A few years back a friend and former co-worker paid me to create a portrait of his kids, Matthew and Maggie, as a gift for his wife. Apparently they were both pleased with the results as it has become a yearly tradition. This blog will discuss the portrait that I did in 2018.
This is the reference photo I was given to work with. The photo presented me with several problems. First off they aren’t sitting very close to each other, and their heads aren’t close to being on the same level. The worst of the problems is the horrendous lighting. They are backlit, which I can handle, but there also reflected light coming from below. This is creating shadows along the tops of the cheeks that I don’t care for. Plus Matthew has patches of bright light on his face, so that is messing up the shadows.
The first problem I needed to fix was the composition. I played around with placing the kids closer together, but I couldn’t make it look right. The easiest solution was to treat them as two separate portraits with each child in their own oval. I printed ovals of different sized to see what would fit nicely on the board I was going to use. In addition to the determining the oval size, I had to figure out what was the best placement of the ovals. As During my testing out oval sizes and placements I stumbled onto this slightly overlapping ovals, and I liked how it looked.
With the composition problem solved, I cropped the photo so only one child remained. Then I enlarged the photo so it fit nicely within the oval. Afterwards I repeated the same steps with the other child. Afterwards it was a simple matter of printing the images, tracing the images onto the board, and burned in the trace lines. As you can see I left the overlapped area unburned as I was undecided at this point if I wanted it there.
With the trace lines done I started to work on Matthew as he presented more challenges. For example he had bright patches of sunlight on his face and a touch of a rash in a couple of spots. In this photo I’m burning in some of the shadows around the nose and eyes.
I breakdown the portrait into small areas as I work on it. For example in this photo I’m working on the mouth, but I broke it down into smaller sections like the tongue. Before I started burning it in, I examined the reference photo and asked myself questions. How dark is it? Is it uniform in color? Where is the lightest spot? Where is the darkest spot? Once I have determined these things, then I start burning making sure to replicate my observations.
As I burn in more areas I compare them against each other to keep the tonal values correct. For example I observed that the eyes are darker than the eyelids, the shadows in the mouth are darker than the eyes, and the lips are darker than the tongue.
When I start burning in a new area I examine the reference photo and determine its tonal value in relationship to the other areas I’ve already burned in. It is doubtful that I’m replicating the tonal relationship 100% accurately, but if it is close that will be good enough for me.
As you can see I’m reburning the lips to darken them up. I had to be careful as there is a seam line running through the lips. Seam lines are line grain lines in that they darken much faster than the surrounding wood.
I did use a sharp blade to restore some highlights on the hair. I try to burn around the highlights, but often there are spots where I didn’t do a good job. The blade was able to scrape away the overburns and restore the highlight.
The oval border around each child was created by burning really short pull-away strokes along both edges of the border. This gave the border a rounded appearance, and since I burned the strokes rather darkly this helped fame the kids nicely.
When doing portraits I like to take breaks from the face, so I don’t get burnt out. I’m not sure that’s the right or best word to describe what I’m trying to say, so let me explain. I think if you stare at something for too long, you get too familiar with it and don’t look as analytically at it. Creating realistic art requires constant analytical observations, and taking breaks allows me to look at things with fresh eyes.
Here’s how the artwork looks at this point, and I wasn’t happy with it. The oval frame just looked like dark lines that circled around the kids and they were a touch more noticeable than the kids were.
The background is nothing more than an assortment of horizontal lines burned in a variety of lengths, widths, and color. This gave the background some texture and it was easy to darken it up by adding more lines.
While the portrait turned out decently, I will have to admit that I had to erase the facial features a couple of times before I got them right. Portraits are not the easiest thing to do, and at the time of this artworks creation I had only done a couple of portraits. Considering the challenges the reference photo presented, I’m rather impressed it turned out as well as it did.I burned the portrait on a piece of basswood that measured 11 x 13 1/2 inches (27.9 x 34.3 cm). It took me 17 hours to create the art.
Until the next blog,
Feb 22, 2020
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