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.