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-   -   Really need some advice, please (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1017042)

sunspirit 02-19-2012 01:25 PM

Really need some advice, please
Hello, everyone.

I have just started painting portraits. It is very enjoyable but frustrating as well. My portraits all look "cartoon-ish" to me and I can't figure out why or how to fix it. I see so many beautiful portraits on this forum so I hope some of you would be willing to offer some advice.

Below are portraits of my family members. All are done with acrylic on stretched canvas. Unfortunately, the photos are a little washed out and the original portraits are currently all over the country so I can't take new photos. I hope you can still offer some suggestions even with those limitations.

Thank you very much!

kevinwueste 02-19-2012 01:34 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Hello Sir or Madam!

I don't think the second set of heads is cartoon-y - they seem more like you are beginning to understand things - like painting the forms you are seeing.

In my opinion, always always always the first thing we need to master for painting (anything) is our drawing quality ( drawing skill). And picking portraits, well that puts you right up there in terms of difficulty.

The second thing is learning about value - what is dark, what is light and what is a middle tone. ( and what are the infinite small shifts in -between).

Third is color - that has three components: Hue ( the local color itself), Value ( see above) and Chroma ( the relative saturation of a color). Mastering these is, largely, a life-long pursuit!

Snapshots - mostly they are not taken ( I include lots of professional portrait photos) with a painter in mind. So -also - learning to take photos that actually SERVE your work is so important.

One final thought - painting is where we must shift to painting the light - each shape has a color and value and saturation that is unique and we are looking to represent this - as new paintings - it can make more sense to spend much more time mixing paints than actually painting on your canvas.

These are good results for Acrylics - even the "open" acrylics are just not easy to do transitions with but you will learn to mix paints!

I hope that is of some use. I have kept this more of a "beginner response as there are tomes of information on painting. You might purchase a useful painting book - I would suggest James Gurney's "The Color of Light" -A guide for painters.


sunspirit 02-19-2012 01:53 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Thank you for your help, Kevin. I appreciate it.

I certainly agree about photos not being taken with painters in mind. Most photos of people are taken with a flash, which makes the faces appear flat and have virtually no shadows to define shape. That is probably part of my problem.

Thanks, again.

Turpintine45 02-19-2012 03:33 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Great advice from Kevin. We all have to start somewhere and you have taken the first steps now just keep on painting and drawing. The more you do the better you get. At least that is what I keep telling myself!!

bethanyt 02-20-2012 05:07 AM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Kevin, I think you mean "Color and Light" a guide for the realist painter by James Gurney. I have the book in my hand and it has the most clear information about form, light and colour.
Keep on drawing and painting- read a lot and draw/paint from real people as well. Practice + learning = the beginning of getting it!

kevinwueste 02-20-2012 11:30 AM

Re: Really need some advice, please

Originally Posted by bethanyt
Kevin, I think you mean "Color and Light" a guide for the realist painter by James Gurney. I have the book in my hand and it has the most clear information about form, light and colour.
Keep on drawing and painting- read a lot and draw/paint from real people as well. Practice + learning = the beginning of getting it!

Yes - sorry - what Bethany says! ( ok but I like my mis-title better and will use that for my own "pamphlet" some day!)


kentiessen 02-20-2012 06:59 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
They are going well! One of the best teachers is experience and a willingness to learn- to be open always to new ideas and constructive criticism.

You already know that portraits are a demanding subject, and acrylics are not the most forgiving of mediums to work with, and that you want to know more. There are many technical aspects that can be brought your work, but it is entirely your judgement which ones you prefer. This is the fascinating path of painting portraits- you stand near the start of that road!

sunspirit 02-22-2012 03:25 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Thank you all for your advice and encouragement. I really appreciate it

Kevin, I looked at James Gurney's book online and it looks extremely helpful. I ordered a copy and I'm really looking forward to diving into it. Thanks for the tip.

jackiesimmonds 02-26-2012 05:37 AM

Re: Really need some advice, please
The reason you feel that your pictures look "cartoon-sh" is because the photos were taken with flash, you re right there, so there is little to help describe any changes of plane, and also you use a limited range of colour, most of it VERY pink!

When working from photos you take yourself, you have every opportunity to make sure that the photo gives you the best possible start to work with.

Here is a good example of a photo which gave me a really good start. I did not take it but it was one of several I was offered. I chose it because THE LIGHT REVEALED THE FORM REALLY NICELY and for me, this is the most important aspect and will govern my choice of photo every time

If you take your own photos, you need to take without flash, and with really nice natural light...or if you work indoors, then with directional light which will show the form off well.

Here is the portrait from the photo:

I slightly exaggerated the light from the right. I also warmed the light, suggesting sunshine, so that the shadows could then be cooler.

look at these from the image ref library, and see how helpful the light actually is, this is SO much easier to paint than a photo take with flash:

here is one taken with flash, see the difference, it is so flat. The only really fun part to paint would be the hair!

get your photos right, lots of nice directional light, and learn as much asyou can about the TYPE of colours for the TYPE of light. A simplification is:

warm light = cool shadows (sunlight outdoors or thro window, lamplight etc)
cool light = warmer shadows (daylight, overcast day, cool light from a window)

If you learn about what are warms and cools, and practice creating a huge range of skin tones quite separately from doing the actual portraits..practice on separate sheets...and develop a great range to use, you will gallop ahead.

jackiesimmonds 02-26-2012 09:33 AM

Re: Really need some advice, please
Had another thought. It is about smiley faces. No model sitting for a portrait would ever be able to grin incessantly for an hour or more while you painted them from life...................so it is patently obvious to anyone that you have worked from a photo, if you paint a smiley face. It also adds to the "cartoon" element.

No portrait painter who works from his subject would ever ask his subject to smile at him, the smile would be forced, and that would show in the finished piece.

The problem with a smile is that while it "works" in a photo,which everyone knows is taken in a split second, and provides a moment in time, somehow, in a painting, (and this is purely my personal opinion, I have no doubt others will disagree, you have to decide for yourself) it works less well, because everyone knows that a painting is a long, slow process.

llawrence 02-26-2012 01:15 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
I agree with that last, as a general thing. However, there are always exceptions:

dustonpaper 02-26-2012 01:51 PM

Re: Really need some advice, please
First I think these are well done works for your first portraits. One problem you have here and I know that all to well: Your references. When someone knows a painter and likes a portrait they often bring the worst imaginable photos ... nice photos, but like Kevin said: not with the painter in mind. Maybe real professionals with a lot of experience can work from such references .. for most beginners like us I think it is too much trouble. But all that has been said already be the other posters.

Yes Jackie, Lawrence ... I absolutely agree. Frans Hals was one of the very few who got it to work (a few other history painters who did it in history works I think I could get together ... but with pure portraiture Hals is the only one that comes to mind without further thinking about).

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