Wednesday, January 24, 2018


"Lauren" (pastel on YiCai medium gray Premium pastel paper, 12x9 inches) sold

This is the pastel portrait commission that's been taking up most of my January. I accepted the commission last summer, got started on it last fall, and had set it aside during my busy Christmas Season of many lower-priced pencil portraits. After all, the client had spoken those dangerous words: "No rush!"

But since I've got three excellent art festivals this spring, and with the Rodeo in February, have only about 4 weeks of uninterrupted studio time to create new inventory by the middle of March, I had to check this job off my list first!

The client (Lauren's mother) provided the photo. I really loved the challenge of the soft ambient light on Lauren's face combined with the direct sunlight shining from behind.

I had these two photos to work from, the second was for more accurate light and tone. So my first step was adjusting the primary reference photo:

 Then I set to work!
 The paper is the new (to the US) YiCai Premium sanded pastel paper from China, in medium gray.
 Early on in my progress I was inspired by a portrait by Anatoly Dverin, which was one of Gail Sibley's pastel picks for December. Sweet! I was struck by the similarity of pose and mood!
"Maria" by Anatoly Dverin

  I try to get in all the base values and colors quickly. This leads me into what I call the "messy" phase, which I usually have to push on through in one day or I get easily discouraged. If I pause when it's messy, it takes a herd of elephants to get me back to it!

 Once I have everything looking like it's about in the right place and the tones are coming along well, then it becomes a continuous tweaking of the smaller details, more subtle adjusting and layering of values and colors...
 ...The work slows down and becomes more careful. From this photo above to the last below, I actually had as much or more time invested as I did up to that point.

 The final tweaks include smoothing the skin tones with pastel pencils and some Girault pastels, and minute adjustments to the features and fingers to increase accuracy of the likeness. These last steps are ones I don't always take with my own competition figurative paintings because with those I don't feel compelled to attain that degree of likeness (except in some that I've done of my daughter, lol!) But curiously, these are the moments that I'm most able to get "in the zone" with a commission, and the very pressures of attaining that perfect likeness are forgotten in the act of refining the details to more closely match the photo. I make sure I step back frequently during this phase, so I can determine when it's "done"!
(When is that, you might ask? Basically, it's done when I can compare it with the photo, looking back and forth, back and forth, and nothing strikes me as being "off", whether that's a shape, an angle, a value or tone somewhere. The face is the main focus, and as the distance from the face increases, I allow more leniency and looseness in the details.)

Visit my website to see more portraits and commission pricing info!

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