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Old 11-28-2008, 03:24 AM
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Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Feel free to jump in with any comments, critiques, thoughts, and corrections!
Since there seems to be some interest in learning to use landmark maps instead of copying, and tracing, I thought I would document, step by step, how I use one. Keep in mind that the words landmarks and maps are not my own, nor the concept of landmark mapping my own. All the information and terminology is gathered from various sources (I will list the main ones later on in the thread). However, by combining and applying the techniques and information using modern tools (digital camera, printer, computer), I have stumbled upon a method that seems simple to understand (relatively speaking, there is a plethora of confusing and contradicting information out there) and easy to apply to getting a believable portrait. This method has also trained my eyes in a short amount of time, to be able to apply these same concepts and techniques to painting and drawing portraits from life getting at least adequate results. I will try to be specific and thorough, but keep in mind that I too am just a beginner trying to learn and wanting to share my knowledge. This is by no means authoritative, but for those starting out, it might help.

1. Concept: A concept is an abstract direction/purpose of the painting and has to do with light flow, movement, and voice. The concept is born in the creative part of your brain that I will refer to as the right side (whether it’s on the right or not, or has to do with brain or soul I will leave for others to debate) Concept has little to do with your subject. You should be able to apply the concept to ANY subject and have it work. Since concept is so difficult to describe, I will not attempt to any further. David Leffel explains it well in his book “An Artist Teaches” published by Bright Publishing.

2. Composition: I usually figure out my composition on the computer using one and often several digital photos. I like to use Adobe Photoshop, but there are many other programs that can do basically the same thing. Gimp is a free program available for download. I find the photo(s) that best fit my concept, then crop them and splice them in many different ways until I find a good fit. For this portrait I have chosen to do a traditional vignette on 16 by 20 inch Raymar canvas panel. Once I found the photo and cropping I liked, I color corrected my subject using curves, hue and saturation, and color balance adjustments under the image menu. I played around with different color background arrangement that would fit into my concept and harmonize with the figure.


original photo cropped


3. Value study: This is the quick was of assessing and grouping your values so that they support the concept and composition. Applying correct values to your portrait will allow it to appear 3 dimensional. First you must separate the light from the darks. Remember that they must be of unequal balance for your composition to work—either is has more light values, or it has more dark values. Simply put, equal balance between the light and dark will make it boring. If you don’t use the computer, you can do this with rough thumbnail sketches. In Photoshop, I turn the image to grayscale by using the gradient map adjustment under the image menu, then the threshold adjustment under the image menu. The slider allows you to adjust the amount of light or dark that the image will have. I find the area that fits in with my concept, print it out, then undo (my favorite command!)

Then I again do an adjustment breaking down the grayscale to four values (posterize adjustment under the image menu); light, halftone, receding (from the light), shadow. Again, print and undo. Now each of those four values can then be split making a total of 8 values for your painting (same comands just write in 8 instead of 4). Any more than this becomes too confusing. Remember that even though they are split, the values still need to fit into the two light values and the two darker values. This particular painting will have more light than dark. Here is the study I decided to go with. You can do as many studies as you need until you find the right one, either on the computer or on paper. Personally, I am equally comfortable with both methods; and sometimes I combine them by printing out the four color study, matching the value in oil paint and painting right on top of the printout so that I can adjust the placement of the values to my liking! This is a great time to start exploring edge treatment and find areas of the painting where you will lose edges.


4. Landmark map: In a new layer I select a new path and use the pen tool to mark the center of my canvas (with a bid +sign). This will help me line up the map to the canvas. I use the pen tool making straight lines to mark the critical landmarks of the face. Depending on the pose, I will put in either very few, or quite a few landmarks. The absolute critical ones are the width and length of the head, the vertical axis, and the horizontal axis of where the eyes reside. You can see from the map below, I have added others. I will comment more on standard face proportions in my next post!

Last edited by tali : 11-28-2008 at 03:28 AM.
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Old 11-28-2008, 04:41 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

This is great! I was hoping you would post something like this!
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Old 11-28-2008, 05:25 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Great? It's brilliant! I dont have Photoshop but I do have GIMP which is an excellent free programme I totally agree. Thanks Tali, I am going to pull up a chair beside Bright Eyes.....
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Old 11-28-2008, 10:30 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I appreciate this. It is somewhat the procedure I use ( which goes to show that academics can take one only so far, the rest is a pinch of talent and a pound of practice!) I am going to increase my reliance on this! Thanks Tali!
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Old 11-28-2008, 04:15 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I think this post should go to the Portraiture Classroom. I am learning something here! Thanks Tali.
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Old 11-28-2008, 07:19 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I'm placing myself on the front row in your virtual classroom!
I will be watching for your next post...this is very interesting.
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Old 11-28-2008, 08:28 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Thanks you Bright eyes Greensyster, Corby, OziAfricanan and JR1 for joing me on this learning adventure. Please let me know if I'm not being clear, or have missed something you feel should be noted. I'm not sure if the portraiture forum is the best place for this as I do not have authoritative qualifications, only the desire to learn and document and share what I've learned. So just spread the word if you feel this is of any worth. I learn best by bouncing information and ideas back and forth with others, so this is a wonderful opportunity for me and I'm grateful for the company.

As I go along, please note that I am constantly alternating between right brained creative thinking and left brained analytical thinking. I am finding more and more that this is the balance of life. All forces have their opposites. This constant tension is imperative for growth. Also note, that many of these concepts and technique that I am applying will work for any type painting/ or visual art, and even more abstractly, to any art form. I’m finding my foundation is music theory is really coming in handy for this as well as my feeble attempts at helping my sons with their geometry. To me, painting is all about the light. Light is truth, and truth is absolute so it applies to everything. Learning to paint is a quest in understanding truth.

I am going to backtrack a little and discuss composition further. Composition is the arrangement of the shapes and values on your painting. I have been blessed with a natural feel of good composition, but were I not, there are still ways of creating an effective composition based on sound principles. It all goes back to the universal phi or golden mean or even harmony. I won’t bore you with all the gory details but will summarize it so you may use it. There are certain universal proportions that are visible in nature that mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists have identified. Putting them in their simplest terms they are halves, thirds, and quarters. You’ll note that is how I divide my values as well. Musical harmony is divided similarly, as are dance steps. Thirds also apply to pleasing and solidarity of the triangle that da Vinci was so fond of. In Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides, the author demonstrates approaches to understanding composition. I have tried out one, known as the “Armature of the Rectangle” to see if my composition fits within this grid that utilizes halves, thirds, and quarters.

Here are the results, I made the armature in a new layer using the rulers as guides and using my pen tool. This armature can be done on any rectangle or square. You start by drawing the main x diagonals making the half divisions. *Next draw the lines from the center point on top all the way down to the bottom corners , this gives you the thirds. Then put another x on the top half, this divide the top into quarters. Repeat the steps from the * for the other corners. Last, draw a rhombus or diamond all the way around connecting all the center points. These last lines give you the quarters all the way around. Then, I overlayed this armature on my chosen composition.
To aid you in seeing how close my composition is to following the geometric lines, I overlayed the armature over my landmark map.

See how closely the landmark diagonal follow the armature. Were I a perfectionist, I would tweak the composition by rotating and moving my lovely subject to align her facial vertical axis with the diagonal that it is so close to. But as it is, I found it close enough to confirm my chosen composition will be pleasing to the eyes and effective, and will precede in explaining facial proportions. That is, once my head stops throbbing--my glasses broke today and viewing all these diagonals through my old glasses is making my brain protest!
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Old 11-28-2008, 09:39 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I am so pleased to see this so ably put, and in such expansive fashion far beyond my own capability! These principles are to me, the bedrock, a major part of the foundation of what art is about! The neat thing about them being that you can learn and bring the whole weight of their majesty to bear on your work...or you can apply the very basics and still get a benefit. ( I like to think that the latter is the case with me!)
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Old 11-28-2008, 10:45 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

WOW this is fascinating - always interesting to see how other people work.
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Old 11-29-2008, 04:20 PM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Hi! I heard this was an interesting thread....and it is! This is definitely one to keep tabs on!

Thanks!
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Old 11-30-2008, 04:06 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

I only had a little time today so I decided to start sketching instead of yabbering (I'm sure you are all relieved). Thanks for the comments and for looking, I hope you will enjoy learning with me. So, in short, I printed out my landmark map, full size (I had to tile it) and transferred it onto my canvas board that was primed with light grayed down green and violet. I chose these colors since this will have unfinished edges and I didn't think the freezing cold white showing through would work too well. Better the warmer, but still cool neutrals (well, as neutral as I get at any rate). After transferring, I used a ball point pen to draw over the landmarks so when I sketch and erase (more erasing that sketching), I won’t lose the map. I printed out the ref in full size (this is important) but just on ordinary paper, as I like to get the colors from my computer screen, not a print-out. I still had to measure occasionally to make sure everything was in place, either using my pencil on the photo or I could have used the rulers on the screen as well. I will finish this sketch in the next few days, as tomorrow is the Sabbath, and the Good Folk Upstairs have been patiently waiting for my attentions. (I play the piano as well as teach a genealogy class at my church, so you can see there is not much on my plate )

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Old 11-30-2008, 04:19 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Tali, I'm sitting in your class too! Your descrition is so good and helpful, thank you for your work!
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Old 11-30-2008, 04:31 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Oh thanks Alfred! But I think you could do the teaching I know we have a little language barrier so let me know if I am not making sense. I’m afraid if I tried it in Austrian, I wouldn’t make ANY sense!
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Old 12-01-2008, 01:02 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Tali this is looking really good! Again I must thank you for doing this thread! I'm pulling all your maps and pictures on here into my photoshop. After your done with the thread I want to pull them all together and make a print out of a poster or something at a print shop to use for reference on my studio wall. Come to think about it, you could really sell something like that! There is just too much good info on here! And the portrait coming out so nicely helps too
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Old 12-01-2008, 02:39 AM
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Re: Portrait from a digital photo without tracing

Thank you Tali!!! now to put it into practise..................after I digest it..........eventually!!
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Last edited by Lulu : 12-01-2008 at 02:48 AM.
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