The Narrative of Paint: Portrait Painting

Painting is like telling a story; capturing a quality of truth in this fictionalized account of reality is the trick. Vicki had bought an El painting of mine several years ago and approached me recently to paint her portrait. It’s been a long time since I have been able to find time to paint and I was not sure if I was “ready”. The only way to know, of course, is to just do it. Above is the second version of Vicki’s portrait.

Portrait of V. SchneiderIn the initial portrait, I had Vicki sit in the chair closer to the window. Of course,  the outdoor scene was beyond the canvas as were the couple of  bright, plastic french figurines on the sill. I painted for a few hours at Vicki’s and then decided to call it a day. I took some photos and continued to work on it in my home studio.

The foot and the Christmas lights are my favorite areas here, places where I was painting without thinking so hard about painting. Faces can always be difficult. We tend to pay too much attention to the details in an effort to get the recognizable person “right” and lose the impression of the whole face.

Portrait of V. Schneider
Portrait of V. Schneider, 30×30", 2009

There were many interesting objects scattered around the room that added to the story in the portrait; books, plants, knick-knacks from travels and a richly patterned carpet on the wood floor. Looking around the room, I knew that the dictionary was important and I definitely wanted to get the still life in the little table. During the second session I had thought about the room and its contents more so was able to tackle a more complete (and in my opinion interesting) composition.

I am not sure how effective painting on location is in this instance. It’s difficult to commit the actual hours needed to complete a live painting and digital cameras might be said to eliminate the need. But, spending time looking and thinking about what I was looking at was valuable. I had time to consider the composition and realize what elements were going to be the most supportive in the portrait.

Vicki has just written in her blog about the experience of being painted and exploring the work afterwards:

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