Gurney Journey | category: Portraits | (page 2 of 34)


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Unfinished Portrait of Roosevelt

Elizabeth Shoumatoff started working on her watercolor portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at about noon on April 12, 1945. 

During lunch, the President complained that he had "a terrific pain in the back of my head" and he slumped forward unconscious. FDR died later that day of a stroke. The painting was never finished.

Hank Green includes this story in a thoughtful video about what unfinished paintings can show us about their creators and subjects.

Portraits of Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone's portrait was painted, sculpted, and photographed many times, given that he was one of the most influential figures in British politics of the 19th century.

Portraits of Gladstone

According Royal Academy chronicle: "[John Everett] Millais’s portrait showed the seventy-year-old statesman standing, in a three-quarter view. It was a sombre portrait, in colour and tone: black clothing, dark skin tones, and a dark umber background. Gladstone’s famous turned-up collar, a feature endlessly exploited in his caricatures, provided the only lightly coloured note in the picture. Millais captured the intensity of expression and fierce eyes of Gladstone, but he succeeded also to convey modesty and gravity, even kindness, through his clasped hands and averted gaze."

Portraits of Gladstone

"Nine years later, [Frank] Holl attempted to equal and surpass Millais, taking inspiration from the latter in the standing, three-quarter pose of Gladstone and his sombre dress...Holl, again, like Millais, focused on Gladstone’s head, leaving the right side in dramatic shadows and rendering his eyes in a deep black, almost glossy charcoal colour, which evoked the statesman’s oft-cited demoniac expression. Holl’s Gladstone was a visibly older man, but a more energetic character than Millais’s: his incipient movement captured by his hands clasping a vivid red book. If in Millais’s portrait Gladstone seemed to be intent in listening, Holl’s picture appeared to have captured him in the instant just before speaking."

Portraits of Gladstone

Commentators at the time said Gladstone was difficult to capture in a painting because his expressions were varied and dynamic, and his legacy meant many things to many people. 

How to Draw Portraits

How to Draw PortraitsIn his slim book from 1944 called How to Draw Portraits, Charles Wood offers practical tips on how to draw accurately.

But he doesn't neglect the importance of seeing beyond the surface. He says: "A student sometimes goes for years drawing photographically, copying, faithfully perhaps, but only superficially, and producing drawings which might have been done by any one of a dozen such people. No character, no life."

He describes how he became fascinated by portraits and lighting when he visited a train station as a boy, and saw the firemen working in a locomotive, lit by the warm glow of the coal fire. He tried to simulate the effect back home, using his father as a model.

How to Draw Portraits
Portrait sketch by Charles Wood using 3B or 4B pencils
By trial and error he figured out how to light the head, and how to render light and shadow. Gradually he built up the nerve to sketch in public. 

"Fortunately most people like being sketched," he says. "Even in trains and cafés, few people object, but if you cannot bring yourself to sketch in trains, etc., you can make mental notes, and train your mind to observe such things as colour effects or dramatic lighting effects."

How to Draw Portraits

He recommends drawing members of your family and friends, and he explains how to get them to pose in natural groupings.

How to Draw Portraits

How to Draw PortraitsWood offers closeup details of eyes, noses, mouths, and hands. He says hands denote a person's character almost as much as the face: "Study your sitter's hands, give them something to do so that they do not look as though they have been left lying there in the lap."

This book is one of a series that The Studio produced in the 1940s, including:

How to Draw Portraits by Charles Wood
How to Draw 'Planes by Frank Wootton
Tanks and How to Draw Them by Cuneo

How to Draw Portraits

Portrait of the Year Competition

(Link to YouTube) TV producer Sky Arts has taken a reality-TV-show approach to a portrait competition, pitting 21 painters against each other in an elimination round. The finalists were drawn from nearly 2000 applicants from all over the U.K., based on a preliminary stage where entrants sent in a self-portrait.

The judges, who are artists, art historians, museum curators, and gallery dealers, verbalize their reactions to the paintings as they progress.

The structure of the video is almost identical to the Great British Bake Off, with brief backstory excursions, commentary from the models, tense music, a ticking clock, and a moment where the finalists face the judges with their four-hour paintings.

Such artificial constraints may seem anathema to making a good painting, but it makes good TV entertainment. It's an expensive and ambitious undertaking to produce a show like this, and it would be great if they expanded the competition to entrants from beyond the U.K.

They also have a Landscape Artist of the Year competition (link to YouTube).
Website for: Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 
Previously: Portrait Society Competition
Portrait Society Conference

Sitting for a Sargent Charcoal Portrait

In his book "John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece", Martin Birnbaum describes his lively conversation with Sargent while the artist drew a charcoal portrait of him. To start out, they compared notes about Adolph Menzel, William Blake, and Winslow Homer. And they joked around. Sargent said how he didn't like "ba-NA-nas."

Sitting for a Sargent Charcoal Portrait
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Portrait of Ernest Schelling 
1910, Charcoal on paper. 24 3/8 x 18 3/4 inches (620 x 475 mm)
They chattered on and on, but Sargent was already at work. Birnbaum continues: "While talking, Sargent had been drawing rapidly, examining my features closely, at a distance of only three or four feet. Watching him at work, I was reminded of Paul Manship's little daughter Pauline, who on seeing Sargent make a pencil drawing of the sculptor, ran to Mrs. Manship and exclaimed, 'Mamma, Mr. Sargent is making a picture of father just like you would write a letter.' That exactly described his fluency and authority.

"Suddenly he stopped talking and showed me the charcoal drawing. He did not seem satisfied with it, — 'not very flattering, — a trifle unnatural, and rather Mephistophelian,' he commented. I, on the contrary, thought it was unduly youthful and complimentary and it showed that I had tried, without success, to look serious on this unique occasion. The scrutiny of the artist at such close range was more than I could stand, and I think he enjoyed catching my vain endeavor to be solemn.

Sitting for a Sargent Charcoal Portrait
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Quincy Adams Shaw, Jr.
"He liked always a friend or two to be in to break the spell of a settled gloom in my countenance by their Sargent likes animated, sympathetic, beautiful, talkative friends to do, in order to correct by their presence too lugubrious expressions."
Previously: What it was like to sit for Sargent
John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

Joseph Ducreux (1735 –1802) was a French painter best known for his unusual self-portraits.

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

He was interested in the study of physiognomy, and wanted to explore expressions that went  beyond the standard ones used in portraiture. 

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

Some also involve gestures, such as Le Discret (ca. 1790), which shows himself asking for silence.

He studied with Maurice Quentin de La Tour, who was known for his expressive pastel portraits. When Ducreux focused more on oil, his technique was influenced by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits
Portrait de l'artiste sous les traits d'un moqueur, 1793
(Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of Mocking)
When the French Revolution broke out, circumstances were more dangerous for Ducreux. He drew the last portrait of Louis XVI before the king's execution. Ducreux was forced to travel to London.

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

His self portrait with the mocking expression has inspired a huge number of memes.

We're not used to seeing old paintings or photos of people with facial expressions. See the Previous Posts below for some exceptions to that rule.
Previous Posts: 

Wikipedia: Joseph Ducreux

Thérèse Schwartze paints a portrait

A Dutch portrait painter named Thérèse Schwartze (1851-1918) was invited to paint the daughter of the mayor of a coastal town.

Thérèse Schwartze paints a portrait

She packed up her portable easel and paints and set up in a temporary studio in the mayor's attic. Fortunately someone took photos of her at work.

The girl sits in a chair facing a high window, supervised by a nursery maid. The artist's back is to the window.

Thérèse Schwartze paints a portrait
Thérèse Schwartze, Portrait of Geradine
Marguerite van Hardenbroek,
Here's the portrait that resulted from the sessions. 

Sargent Painting Mrs. Fiske Warren

Photo of John Singer Sargent painting Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and her daughter Rachel at the Fenway Court in Boston (now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), where Sargent had set up a temporary studio.

Sargent Painting Mrs. Fiske Warren
Sargent painting Mrs. Fiske Warren, 1903

Sargent Painting Mrs. Fiske Warren The painted figures are approximately life size. The large canvas held vertically with the subjects' head in the painting close to Sargent's line of sight. 
"Sargent arranged Mrs. Warren and her daughter in grand Renaissance armchairs, and used an elaborate gilt candelabra and a fifteenth-century polychrome Madonna and Child as a backdrop. This sculpture inspired the unusual pose of mother and daughter: Rachel rests her head on her mother’s shoulder in imitation of the tender gesture of the Virgin and Child." Read more on the Museum of Fine Arts website.

Casey Childs Interview

Utah-based portrait painter Casey Childs has released his first video tutorial called "Painting the Direct Portrait." 

Casey Childs Interview

The video is a little over three hours long, and it covers the process of painting a head study of a young female model. 

The audio consists of the artist describing what he's doing and what he's thinking to a small studio audience, who occasionally ask questions.

Casey Childs Interview

He starts right out talking about materials, color choices, and how he lays out his palette. His first step is to tone the canvas with a light grayish brown color, and then block in the simple impression of the light and shadow pattern. He then builds the form by modulating the values and detailing the individual features. 

Casey Childs Interview

At a few points throughout the process, he clarifies his points with special graphics, such as as the high contrast image at left. 

For most of the video, you see a split screen, with the model on the left and the developing painting on the right. Whenever he pauses to mix a color, the edit cuts to a down-facing camera showing what's happening on the palette.

After watching the video, I asked him a few questions:

Gurney: Why did you choose that model, that pose, and that lighting? 
Childs: The model is the daughter of our good friend and neighbor. I chose her for her fair skin and red hair and thought it would be a great combination for a portrait. When setting up the pose, I'm simply looking for an interesting design—how the abstraction of light and dark shapes together make a compelling image. Part of the reason of this particular pose was that I knew I wouldn't be able to work as fast while explaining my process, so I made it easier on myself to not have to paint the other eye! Ha!

Would you have used a similar approach with a different model under different circumstances?
The approach would be the same for any other circumstance because this is how I'm always thinking about painting, although color choices and finish may differ depending on the finish and mood I'm trying to create.

Casey Childs Interview

Many other portrait painting teachers (such as Nathan Fowkes, Scott Waddell, Cesar Santos, and Jeff Watts) emphasize the importance of doing a careful structural line drawing before embarking in paint. In your approach, you start right out mapping tonal shapes and considering the edges between them, without defining the form or the structure. 
We all know that correct drawing is the most important aspect of any work, so I love how the structural method focuses on that first and foremost to make sure the drawing is sound before anything else is considered. But I feel like my art heroes—Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn, to name a few— considered all aspects (drawing, value, color, edges) that make up a great painting at once. 

What do you have to say about the structural foundation method? Why do you recommend your method? What are the advantages and limitations of it?
I'm constantly thinking about structure and form while painting, but trying to be more efficient in the application. I believe this method helps maintain an energetic freshness as well as being easier to create atmosphere. The danger is, that if not careful, the drawing can lose structure and forms can become too generic.

Casey Childs Interview
Casey Childs self portrait
How would you chart your confidence level throughout the process of doing this demo? Are there points in the course of the portrait where your confidence is shaky, or are you sure of yourself throughout? (My confidence level hits a low after the lay-in, and I find it takes a lot of faith to get me through, especially when I'm in front of an audience). 
If I'm not freaking out at least once during the process, the painting probably isn't any good. I think you need to take some risks to keep the application fresh and interesting. I've gained confidence in my process to the point where I have a pretty good idea what my painting will ultimately become with enough time. But I think doubts come when you stop trusting the process. 

How does filming and narrating your approach affect your confidence? What do you tell students who are blocked by fears or doubts? Is overconfidence a hazard?
There was definitely moments during this demonstration where I wasn't sure if I could bring it together into something resembling a human, but I got there by trusting the process.

Casey Childs Interview

Since this is your first major tutorial video download, what made you decide to shoot and edit the video in this way? What advice would you give to other artists who want to produce a tutorial download?
Well, you can't teach what you don't know, and I really feel like I've gained an understanding of foundational skills and a knowledge of seeing in this way (mass vs. line) to be able to explain it. I also feel like watching someone paint can be quite boring, so I knew I didn't want to produce a long video. I've put together a video that I think is informative with many key concepts demonstrated in three short hours that explain the basis of my approach. I felt it important to see the model in split screen to really show how I'm simplifying the complexity of the information I see on the model.

Casey Childs Interview

What are you trying to accomplish with your portraits? Are you trying to capture a specific likeness of your individual model, or are you going for more of a type or a character? Do you make any conscious changes or enhancements to express your personal impression of the model, or do you try to paint exactly what you see?
The basis of my approach to painting is capturing what I see. And I feel that is very beneficial in portraiture. It's not like I'm always going after a likeness, but it usually appears as a result of a careful search of the relationship of simple shapes and forms that are the characteristic and impression of the individual I'm painting. The question I'm often asked is how do I get a likeness, there's no secret or formula, it's just more accurate seeing and drawing.

Casey Childs Interview

For your studio compositions or portraits, do you use photographs for reference?  
Yes, I use photos. I think photos can be a great resource and tool for the artist, many of the great artists use(d) them. 

How do you feel about using photos?
With a solid knowledge of drawing and form, an artist can use photos with great results. Photos are not as useful when the artist is not using them as a reference and merely copying. 

Do you ever project or trace them? 
I don't have a problem with projecting or tracing. It's way to speed up the process, but its damaging if used to skip the training of learning how to see.

How does your thought process change when you use them?
We all know that photos can't replicate the values and color range our eye can see, so when using them I have to be aware of those differences. And along with that, I try not to copy exactly what I see in the photograph but instead use them as a reference to what I've observed from life. 
"Painting the Direct Portrait" is 192 minutes long. The digital download is $34.95. A combined package with DVD + digital is $69.99.
Inspiring Story of Young Nigerian Artist Unfinished Portrait of RooseveltPortraits of GladstoneHow to Draw PortraitsPortrait of the Year CompetitionSitting for a Sargent Charcoal PortraitJoseph Ducreux's self portraitsThérèse Schwartze paints a portraitSargent Painting Mrs. Fiske Warren Casey Childs Interview

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