than accepting a donation to a charity, I haven't actually sold any of my work yet. People have started talking to me about it though and saying they would like to commission me. I just don't feel ready yet, partly because I'm not sure where I'm heading with style etc. So I have decided to push myself a bit and risk failing in an attempt to develop. I'm going to have a go at a number of portraits and my rules for myself are as follows:-

1. Work quickly
2. No agonising with decision making - just go with the flow
3. Be bold
4. Try something different each time with backgrounds
5. Don't tinker with it - when its done, its done
6. Post everything - even if I'm not happy.

I'll keep them all in this thread and post in Portraits too. Please do feel free to say you don't like anything I post & point out where something doesn't work.

This is my first one. I used a photo I took of one of my daughter's friends. It has been through several transformations in the short space of time I worked onit. I was happy with the likeness in the early stage, but she has very pale skin and almost white hair, so it wasn't going to be very dynamic. I gave her very red lips, blue eyes and black hair (very SnowWhite) and then put a stipe of bright red in the background, but it was a bit cartoonish. So I added some chestnut highlights to her hair, decided she was Joan of Arc, and put in the other colours of the French flag. I then decided, I didn't really know how to tackle that colour hair, so she went back towards the blonde!

What I have learned. The background doesn't work - its far too much. I like working with that size head, but I would like to add more of the body. This may cause me problems as it really means I need a full size easel and somewhere else to paint!


Thanks for looking,


07-10-2009, 07:56 AM
Joolee, this is looking good. I think it's great to push and experiment. My comment on this one is that it seems a bit "light" I think a few more darker hues here and there would make a surprising difference.

Merethe T
07-10-2009, 08:27 AM
Good for you doing this experiment, you'll come out with a deeper understanding of your art...and brave to post your efforts, giving us inspiration to step out of our boxes!

That being said - your portraits are really good, no need to hesitate doing commission work, you'll do great. I know what you're saying though, I still get butterflies when asked to do commission work, I feel I have so much to learn. But clients will love your work....

I kinda like the background, as you say she's so light, it brings punch to the painting. You're so good with hair, very realistic and so well done, it can almost overpower the face. Especially when it's a light skin, pale face. Her eyes are gorgeous, it demands my attention and draw my eyes away from the hair. I agree with Kenny, pushing the darks would give more punch to the face. Or maybe a few warmer tones in the face would have the same effect.
Beautiful work, a client would love it.....

07-10-2009, 08:33 AM
Oh, yeah, I gotta agree. You certainly can please clients/do commissions. you do great work. Just go for it! :)

Kathryn Wilson
07-10-2009, 08:44 AM
I do have to say that your portraits are so delicate and refined and I like them - people have confidence in your work and you have to build that in yourself too.

I am going to be the nay-sayer here - I don't like the red/white/blue background - it detracts from her. I think backgrounds in any painting are difficult and this may be your biggest challenge in the learning process.

Go for broke and experiment and we'll all be here to watch and learn with you.

07-10-2009, 12:23 PM
If your audience wants you to do commissions, then you should now. Appreciate and trust their feelings, and start doing some. They see qualities in your work that you have worked to achieve and can be proud of.

When you aim to work quickly, what it your timeframe?

The intensity of the colors in the background make her look too gray, so change it or her coloration.

07-10-2009, 01:39 PM
Thank you all so much for your contributions. I guess you are all saying the same thing - I need more colour in the face and I can really see that myself too. Thanks for the support about the commissions too.

Ken, I guess I spent about 3-4 hours on that one - but I have it propped up against the kitchen surface and I'm cooking, sorting the kids out etc atthe same time. The next one, of my daughter, Eliza, took me about 1.5 hours. I started off with a colour much too dark for her real-life complexion, in the hope of warming those skin tones up. It almost fills the 12x16 board. I really enjoyed this one and feel I have caught her. There wasn't much room for any sort of background at all - but went for another bright one.



Kathryn Wilson
07-10-2009, 01:42 PM
Good grief - doing this kind of work and cooking at the same time! I am in awe.

One little thing - there is a bit of hair between the nose and upper lip that doesn't need to be there.

Paula Ford
07-10-2009, 02:03 PM
Wow! Beautiful work! I didn't even notice the background on the first.

Cook and paint?!?!? at the same time?!?!?

Paula Ford
07-10-2009, 02:03 PM
Wow! Beautiful work! I didn't even notice the background on the first.

Cook and paint?!?!? at the same time?!?!? :lol: Now that is multi-tasking!

07-10-2009, 02:32 PM
hahahah. Can I just say, ladies, that minimal effort and absolutely zero talent goes into my cooking :wink2:

You are right about that stray hair Kathryn - one stroke and its gone!


07-10-2009, 03:38 PM
I too, am in awe. Beautiful. You have captured the "youthfullness" of a child's face. I do like the slightly stronger color in the second one though.

Can't wait to see the next one. Great work...and great talent too.

There are ALWAYS restaurants. Paint...sell...and eat out!!! :thumbsup::thumbsup:


07-10-2009, 03:57 PM
Working fast (1.5 hours) can be good, as it will improve your speed- but it must be with accuracy. The drawing in this is good- there is probably just a touch of cheek in that location- check first, and I do feel the intense background should be toned down here also.

07-10-2009, 08:17 PM
Jools, you gotta know that you're good...just fly, girl. Nobody can learn to be perfect, and nobody can make every client happy every time. Thats the scary part of selling, in't it..........

07-10-2009, 08:33 PM
Great points Mudfish!

07-12-2009, 01:32 PM
Thank you Yvonne - oh I wish - no more cooking - bliss :thumbsup:

Ken, you are right about the cheek. Although I said no retouching, I liked this one of Izzy so much when I looked at this again, and saw the cheek above her nose wasn't quite right and also the lips were a little bit too pouty, I went back and changed it. The thing is, I really like this intense background. In fact, we are about to decorate our hallway, making it more contemporary, and I quite like the idea of portraits of each of our three kids in this style and colouring hanging next to one another. I think the bold colour makes it contemporary - but perhaps it is too much for others and it doesn't really make for a serious work of art.

Mudfish - your posting really made me sit up - because you are absolutely right. I have been dashing about like a mad woman, painting and posting, trying to deal with my fear of flying (so to speak!) when all of you who make your living this way have had to deal with it at some stage. Hmmmm - bear with me for a little while longer. I have freebies promised to people anyway which will keep me busy for a while - but I guess these may lead to paid work.

So, on to the next one. Oh dear, I did promise to post everything and this is...well, its me :o . Most of what I have learned in doing this is about self perception and acceptance, rather than about painting - probably a female thing :lol: . I haven't finished it as it isn't a masterpiece and I certaining have no idea how to do backgrounds. (Oddly enough, my husband really likes it!) As always C&C welcome.



07-12-2009, 01:36 PM
Wonderful Jools! I think you need to hang this one right alongside the kids!

07-12-2009, 01:39 PM
What as an aid to scaring away unwanted visitors :eek: Thank you Kenny - you are far too kind!

07-12-2009, 01:57 PM
No! But you could hang mine up to do that.

:lol: :lol: :lol:

07-12-2009, 10:20 PM
Every time I get a commission I think I must practice more first. If I really thought about it I'd realise that the commission has come from seeing what I can do now and not next year, You will never shake the self doubt or the feelin that your best is just around the corner but learning to live with it will allow you to do some fine commissions

Terry Wynn
07-13-2009, 12:22 AM
I really like what you've painted and as far as your painting, I'd leave it as is. Very fresh - you've captured to me all that you should. Wonderful.

Good luck.


07-13-2009, 11:35 AM
Thank you Gary - I guess you are right - but the first step is the hardest one, isn't it :). Thank you too, Terry.

On to the next one (I'm on a bit of a roll as work is very quiet at the moment). This one was fun. I mentioned that I wanted to have a go at a Harley Brown type of painting and this lead to Netty (Annie) and I exchanging photos so we could paint one another. So, today I started painting Annie and decided to put in a Harley type background and before I knew it Annie had gained a feather and pigtails :eek: . So this is Annie as Harley's Rosie - well - sort of! I hope I am not offending either Harvey or Annie - I'm a big fan of both of you and I did say I'd post all my experimental paintings. If that doesn't work - can I plead insanity :D . I promise to do a proper portrait of you soon, Annie.


What I learned from this one is that Harley makes it all look so damn easy!!


07-13-2009, 12:47 PM
Very Nice Jools! Need more detail and fire in that background to be like Harley. :) :) :)

07-13-2009, 12:53 PM
I am with Mudfish. These are very commercial, you should take on commissions, your clients will love them.

I just worry slightly about the use of so much white, even for a very fair skinned person - too much white on skin can make it look sort of dead. White is a cold colour so for warm lighting on skin, is it the best "colour" to use?

I am not sure if these will show well...portrait by Dennis Frost that I like very much...you can see that the old lady has quite fair skin, and obviously silver hair, but look at the colour used.



Another small point. I am sure many will disagree with me, so maybe it all comes down to personal preference in the end. I always remember being told by a tutor once a long time ago, never to paint people smiling. It INSTANTLY shows that you worked from photographic reference...not necessarily a bad thing, Degas did it ! but the point is that a smile is a transitory thing, you are capturing a fleeting moment. A camera can do this, but no model could sit with a smile on their face without the face becoming very fixed and the eyes very glassy. If you have to work from photos - and many people do - perhaps take a whole series so that you can find one where the face is at rest, yet the character of the sitter is apparent.

Also, and this is a painterly consideration....very smooth blending everywhere is a little monotonous. It might be interesting to try create skin using an alternative to blending everywhere - now there's a challenge.

07-15-2009, 09:43 AM
Hi Kenny - yes, you are right. As I say, he makes it look easy but it certainly aint! I wish I could get hold of a copy of either of his books but you just can't get them for love nore money here (well you can get them for money if you want to remortgage your house! Have you seen what they are asking on Amazon??)

Thank you for taking the time to post these references Jackie. I agree that I haven't yet sorted my colouring out. there is very little actual white in my portraits, but the off whites I use are probably too light. For my next one, I shall try to bring the colours down. I shall also try not to blend, although I have tried and have found it difficult so I may have to tie my fingers together to stop me doing it :lol:.

I do tend to agree with what you say about smiley faces, although I think many of those who commission portraits, especially of children, would disagree. Thank you again - I have found this very useful.


07-15-2009, 10:55 AM
Hmmm, well as far as the books, I didn't have any trouble getting either one, but different parts of the world eh?

The were both published by International Artist -- maybe check there??

Keep up the excellent work!

07-15-2009, 03:49 PM
Kenny, I have been in touch with International Artist (I am a subscriber) and they say both books are out of print. Can you still get them in the USA? I'm coming to New York in September (hubbies treat for my very big birthday!!). I have already got Dick Blick's on my to do list. Where can I get Harley's books please?

Next one. I have tried to take everything on board. Absolutely NO blending on this one. Once touched the board with my finger and bounced off it as if it were wired to the mains. I have looked at Ken's portraits and Alicia's but I know I still have hard edges here. Also not sure this is me. Anyway, I feel I have something of a likeness of the subject, but I can see that the darkness of the eyes are a bit too much. He is in charge of the grounds and gardens where I work. A really lovely, bear of a man. C&C always welcome.


07-15-2009, 05:05 PM
Wow, I like that on Jools!

Honestly I have not tried -- since I've got both books, but I did just get the newer one in the last six months.

I suspect if they are not available on the website though that they really are sold out everywhere. :(

Now, let's see what ARE you willing to pay for one? :evil: :evil: :evil:


I just went to the website an it let me add the "Inspiration for Every Artist" to my cart....I think that means it's in stock....but ...

07-15-2009, 06:57 PM
Hi Jools- Your drawing, particularly of the fair sex, is very nice! When you do your first commission (and hopefully very soon) you may find that it will be even better than your 'norm', simply because your expectations will be high.

I looked at your most recent in grayscale, and noticed that it has no very light lights. A few touches of light where needed, perhaps as a highlight on the nose and other selective spots, can do a lot (a soft soft pastel for this). This is a small grayscale, with only one highlight added-


07-19-2009, 05:10 PM
Thanks for your comments, Ken. I'm not sure I like this one - not really me. There aren't any really light bits on this guy's nose - the light comes from the left of the picture. I have had another go at it - and blended with my finger, I'm afraid!!

Kenny - I have seen some websites that offered Eternal Truths, but when I have ordered it, I am then told it is out of stock. On Amazon, a used copy costs from 170 and a new one from 300 not sure what this is in dollars but it is way way over the original value of the books). Makes my blood boil as its profiteering on a major scale. Why International Artist dont put both books back in print is completely beyond me.

PS, if you want to sell either of your books, please pm me :p :cool: .

07-19-2009, 06:10 PM
I understand and I wouldn't pay that price either. I just got ripped on a Schmid book that way....didn't realize it was for sell at regular price through his website. Grrrr!

I have no intention of letting either of mine out of my hands!

07-19-2009, 08:52 PM

Sorry, have been away on vacation and missed this thread.

First, your portraits are definitely "commission quality".

Second, I would seriously recommend that you do not consciously try for "style". Your style is what your paintings look like when you no longer think about style. Looking for a "style" is a sort of dead end, not a beginning. I'm not sure if there are any really good artists whose "style" wasn't constantly evolving. Plus, style, when it is very noticeable, has the potential to become the actual "subject" of the painting - the thing that is noticed first. These comments on style are totally my opinion, not necessarily shared by others.

Remember, in portraiture the subject is primary - the background secondary. While colorful, abstract backgrounds may be interesting and exciting at first glance, they may be too much for the second, third and one hundredth glance, if you know what I mean.

Lastly, these are all very good portraits! It's time for commissions! Go for it!!

(Easy for me to say!)


07-20-2009, 07:31 AM
Don, this is good advice about not worrying about a "style" and I have been thinking along these lines over the last couple of days. I wasn't comfortable with the last one and I think I have to plough my own furrow which, as you say, may change over time. I saw a couple of Harley's early paintings recently and I was quite surprised. I guess there is an element of them being the product of the time - they had a definite 60s feel about them which doesn't appeal to me personally, but they are very different to his more recent stuff. I guess its better to allow it all to evolve naturally, rather than try to force the issue.

I think I'll leave the experimenting alone for now!


07-20-2009, 07:38 AM
Jools, nothing wrong with experimenting, but I agree about the quest for style. Too many art students get caught up in that instead of working on the fundamentals. Style is like personality, it will come out as appropriate and is not generally changeable.


08-10-2009, 07:30 AM
I haven't posted for a while as the kids are off school and I have been stuck in a creative rut. However, Kathryn has helped unblock the blockage by letting me have her copy of Harley's "Eternal Truths" and I have been trying to put some of his gems of advcie into practice. With this one (thanks to Jocelyn for her reference photo - August portrait challenge), my aim wasn't to get a likeness, but to bring different colours into the skin tones, to lose and find edges and to get something approaching a Harley background (which I know I have failed in spectacular fashion!). But I'm happy with the skin tones and feel this one portrait has taught me something in that regard. There are things wrong with it (eyes aren't right), but I'm not going to mess with it.



08-10-2009, 08:26 AM
Great job Jools (and Kathryn)!

08-10-2009, 10:56 AM
they are both great pieces. love them.

08-10-2009, 11:12 AM
this last one is my favorite! if you are not ready for a commission then most aren't!!! i say go for it!!! ginger

08-10-2009, 03:25 PM
A success in every way (yes, background, too)!


08-10-2009, 03:36 PM
Gosh, thanks everyone. I feel happy with this one - like its the first "grown up" portrait I have done. But I know its not to everyone's taste, especially the background!

08-10-2009, 06:08 PM
You are a pro....no worries. Your portraits work and that is no easy task. Derek

08-11-2009, 02:26 AM
I agree with the advice to forget about "trying" for a style, but just remember one little homily:

"if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always had".

That last pic you showed us, where you had tried to take on some of Harley's advice, shows that you have been trying to move forward, and I think that's great....the more you learn from others, either accepting or rejecting what they offer, the more this will feed into your work and REINFORCE the style you all ready have. I am glad you tried to tackle a change in skin tones...I had begun to feel that you were rather sticking with the same palette and formula for your skin tones, no matter the age or sex of the subject. I really felt that needed addressing, there is a "pinkness" about your portraits that is a bit too sugar-candy ,( in my opinion), and I think ifyou could force yourself to try adjusting your palette more towards oranges, siennas, creams and cadmiums, it would be a big step forwards.

Talking about books, I picked up a helpful book recently - Chris Saper's "Painting Beautiful Skin Tones with Color and Light". You might find it worthwhile to take a look at it.

In the meantime, you are doin splendidly; dont worry too much about the backgrounds; as you say, some will like the contemporary brilliant colours, some may not, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time! You just have to please YOU. And your clients!

Where the last guy in the hat is concerned, for my money, because his clothing is really very "busy" with lots of contrast and loads of angles, active lines and shapes, I find the zig zaggy background, particularly the dark lines you have added, to be very hectic. If that suits his character and so is the effect you wanted, so be it.

08-11-2009, 03:20 AM
Thank you Dcam.

Jackie, thank you for your comments. You are right that my skin tones haven't always been up to scratch - maybe okay for kids but not for grown ups, especially men. And yes, am very keen to learn and move forward (and, as part of that process, I am spending a small fortune on new pastels and books!). I'll have a look at Chris Saper's book on skin tones. I see she has a book on art business too - don't know if anyone can advise me as to whether its any good or not?

As for backgrounds, I am very drawn to the type of background Harley is famous for but I know that it doesn't seem to work with my portraits - at least that is what I am told. I'm wondering if its because Harley's subjects are often dark haired, dark skinned and often clothed in glorious colours. Perhaps if I improve my skin tones, the background will work better. Or maybe I need to just change the backgrounds? I'll let it evolve......

By the way Jackie, I live in what was once called Middlesex too - Staines. We are neighbours :D


08-11-2009, 09:37 AM

i have been following this thread. portraits /people have always interested me as a subject. jackie has given some great advice here. it has been a treat to watch you progress even further. IMHO one of the most difficult things is to ignore the critics and find your own way! the last portrait is the first one where i told myself a story when i looked at it. i envisioned a jazz musician sitting at the curb with his bass waiting for the next gig! to me a portrait should reveal a story to the viewer. this one did that for me. i hope to someday get to your level of ability. again, thank you so much for helping me learn ! ginger

08-11-2009, 11:52 AM
I'm so glad you like the last one, Ginger. He is a Chicago tour guide - its a great reference photo, why don't you have a go (and try out those new Rembrandts :D )?