Study Oil Painting - Seth Haverkamp's class, a review by Tricia Ratliff

This fall, I participated in Seth Haverkamp's figure drawing group on Wednesday nights and got a *lot* out of it. I was amazed by how much we accomplished rendering the figure in large shapes using only cadmium orange, raw umber and white on grey canvas. See the images below - examples of 10 minute and 15 minute to 2 hour paintings.

So, I highly recommend trying out his new classes this coming January. Sign up to study with Seth while his classes are still small and you can get plenty of individual attention.

Details of Seth Haverkamp's January classes:

Painting the Figure, Starting Big - at Arlington Arts Alliance
Location: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Arlington Va. Monday nights 6:30-9:30 beginning January 10th. To register, Call 703.894.0539 or 703.533.0957 or email academy@arl ingtonartistsall iance.org. Class #SH11151  - $230 for 8 weeks

Color: The Figure and Beyond - at Adam Lister Gallery 
(click on link http://www.adamlistergallery.com/adult-art-courses.html ) Wednesday nights 6:30-9:30 beginning January 19th - March 9th. $230 at Adam Lister Gallery in Fairfax City. To register, Call 703.894.0539 or 703.533.0957 or email academy@arl ingtonartistsall iance.org. Class #SH11151  - $230 for 8 weeks

Seth will also begin offering studio classes in February!

portrait by Tricia Ratliff (www.TriciaRatliff.com)
15 minute gesture
by Tricia Ratliff

Students will learn how to simplify the drawing process into the essentials of dark and light shapes, emphasizing drawing the shapes of the human body using paint. Rather than painting the minutiae of bones and muscles, students will learn to see the body in large shapes of dark and light. Using a limited palette, students will paint the body according to its general shapes of light and shadow. Those shapes will be broken down into still smaller shapes, until the figure is painted, having never focused on anatomy, but rather the lights and darks ascribed by the body. This class is a prerequisite to the follow-up course, featuring painting shapes in color.

Instructor: Seth Haverkamp
Email: seth.haverkamp@gmail.com

Portrait sketch of Seth Haverkamp
by Tricia Ratliff

One evening, while waiting for our model, Seth (being a good sport) agreed to sit for us for 30-45 minutes. This is the oil sketch I made of Seth using his 3 color blocking approach.  It's fun, easy and the results are satisfying in a short period of time. Thanks Seth!


Painting with Seth Haverkamp

I recently learned that Seth Hanverkamp has opened a new class at Adam Lister gallery in Fairfax Virginia.  Seth is a great painter and in an effort to support him, some friends and I signed up to paint with him on Wednesday nights 6:00-9:00pm. His influences include Nelson Shanks, Steve Early and Rob Liberace - which you'll see in his work and class photos below.

I highly encourage artists to take advantage of this opportunity to study with seth, practice your fast gestures, loosen up, learn Seth's unique approach (which at first blush seems like the approach taught at Incamminati but is actually quite different) and have fun painting in a huge, well ventilated space.

Please say "Hi from Tricia" when you get there.

Seth painting a short demo

Seth's Demo
The 5-10 minute Oil Sketch


Get Ready for the Artist's Trading Card Swap at Art Jam

If you're registered for Art Jam - *Congratulations!* 
If not, click on the link above. 

With Art Jam only 4 weeks away, now is a good time to start getting ready. Art Jam is most fun if you bring your portfolio or latest work (poetry, paintings, drawings, film, music to share on your ipod, photos, notebook, visual journal etc.) or work in progress. Feel free to bring your laptop! If you're not an artist, bring your business card, flyers and information about anything you enjoy related to the arts. We all love to hear about the latest workshop, class, residency, gig, event, technology, product etc. that you found interesting so bring plenty of information. 

In addition to sharing inspiration, business advice, discoveries, flyers about interesting events etc. participants also buy, sell and swap artwork with each other. It's just great fun! 

This year at Art Jam, Plaza Art Materials is hosting the first Artist Trading Card event in DC!! 
Join the Movement! CREATE - SWAP - COLLECT. Anyone can participate in this light hearted "swap" of artwork. Simply create some artwork on 2.5"x3.5" cards, paper or canvas. (Strathmore cards cut to the correct size are available at Plaza Art Materials - see more at this link http://www.strathmoreartist.com/cards-atc.html )  Then, trade your artwork/cards with others and start collecting mini pieces artwork (which might be a painting, a sketch, a drawing, a collage, a stamp project etc.) of artists you appreciate. It's fun. The idea is to see how many you can find that you like and swap. You can even trade up using cards you've collected from other artists!

Pinup girl artist trading cards by Tricia Ratliff

"Pay it Forward" Networking Party:
When you arrive at the Jam, you'll find rolls of masking tape and markers. Write something you need or something you offer on your tape. For example "I offer to model for artists" or "I want to learn how to do encaustic" or "I need someone to read my latest poem" or "I'm looking for a good figure model with dark hair". Then, have a friend tape this to your back. Walk around, talk behind each other's backs and make introductions between people who might be able to help each other. 


Fine Art Photography Competition & Exhibit March 2011

Hello All,

My friend Ed Hahn forwarded this to me. It's a *new* competition for photographers.

Call for Entry:  ArtSpace Herndon 2011 Fine Art Photography Competition
Entry deadline:  5 February 2011, 5pm

ArtSpace Herndon invites photographers from DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia to participate in the 2011 ArtSpace Herndon Fine Art Photography Competition. 

The competition is open to fine art photographers aged 18 or older working in any medium (digital or analog, color or monochrome), and using any printing technique - we care about well-done art more than the specific medium, technique or format. Fine Art Photography of any subject is welcome; there is no required theme for entries.

The juror for the 2011 Fine Art Photography Competition is Erin Antognoli. 

Finalists for the Competition will make up the March 2011 Exhibition at ArtSpace Herndon.  Finalists will be notified on 12 February 2011 via email.

1st Place:  $300
2nd Place: $200
3rd Place:  $100

For more information or to enter the competition, follow this link:

ArtSpace Herndon is a community art gallery created and supported by art lovers in the greater Herndon area.  ArtSpace Herndon is a gathering place to celebrate the arts, showcasing artwork and events by local, regionally, and nationally known artists and performers.  ArtSpace Herndon features a 1,700 sq foot art gallery and two classrooms for all types of art classes and small group sessions with artists.  It’s a showcase for private receptions, business gatherings and opportunities for visitors and residents to experience and participate in the arts.  The gallery features works and events for artists and performers and is located in the heart of Historic Downtown Herndon, Virginia.



New Portrait Drawing

This week, I've been working on finishing portrait drawings for clients who need them before Christmas. Here is the wedding portrait of a newly married couple. This one is obviously from a photo taken at the ceremony.

Working from photos creates some unique challenges. For example, the only directional light in this beautiful, professional photo is on the side. If I had used charcoal or graphite, their faces would be mostly dark and in shadow. So, this image lent itself better to terra cotta and white on hand toned paper ot keep a warm look in the shadows. I exaggerated the reflected lights - and the image looks a lot softer and clearer in person than it will in the photos I take of it.


Baby Shoes and Blocks (Painting)

Due to the recent facebook exchange about this painting of my husband's baby shoes and blocks, I thought I'd post it here on my blog ... it will show up on facebook shortly.

For those who asked where you can see these, here are links to the galleries where my artwork is physically hanging:

Applegate gallery in Vienna VA http://www.applegateframing.com/FeaturedArtists.htm

Broadway Gallery in Alexandria VA

Public Domain Images

There are a number of on-going conversations, educational efforts and even debates in the art world about hot topics such as freedom of speech/expression, what is art, how do you define a portrait, copyright, royalties (or giving proper credit), appropriate content for different audiences, the acceptability  of working from photos, what makes something a hand made original (much debated among digital artists and graphic media artists) and many more!

Recently, while speaking to a friend who is a curator, we ended up talking about a number of these topics simultaneously because they impacted an exhibit at her venue.

During our discussion, she brought up the fact that many high school students are encouraged to go out and find inspiring photos to use for their practice work. She pointed out that some of these young people are going on to college and entering their work into public shows and competitions without any support finding public domain images. While I always encourage students to work from life, I can certainly understand the challenges young people face. Particularly when they don't have the luxury of a studio or sometimes even a quiet space to work in their homes.

The curator asked if I could do a post to help these students and any other interested artists find appropriate public domain images.

I hope the following link is useful to those of you who are teachers as well as students looking for resources.


And of course, just for fun, I'm including this lovely public domain image for your enjoyment.


Alexandria VA: Tricia Ratliff's artwork at Broadway Gallery

I'm so pleased to share that as of last weekend, my artwork hanging at Broadway Gallery in Alexandria Virginia is also on their website. Please take a peek at the oil paintings and call the gallery if you are interested in anything you see there.


If you have the opportunity to visit in person, say hello for me!

MAP link:
5641 General Washington Dr


Most Recent Drawings

Here are some of my recent drawings (the first is still in progress). These will be included in the exhibit of new works this coming Saturday December 4th.


Drawing and Oil Painting Lessons in Northern Virginia

Indoor and Outdoor Oil Painting with Tricia Ratliff
Year 2012-2013

Weekly Still Life Painting Lessons
Call 703.593.6444

Lessons are taught in a private studio environment in Reston/Herndon area.

Bring light and life into your paintings. Learn both classical and contemporary realist techniques in a small group that ensures every student gets plenty of personal attention. Classes meet every week and we currently have one opening on Monday mornings and an upcoming opening in January on Tuesday mornings. New students begin with a series of private lessons and graduate into a group of advanced painters. Students in good standing receive free studio time to paint, draw and work on personal projects in a professional studio environment with other artists. (private lessons are $50/hour) 

Workshop: Painting the Portrait in Oil


Drawing Ellipses (How to draw)

Drawing Ellipses:

When I teach drawing, one of the first 5 topics includes: how to draw anything in perspective and tips to help capture the difference between mechanical looking (man made) objects versus organic objects. Understanding ellipses in perspective is useful when capturing man made objects such as a thrown vessel, bottles, pipes etc.

I just happened across this very useful post about drawing ellipses. Click below to see a clear and simple description of how to render ellipses in perspective.


This is a nice review of what we've covered in class.


Some Options for Studio Space in Northern Virginia

For those looking for studio space in Northern Virginia (the DC area), here are a few options available.

http://www.adamlistergallery.com/ (FAIRFAX: Has extra studio spaces in huge, open area in the back) 
http://www.soundry.net/ (VIENNA: Offers gym style studio membership) 
http://www.loudounacademy.org/ (LEESBURG: Artists can jury in to rented studio space) 
http://www.greatfallsfoundationforarts.org/ (GREAT FALLS: Co-op style studio and gallery) 
http://www.workhousearts.org/ (LORTON: Huge art complex) 
http://www.artspaceherndon.com/ (HERNDON: Offers "open studio" for $7 per visit when class is not in session)
http://www.avenuebeausejour.com/ (Drop-in studio and luxury "gym style" studio memberships) 

If I've missed any, add a comment.

Photo of my son at 3 years old
working in his studio space. 


Today's Drawings

I'm preparing for a set of painting projects in 2011 which require a lot of drawing in advance. Here are today's sketches. I'll be making copies of these sketches for my own use ... so, the originals will be available at the upcoming exhibit on December 4th & 5th (see blow post below).

We're also planning to offer a 1 day drawing intensive workshop in February. Although I'm waiting on confirmation from the venue, students have started holding their spots. If you are interested in registering, visit my website: http://www.TriciaRatliff.com and give me a call or drop me an e-mail.


See Tricia Ratliff's paintings in person!

This fall, as we approach the holidays, my paintings will be exhibited in a few locations right here in Northern Virginia. Every venue is showing a unique set of my paintings - and everyone has something new! So, if you visit them all, you'll see over 30 different works in different sizes

Avenue Beau Sejour Gallery 
Grand Opening Celebration 
NOVEMBER 20th 10am-5pm
10135 Colvin Run Road, Suite 100 Great Falls virginia 22066 (map link)
703.716.4299 / 703.268.5355
In addition to seeing 11x14 deeply pigmented still life and landscape paintings, you'll also see one of my newest "Sepia" colored landscapes - revealed for the first time in this location! 

Studio Exhibit with Trisha Adams, Vicki Blum and Tricia Cherrington Ratliff
DECEMBER 4th & 5th 10am-5pm
Location: Herndon, Virginia 
To receive an invitation, call 703.593.6444
This studio exhibit is a fun mix of my oil paintings and drawings. Come enjoy them in this private and cozy setting as we celebrate the season together. As a holiday"thank you", anyone who purchases one of my paintings during this show will be entered to win a $100 gift certificate toward a portrait drawing of your choice! Yes, if you buy a painting, you might also go home with a valuable gift you can use for your holiday cards or give to someone you love.  

Applegate Gallery - "Mini Works" Exhibit
101 Church St. Suite C (second floor) NW, Vienna, VA 22180
Featuring small works (under 11x11 inches) by some of the curator's favorite artists. Every piece of custom framed artwork is $150 or less. Visit Applegate this winter and you'll see my rarely exhibited 5x5, 5x7 and 6x6 florals, figured and still life paintings. Applegate also exclusively carries my watercolor paintings. 

Broadway Gallery, Alexandria Virginia 
5641 B General Washington Drive, Alexandria, VA 22312 (map link)
Store hours Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm (closed Sundays)
DECEMBER: I've just recently been accepted to this gallery so my work will be available here beginning in December 2010. Lisa Tureson's paintings will be featured in a reception on Dec 4th at 5:30 but my work will also be hanging in the gallery along with the work of some very talented artists. So, I encourage you to stop by and say "Hi" to the owners. 


Great on-line demo

I'm posting this link for my students. It goes to a wonderful demo by Jeff Hayes. Jeff's step by step photos beautifully illustrate the process of using just a closed grisaille to first establish your values and separate the issue of color. There are *many* ways to accomplish your goals of painting a given subject but I've seen that this one, while relaxing (becuase it leverages your drawing skills) and fun can be hard to describe in words.


Have a great week and I look forward to seeing you and hearing your responses in our next class or an upcoming workshop.


Latest Portrait Drawing - 3 color

I've just finished two new portrait drawings - here is one below. I find this technique (which is influenced by my studies with Robert Liberace)  very relaxing for a weekend morning. 

If you're interested in having a drawn portrait like this created ($75-$150 for sizes 8x10 up to 16x20), please visit my website www.TriciaRatliff.com and send an e-mail. They make great gifts!


A New Blogger in town

We have a new blogger in town - Downtown DC.  Alexa is an Art History major that's new to the area and the art scene. Let's encourage her to continue writing by visiting her blog. Be sure to leave a comment so she knows you are reading.


She was inspired by her friend's blog in Paris -> http://courtneynowick.wordpress.com


NEWEST ART Gallery in Great Falls Virginia!! (Exhibit)

Yesterday, I met with the owner of the newest art gallery in Virginia. It's *Beautiful* and I highly recommend visiting to see it in person. It's a wonderful space where artists can gather, relax, enjoy a cup of coffee and take classes while listening to music in a lovely environment. I was so impressed that I've agreed to offer an upcoming 1 day drawing workshop at this location.

The gallery will also be exhibiting my paintings and will be open for the Great Falls Studio tour this weekend! 

Avenue Beau Sejour
gallery - studio - coffeehouse - school

10135 Colvin Run Road, Suite 100
Great Falls, Virginia  22066
(former "SAGE" location)

(703) 716-4299


Oil Painting & Drawing Lessons in Northern Virginia 2013

Study Drawing and Oil Painting in Northern Virginia in 2013
with Tricia Cherrington Ratliff 
All ages and experience levels
Location: Reston / Herndon, Virginia

- Drawing
- Painting
- Still Life
- Portrait
- Landscape
- Florals

Private Lessons and Small Group Classes available for all ages and experience levels. Learn both classical and contemporary methods of drawing and painting. Students learn to paint everything from still life to people wearing jewelry, fur, velvet, diamonds, gold, satin and more. 


In Memory of Thomas S. Beuchner

As our local art center celebrates portrait month and Norman Rockwell's paintings hang at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, this seems like a fitting time to reflect on the life and work of Thomas S. Beuchner of Corning New York.

In addition to being a great painter, Tom was also an active advocate for the arts. His book "How I Paint, Confessions of a Sunday Painter" not only brings to light his beautiful work but the underlying narrative reveals his admiration for great art created by hand. He modestly attributes his own talents to those who influenced him and came before him.

I hope you'll take a moment to soak up a little of his legacy by visiting his website, perusing a few of the articles below and hopefully reading one of his books. If you are an artist, an art enthusiast or just someone who is touched by another who dedicates themselves to a passion, you're sure to find it inspiring.

If you're nearby (here in DC), Thomas Buechner's first book was "Norman Rockwell, Artist and Illustrator" is a wonderful companion to read in advance or take with you during a visit of the Rockwell exhibit. If you're closer to Corning New York, the West End Gallery is hosting an exhibit in his memory including his most recent work beginning on October 14th.


Anatomy for Portraits: Head Muscles/Bones - with a little help from Encyclopedia Britannica

While anatomic knowledge is not required to paint a head, it can be useful. Here's a link to an image of the muscles of the head on encyclopedia britannica. While the rendering is smooth and idealized with flat bands of muscles (instead of 3D shapes), this interestingly makes it easier to see where the muscles are!

Muscles of the Head

Bones of the Head

If you're drawing/painting a head, it's useful to be familiar with:


  • Orbicularis oculi muscle (around the eye, create wrinkles)
  • Depressor Anguli Oris muscle (creates plane of light from mouth to chin over mandible (the jaw))
  • Sternocleidomastoid muscle (tubular form shows along neck head behind ear down to top of clavical)
  • Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi muscle (can create a fold or shaded area next to the nose)
  • -Zygomatic major and minor muscles (form a sheet that gives form, life, puffiness to the cheeks)


  • Nasal bone (notice where it ends to understand the crooked looking shadows on some noses)
  • Supraorbital Foraman and Brow Ridge bones (catch a lot of light from above, define socket visually by showing change in planes)
  • Frontal Emminance bone (largest round area to paint and possibly place highlight)
  • Zygomatic Arch (cheek bone) catches light and can create interest in a face when it protrudes beyond the "oval shape" on the sides of the head.
To find out how to study "Portrait Painting and Drawing" with Tricia, visit www.TriciaRatliff.com  and contact the artist directly. Remember to include your phone number.  


Portrait Painting Class / Workshop (Northern Virginia) - How to Prepare

For those who are taking my October portrait painting workshop in Northern Virginia, this is a good time to make sure you have all of your supplies ready. (Kathleen is available if you have any questions)

Specifically, you might be wondering which important materials are most often forgotten. You have the materials list so I won't duplicate it here but I understand how it feels to show up without something only to realize that particular items was essential. 

First, make sure to bring multiple canvases. ( It is useful to tone them in advance with thin grey paint or gesso if you have time)

Second, whether you decide to go with the old master limited palette or the contemporary realist method, it's important to make sure you have your walnut oil AND flake white paint (or lead white, or "lead white replacement") in addition to your titanium white. This particular white paint has a unique quality that will allow for a better weekend painting experience when used in the method we'll discuss. 

Finally and most importantly: Come open mind and a positive attitude. I've spoken with most of the registered students personally and it's obvious that we have a great, enthusiastic group traveling to take this unique workshop. So, Oct 9th - 11th will surely be a fun weekend!


Learn to Paint a Portrait in Oil (Northern Virginia Painting Lessons) **ONE** Space remaining!

Painting the Portrait in Oil Workshop
October 9-11, 2010 (10am - 4pm) (Columbus day weekend)

Location: Herndon, VA
Instructor: Tricia Cherrington Ratliff
Cost: $250 (model fees separate)

During this workshop, students will learn to paint an oil portrait from a live model using a combination of both classical and contemporary painting methods. The 3 day session includes multiple demonstrations and is limited to a small group. Therefore, students receive plenty of support and individual attention. 

*Students wishing to complete a portrait project from photos may contact the instructor in advance to make preparations.

The workshop employs a unique approach which allows everyone to work at the level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) most appropriate for their experience.


Oil Painting Lessons in Northern Virginia (Learn to paint Portraits, Still Life, Landscape and more!)

Study Oil Painting in Northern Virginia 
with Tricia Ratliff
All ages and experience levels
Location: Reston / Herndon, Virginia

Lessons are taught on an on-going basis.

Beginners learn in a "paint-a-long" style where you can see a step by step demonstration as you complete your painting projects. Advanced learners graduate through a series of increasingly complex projects to develop strong skills for professional work.

Students learn both classical and contemporary methods of drawing and painting in a realistic or expressionist style.

- Drawing
- Oil Painting
- Portrait
- Still Life
- Landscape
- Studio and Plein Air (A La Prima)

For more information: visit the website above and send your contact information. I speak with each student in advance (either on the phone or in person) to understand your individual needs, explain the format and help you figure out if this is the learning environment where you can meet your artistic goals.


Portraits ... pets as props or subject?

Since reading Ms. Freeland's book, I've found myself looking at images and portraits with a fresh perspective. Including those that contain animals. I've had some fun (and humorous moments) asking "Is this animal intended as the subject of a portrait or as a prop?"

The story behind the John Singer Sargent portrait of Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes has always been a cute and kind of funny story, but now I see it as an interesting illustration of the artist's and sitter's point of view about the subject(s).

Click here to take a look at the image:

As the story goes, Mrs. Stokes had arrived for her portrait sitting in walking cloths along with her husband Mr. Stokes and her dog by their side. Sargent, so taken by the beauty of her crisp traveling garments decided to paint her in this outfit with her dog beside her. When the dog was no longer available in later sittings, the husband is reported to have humbly offered that he would "Be pleased to take the place of the dog".

Take a look at the painting and decide for yourself, given the depiction of Mr. Stokes, if the dog would have been a character or a prop in this portrait.


Good Reading: Portraits and Persons by Cynthia Freeland

Having spent hours painting with peers and pondering (and even arguing over) such questions as "What makes it a portrait?", the new book "Portraits and Persons" by Cynthia Freeland is a welcome addition to our conversations. Before, reading this post, ask yourself what attributes define a portrait for you? I'd be happy to post your comments/replies.

Ms. Freeland, a philosophy professor and author of an earlier book "But, is it Art?", dove into this topic and exercised every angle of the definition of portraiture including what or who can be the subject of a portrait.

To be a portrait, she claims the following must be present in the depiction: "A recognizable physical body along with an inner life and the ability to pose or present oneself to be depicted in a representation."

The book solidly supports these points and even handles the question of pets and animals. She also illustrates that portraits can fulfill some important functions: "providing a likeness, phycological characterizations, proofs of presence or 'contact' and manifestations of a person's essence." But, don't take my word for it ... read the book. 


Art Jam -> Moving to ArtSpace

Hello Everyone,

Art Jam has always been an exciting way to start the new year it has been an honor to host this creative happening of the "Artist's Underground" in my studio. You've done an amazing job of creating a fun and valuable networking environment just by showing up with your ideas and commitment to supporting each other. Having seen how much you helped each other last year, the Council for the Arts of Herndon has offered to sponsor Art Jam in January 2011. We're moving it to ArtSpace Herndon (also a new sponsor along with Plaza Art Materials) where we'll have more parking and some interesting new activities on the schedule (see schedule here).

As always, space is limited and over 60 people have already registered so make sure to secure your spot and we'll look forward to seeing you there.

Register by following the link on the CAH website:

Looking forward,


Portraits - Handling a BIG smile (part 4)

My client with a big, beautiful smile had her final sitting today. What a treat. She is also hilarious so I had a great time finishing the portrait.

Fortunately, she smiled and laughed as she bantered with her fiance and I painted. As a result, I was able to capture the red in her skin and the way her eyes light up and became watery from laughter.

Although she has beautiful skin tone everywhere, I focused the color around the upper parts of her face to keep the focus on the eyes. I had also decided to leave out detail inside her mouth because I wanted to make sure there weren't too many "subjects" or areas of focus in the painting.

But, as we were wrapping up the sitting, she said the absence of detail in her teethe was distracting to her because people know her by her smile. Naturally, her teethe are a recognizable part of her smile so I took this feedback to heart and we finished with a short sitting to bring that area to a level of detail that was comfortable her her. We were both pleased with the result.

With the subject finished, I will make some final changes to her clothing and the painting will be complete. Here is a photo of the current stage of the almost finished painting.


Portraits - Handling a BIG smile (part 3)

As progress continues on this portrait, I finished the grisaille and experimented for about 10 minutes with skin tones to decide whether to use soft muted colors or the rich colorist approach to capture her lovely skin tone. I've decided to go soft because it more accurately captures the sheen of her skin which is smooth and creamy without being too shiny.

Once I established the appropriate color intensity, I modeled the forehead to study the range of skin tones from peach, reds, pinks, purples, greens, grey and yellows (blues don't show up until I moved down to the eye area). Then, I used what I had discovered about her skin to carry the same family across related areas of the face ... always looking for the lit/shadow/reflected light relationships.
By focusing on the rounding of the cheeks and skin below the eyes, I'm able to maintain the look of a genuine smile.
Until today, the sitter and I had not decided which shirt would work best so I painted the open collar area  in a way that will allow us to add either shirt during the next sitting. The next sitting will also focus on glazing her eyes and adding "light" to them because she twinkles when she smiles.
The next sitting is scheduled for the end of August. So, look forward to the conclusion of this story then.


Portraits - Handling a BIG smile (part 2)

Having taken time to study this sitter's face, finished the pencil portrait and done a color study, I had two choices about how to proceed with the formal oil painting portrait. I could paint her from life and try to capture her smile spontaneously. Because the sitter was driving a long distance to be here and responded most strongly to my classical realist portraits (I do classical realist, contemporary realist, abstract realist in limited palette as well as a la prima portraits and all of them have different "looks"), the decision to start with a classical style block in and grasaille seemed to be an obvious best choice. 

Note: It's important to never get too attached to an underdrawing and be able to wipe it out and completely rework it at any time, including during the sitting if it loses spontaneity or doesn't reflect the experience of real life. 

I began with a grey toned 18x24 canvas and built a sketch of about 8-10 lines to position her in space and capture her head tilt. Then, I focused on the exterior shapes of the head/hair and used indicators to place the eyes, nose and muzzle area around the mouth. From there, I worked from big shapes first. As the angles and position of big shapes in the drawing began to make sense together, I moved down to the next level of detail iteratively. Finally landing on the forms of the eyes and working on the details of the face to finish the underdrawing. 

Now that the foundation drawing was ready, I felt inspired and was excited about the upcoming sitting. I had decided in advance that to accomplish the look we wanted for this painting, I'd invest the time in the step of completing on a semi-closed grasaille (a painting in just grey to focus on the values and volume of the head shapes) and then scumble the color on top. 

This photo from the beginning of the sitting shows where I've started to establish the highlights as place markers and other 3D shapes of the face. This step is helps with the smile by making sure the shadows cast by the folded muscles don't flatten the shapes. The goal is to keep that rounded feeling. Next post ... finishing the grasaille and  enjoying the subtle color of the skin - particularly the rosy cheeks. 


Portraits - Handling a BIG smile

Hello Everyone,

I've recently finished 4 pencil portraits and have been having a great time.  My newest portrait sitter who's fiance is commissioning a pencil portrait and as well as an oil painting is known and recognized for her big, beautiful smile. I like to paint what I see based on my first impression and immediately noticed that she also has amazing colors in her skin.

This is a great opportunity to talk about how to handle smiles.

Usually, I paint portraits 100% from life. The result is that sitters have at most, a "mona lisa smile" (if any) because in an effort to sit still, people naturally relax their facial muscles. A big smile requires activation of multiple of muscles which can quickly grow tense if the sitter makes and effort to "hold" the smile.

One response I have to this is to encourage all sitters to let themselves smile or twinkle their eyes whenever they drift off and think of something happy. Sometimes, in that fleeting moment, I can see the way they hold their cheeks, eyes, mouth and even their chin when they are happy. Generally, the smile is so fleeting that it's a challenge to capture all of that information in the 4-30 seconds that the smile remains natural. For people with a big smile like my current sitter these changes are even more dramatic.

By the way: I know someone out there is cringing right now at this suggestion of letting the "model move" and I realize that facial movement would drive plenty of artists and art students nuts! It's totally fine to ignore all of this smile stuff right now if your current goal is to just make the painting of your sitter look human, practice flesh tones, figure out how to model the turns etc. It's best to practice from life! We're all learning all of the time and it's nice to focus on learning just a few things at a time. 

This sitter is unique. I decided that her smile was too important to her likeness to relegate it to a rushed memorization at random intervals. So, during her first sitting we did a photo shoot and I spent the majority of our time together working on a color study to understand those lovely fleshtones.

Between sittings, I studied the shapes of her smile, face and likeness while finishing the pencil portrait above.

Things to look for in a spontaneous smile:
- The flesh under the eyes folds up and the lower lid starts to cover the eye as the muscles around the eyes (orbicularis oculi) contract and rise the cheeks. This intensifies the highlight on the cheek and also darkens the crease under the eyelid. (note that ignoring that crease for fear of making the sitter look old can backfire and make the smile look fake)

- The upper lip thins and the dark shadows inside the mouth reveal a dark shape that the artist can capture to show the unique shape of the corners of this sitter's smile.

- The muscles (contracting zygomatic major and relaxing orbicularis oris) pull up the edges of the mouth and open the lips to create deep dimples and fold the muscle (levator labii superioris) and skin running from the sides of the nose down to the insertion point of the zygomatic major next to the mouth. This fold with flesh rounded over it casts a shadow.

- On some faces, crows feet, nose wrinkles as the eye muscles (orbicularis oculi) contract.

- The flesh along the sides of the chin stretches an flattens (from the pull of the zygomatic major) which sometimes reveals the shapes of the bone inside the chin or may show additional wrinkles or folds.

- The tip of the nose may also move

In my next post, I'll talk about how to use all of this together to create a foundation "drawing in paint" to prepare for the next sitting with a client who is known for her big, wonderful smile.


More on Sabbatical as a way of life - a reader's comment

Hi Everyone,
One of my students who is a serious emerging artist sent this thoughtful in response to an earlier post on "Sabbatical an artists way of life" in which I experimented with the idea that while pursuing a profession that requires constant growth (or even innovation) some of us are planning one sabbatical after another. Consider Mridula's point about our different perceptions about what a sabbatical means and then check out her blog! (below)

I read your artical. Very nice. 
About Sabbaticals - I completely agree with you and it is necessary for everyone to consider them in their busy lives. Also on a different perspective, the meaning of sabbatical varies from person to person. I think it can be also achieved through a 10 minute meditation everyday .
For me, I get refreshed when I am learning to paint or be creative. May be the color therapy is the scientific reason behind it. but most importantly, like you said, there is no pressure to deliver like there is in any other field. ofcourse there is always a sense of improving myself, curiosity, excitement  about art around me which is more than what I would feel in a vacation. Especially looking at other's art- modern or traditional I always have the same "awe" staring at paintings for hours. thats sabbatical for me.
Well, just wanted to share my thoughts too on the subject. :)
To see Mridula's lastest painting from atelier class above and her blog at: http://mridulasart.wordpress.com/


Exploration of paintings that inform me

Hello Everyone,

As some of you know, my recent focus on small, realist still lives has been partly an exercise to develop some specific technical skills to support larger single and multi-figure narrative paintings that I've had in mind for years. I'm in an early exploration phase and paying attention to the different options we artists have available to express our ideas.

This blog is my place to capture my own notes and share reminders of interesting upcoming events. So, posts like this one are dedicated to the things I'm capturing for my own recollection. Hopefully it will be inspiring and useful to you as well.

Each artist's name includes a link to a specific work that I find informative.

Graydon Parish (Specifically the cycle of Terror and Tragedy"

Terry Strickland

Arantzazu Martinez (or his recent painting)

I also visit the sites of teaching master artists such as:

Now that you've clicked a few links, it would be a pleasure to hear from you about the artwork that inspires you. Click on my profile above and drop me an e-mail.