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Old 12-01-2008, 04:12 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Hey Kim, a poster is a great idea, then maybe I can actually remember what I did! No, none of this should be for sale. My hands have guided my slow mind opened by my own Creator every step of the way. It would be quite selfish of me to charge for information so freely given. Selling a painting is very fulfilling and validating. But teaching to paint is freeing another soul, a friend, in being able to express themselves. It brings awareness to the vast benefit of artistic expression and even the academic and spiritual importance of art to the human family. Portraiture in particular draws humans close by inviting us to look a little deeper in each other’s eyes.

Ok, I think Marie is still working on my eyes, because MY SECOND pair of glasses just broke. Two glasses in one week, maybe I SHOULD start charging, (for those who are unaware, Greensyster (Marie) is working on my portrait while I work on hers—a learning exercise).

Lulu, glad you're here. Yes, it's a lot to digest. The best way to REALLY understand it is actually to follow along and do it with me (I don't think Marie would mind). I'm such a slooooooow painter that I don't think there is any danger of leaving you behind, especially since I'm trying to document everything. Though, there's no telling when I'll finally lose my patience and dive in for the finish!

Ok back to the portrait. It occurred to me last night that perhaps the transition from the landmarks to the sketch was a little too fast so I wanted to review the drawing. While I do have a “gift” with composition, drawing takes a little more work for me. My drawing skills took a huge leap when I started using computers. In the early days of Adobe Illustrator (a graphics software program—pretty much the industry standard, now), the only way to colorize black and white illustration effectively was to use Bezier curves. And Bezier curves must have completed shapes in order to be able to fill them with color. If you did not close off the shape you were drawing, scanning, or tracing, you just couldn’t add color to it. This limitation was a huge blessing for me, as I started to see that “line” really does not exist except in the abstract geometric terms or in the use of tangents for design. So once my landmarks are on the canvas I just use ordinary pencil (with the eraser on the back—a must for me) to draw the shapes of the face. I use the landmark lines for angle references and as an aid in seeing the negative and positive shapes. I constantly ask myself, “is the angle sharper or broader? Is the shape larger or smaller than the one next to it, how does the shape show the form and planes of the face? Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean.


Notice that all the lines close to form a shape. Each shape represents a different plane. Each shape has a different value and color temperature. The color that the shape is filled with is a sample taken from the actual computer-generated composition. (I will address facial planes in more detail a little later). For this particular portrait I avoided this kind of detail, but thought showing the example would help explain why my sketch has no values. While sketching I kept in mind the standard facial proportions and noted any apparent differences in my subjects face. There were very few, infact, Marie’s face fits beautifully in the Marquardt Beauty Mask—you wouldn’t be able to fit my big nose in there !

But the mask also gives a basic idea of standard face proportions which are:
  • The eyes are halfway between the top of the head/skull and the bottom of the chin.
  • The face width is about 2/3 of the skull height.
  • The bottom of the nose is halfway between the eyes and the bottom of the chin.
  • The mouth is halfway between the nose and the chin.
  • In an unsmiling face, the corners of the mouth line up with the pupils of the eyes.
  • Across the eye horizontal axis you can fit five eye widths.
  • The eye brow is about one eyewidth above the eye and extends wider than the eye
  • The widest part of the nose is one eye width.
  • The top of the ears line up above the eyes, on the eyebrows.
  • The bottom of the ears line up with the bottom of the nose.
There’s an adequate example here, but I plan on drawing my own some time in the near or not-so-near future.

So here is the final sketch I will work with. I will trace this sketch onto acetate so that if features start to wander, I will still have the original sketch that can be overlayed onto the painting to ensure accuracy. I know it is not an exact likeness, but I am fairly confident that it is structurally correct (yikes! tell me if you see something wrong! ), believable and represents Marie as I see her.

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Old 12-01-2008, 05:56 AM
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greensyster greensyster is offline
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I just have one thing to say at this point. I am a natural blonde I just bye my roots brown.

People (me anyway) will be downloading this and printing it out and dipping into it and rushing and ignoring then coming back to slowly try again.. and then again...
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Old 12-03-2008, 12:17 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Greensyster - I'm with you on printing this out, reading over and over and inwardly digesting and hoping some of it rubs off somewhere in my work.

Tali - Thank you again - this is intriguing, fascinating and hugely instructional. And very well written too!!!
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Old 12-03-2008, 03:27 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I think the images will be self explanatory. But feel free to ask any questions. I didn't do much color correction as this is still monochromatic, umber and white. Try to see the photo distortions, when the painting is dry and I overlay the acetate over it, it will give me a better idea than the computer overlay as to how I did in sticking to the landmarks--I'm sure there will be minor adjustment to make. The first image is the acetate tracing of the sketch that is on the canvas. I sealed the sketch with acrylic matte varnish so if I have to scrape (which I often do) I will not lose the sketch. The acetate is also an added precaution. Thanks Anita! I was starting to wonder if anyone was reading all that yabbering !









All c&cs and questions welcome!
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Old 12-03-2008, 05:09 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

oh wow, just beautiful! thanks for this Tali, have printed out the rest, will now add this to it. It is my bed-time reading!
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Old 12-03-2008, 10:43 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Amazing transformation from all that 'technical' drawing to the painting stages. This is quite the learning experience. You are going to put a lot of college art instructors out of business.
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Old 12-10-2008, 11:10 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Thanks JR! Now if only I could get some good portraits maybe I could teach for real!

Lulu, hope you had a good night's sleep! Here's some more bedtime reading!

I bet you guys thought I ended up with more fuel for a fire?! It came close today, buy thankfully I had waited long enough for the previous layer to dry and was able to wipe back. More on that later.

I waited for the underpainting to dry before checking my landmarks. Remember the tracing of my sketch on the acetate? I overlaid it on the painting and saw that there were some minor discrepancies. I call these discrepancies because sometimes I fine that I like the differences in which case I would re-trace the new sketch. In this case I felt I had lost the likeness I had in the initial sketch so I chose to correct. I made a custom transfer paper (I didn’t want to use the graphite transfer paper since this will end up being part of the painting layer) by taking a piece of prepared acetate and painting a layer of acrylic pumice gel to give the surface “tooth”. Once that dried I covered the acetate with a soft burnt umber high-end soft pastel. Since artist grade soft pastels are mostly pigments, I figured this wouldn’t interfere with the painting layer. I could use this sheet over and over again for different paintings. I line up the sketch on the acetate and taped it to the top of my painting (be sure to use drafting tape that does not leave any residue). I took my transfer sheet and laid it pastel face down on the dried painting beneath the taped-on sketch and carefully traced over the sketch with a ball point pen. As it turned out, I should have used a lighter pastel as the burnt umber left too dark of lines, but it did “melt” into the oil paint quite nicely. Here’s the result, you can see I’m getting better at not letting my landmarks wander! Then I made the corrections just using burnt umber and white again and scrubbed more burnt umber into the background to harmonize the painting.


Later, using a large flat bristle brush (number12) I continued to scrub in more white into the background to lighten it up. Having my computer value study reminded me of the relative contrast I should keep. I then mixed some light colors loosely corresponding with my computer comp, and using the same bush applied my warms and with a different brush, my cool tones for the background. I usually don’t wash my brushed while I’m painting and just wipe them with an old cotton t-shirt. I do this because 1)I’m 2) this is how I’m used to working with I paint with a palette knife, and 3) the left over color in the brushes helps harmonize and “gray down” my colors. (Bet you didn’t think I ever tried to gray my colors down?!) I usually have one brush for darks and one for lights, or one for warms and one for cools. I’m not always good about keeping the separate—but I’m getting better!


I usually use a different set of colors for each painting depending on the subject. Most of the time I use Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixables. My gotta-haves are cad yellow pale hue (py35, py3), magenta pr122), phthalo green blue shade (pg7) and of course titanium white. I use the hue of the yellow because I’m not crazy about having toxic pigments in the house (though I occasionally make exceptions) and I don’t have anything even close to gray using this mixed yellow. The pigment numbers are important because paint names aren’t standardized, so I look at the pigments to make sure I’m getting what I want. Since the light source in my reference is diffused and rather cool, and I have some higher-end paints left over I used traditional oils over my water-mixable underpainting. These are of various brands most of which are Schimcke Mussini which dry fast (due to the dammar mixed in them) and have a lovely array of transparent colors that are hard to find elsewhere. So—I’m getting to the point, I promise, for this painting I used translucent yellow, helio-green light (phthalo in disguise!), Florentine red (warmer than magenta, and perfect mixing complement of phthalo green—giving me lovely neutrals all the way to the very deepest black), then for good measure also magenta and ultramarine blue. If I’m feeling lazy I’ll also use my Yellow ochere and my Winsor Newton burnt umber. Gamblin makes these “radiant” colors that are actually tints of my primaries, and I have some tiny sample tubes that I used on the background since I know they’ll harmonize with the pigments. Oh yeah, and titanium white—apparently zinc white is a “no no” since it cracks—better safe than sorry, I still might use mine in glazes—haven’t decided yet. So did you keep count? That’s a max of three yellows (I think burnt umber is a dark yellow??), two reds, blue, green, and white. If I need a medium, I’ll use Weber Res’n Gel, walnut oil, or walnut alkyd medium if I need a medium, but I usually don’t when using traditional oils, and haven’t so far except for a little water mixable linseed oil since the water mixable tend to be a little stiff. Your gasp! If she breaking the fat over lean rule? No, no, I assure you. The water mixable paints are much leaner than traditional and the minute amount of oil makes it “fatter” but still leaner compared to the traditional—it all comes down to relativity.

So after adding the color to the background I could resist scrubbing in a little color. (see above) And then thought, “might as well finish the job” so I mixed four rows for the colors of my relative values (remember the four values?)—left to right; cool light, warm halftones, cool receding planes, warm shadow. For now I'm keeping all the colors "clean" as in not grayed down. I like my final layer will be the less saturated "skin" layer. Even if you don’t prefer my method, just be sure to alternate temperature between planes to model the forms. Within my four values I mixed a warmer version (at the bottom) and a cooler version (at the top) but still keeping them in their respective values and temperatures. (or so I thought....)


After painting with these it became apparent something was wrong, as I was not getting the modeling I was after. I got frustrated and wiped of the paint on the face. But in starting to document what I did I realized my mistake and this is real proof that it is impossible to see color and value at the same time. Look at what happens when I turn my piles to gray scale! Though my camera has grouped the lights and darks together (all cameras do this), it still holds that my values were off. The halftones needed to be darker, and the receding planes lighter! So the next painting session should go a little better. I’ll add these to my mud paint pile that I store in the freezer for a future mud painting.

I’ll be amazed if anyone reads this in its entirety, but hey, at least I learned something! Let me know if you see anything I did wrong and feel free to disagree with me and voice it--remember I'm just learning too Oh yeah, and she has no hair because I wanted it to go over the background. You can't see it in the photo, but my landmark lines are still just faintly visible and ready for my next thicker yummy layer.

Last edited by tali : 12-10-2008 at 11:17 PM.
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Old 12-11-2008, 12:56 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

This is nothing short of astonishing tali, the work you have put into it and much of it above and beyond the 'simple' painting. Documenting it for our benefit is a work in itself. Thank you sooooo much!
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Old 12-11-2008, 01:21 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Wow So much information! And its all good stuff too Your talent amazes me! I'm watching and waiting.
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Old 12-11-2008, 01:54 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Fabulous Tali.
And I really appreciate the attention to detail in your description. I am going to try to get a large sheet of acetate and try your method. Previously I have taken a photo and tried to put it in a layer in Photoshop and compare the stages from there.
Thanks for taking the trouble.
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:05 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Me again tali. The transition area between the outer edge of the brow and the lower temple upper cheekbone area that meets it and slides away behind it have always been difficult for me. In this (last above) posting the junction of these two areas as shown at the profile of her left eye seems hard and angular, as a result it seems awkward, the angularity and hardness seems to push her eye inward toward her nose. In your posting number 19# it is beautifully done, soft and flowing as to the surface areas involved. Do you see this? I am a rather good seer even if I am a poor doer...but even in that I can be wrong.
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:40 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Kim, Corby, Graham, thank you so much. If this helps just one artist (other than myself) it will be quite worth the effort. I don't take all these steps with every portrait, as I am getting more and more familiar with the human face and how light falls on it, and much of this is becoming second nature. Both of your portraits, Graham were so much fun as I found that I can do away with some of these steps! I also layer in photoshop, but I left the edges in all my photos on this particular project so all could see how severely the camera can distort even when I try and make sure it is pointing strait on the board. The board in the photo looks positively warped and I assure you it isn't! So photographing the painting to check proportions can be problematic. If you can find the acetate I will send you some with your painting!
Corby, you do have very good eyes, and I could never slip one past you! Makes me wonder why you didn’t see the problems with the girl in white shirt…perhaps you had been looking at her (like me) for so long that the ½ inche shift escaped your notice. She looks MUCH better now! The problem you see has to do with me misplacing the angle of the brow and then adjusting it. Obviously Marie thins her lovely eyebrows. But eyebrows grow naturally right on the top of the brow, so when a woman plucks (a common problem I run into—I have to tame mine as well) the brow bone catches light that it wouldn’t normally. It’s also easy to get tan lines in the area after thinning. (I only tell you as you seem the type of man that would understand, Bizkit might be horrified to think women have to go to such measures to be considered beautiful , bless his heart )Upon adjusting the brow (in the painting, that is), I had to cover up the old one and extended the edge a little so I could create a softer edge. I agree it looks totally weird right now—as if someone punched her eye in a little too far. Once I adjust the edge and nail down the values (I only scrubbed in this color—it isn’t really what I consider a paint layer), I think her eye will visually return to its proper depth (hopefully). You’ll be amazed as how much the right value can fix problems like these (if I manage to do it right). I really appreciate you pointing it out, because it reassures me that the painting is more than mediocre. I have this theory that mediocre paintings on this forum get lot’s of kudos, beginner painting—lots of advice, and good painting, lot’s of nit picking every possibly flaw, or subjective dislike. Of course there are the outstanding painting that blow everyone so out of the water that there is just nothing to say except, “wow”! But truly, I want to be “nit-picked”; my goal is to learn and train my eyes so that I can critique my own work well enough to improve it. Thank you.
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Old 12-12-2008, 01:56 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Marvelous continuation of this Tali - thank you. Like many, I am saving each page as we go. I know I will not employ every method presented and I know I have already learnt so much from this thread - dont stop now (besides I would like not to be bald for too long....)

And top tip about photographing in greyscale one's palette! Simple but so effective. I also find your 'greying down' technique interesting.... LOL. I miss my strong chin line but knowing you I guess it is lurking there somewhere!

And now to really depress you - are you sitting down with a nice comforting mug of your chosen beverage? Oh good. Then here it is - every third month I remove about 5 renegade hairs from the outer underneath of each brow. Other than that, that is how TGFU made my eyebrows. Gotcha!

The discourse between Tali and Corby on the spatial distortions of camera images is most pertinent and one I think needs development especially where image source is solely from a photograph (be this human, landscape, structural object). Anyway - I digress. Tom wants to know who the smashing bird is in the latest update of the portrait.
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Old 12-15-2008, 09:34 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Still here watching and learning. Feel almost guilty....all this information, and all I have to pay is attention!
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Old 12-16-2008, 04:19 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Yes JR - you got the easy bit - I have to fork over attention too PLUS supply the face. And I have been sitting here for days - all eyebrows and bald, niked and surrounded by LSD lighting - at my age for goodness sake! If Tali is now off doing a portrait of the current Main Man of the Season Old Santa (being as he is so close to her) she better remember what I have at my disposal and they do travel! Trust me.

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