I'm painting portraits and giving thanks.

I'm painting portraits and giving thanks.

I spent a lot of time painting in between assignments at work yesterday.

I’ve become enchanted with noses. Such complex shapes! Fascinating how the bridge evolves from a cube to a sphere as it nears the tip! I layer one brush stroke over another, struggling to understand the values, and then suddenly, with the addition of a highlight or the reshaping of a shadow, the form comes to life on the page. What was once the approximation of a nose becomes a real thing, full of depth and breath!

161120 Painting.jpg

These art projects reveal a microcosm of my emotional state. My mood soars over small successes and spirals toward despair over small mistakes. When my washes dry with ugly streaks or some pigment refuses to lift, I have to stop myself from splashing paint everywhere, or crumpling up the paper and hurling it toward the trash can. Failure becomes an itch I need to scratch. I must ruin the thing I’m creating, must ruin the evidence that I ever thought myself capable of success.

When I ignore the itch, I learn a lot more. How do I distract the eye from flaws? How do I live with imperfection? I’m unfamiliar with these points in the process, and so I muddle about, trying new things. Sometimes I find a path forward. Other times I set up camp, trying to get comfortable amidst disappointment.

I painted the portrait below for a friend, using a limited palette of phthalo blue, cadmium scarlet and a touch of Winsor lemon. As often happens, I traced the features with a piece of carbon paper, then lost most of the pencil lines when I applied the first watercolor wash. That left me struggling. I couldn't figure out where the eyes should go. After I scrubbed them out a third or fourth time, the paper began to fray. I knew I had to make a choice and live with it.

After I finished the painting, I opened the original photo in Photoshop and selected Filter > Stylize... > Find Edges. Then I layered the lines over my painting.

Aha!

My placement of the eyes was a little off, but I'd also shortened the width of his nose by a third. I'd been so focused on the tonal values of the nose that I completely misjudged its size—which threw the rest of the proportions in disarray. 

Like I said: Noses are such complex things. Sometimes even tracing can't help me capture their true form.

Ah, well.

Today I'm thankful for tools and technology that helps me see things I'd otherwise miss. I'm thankful to have a job that lets me paint in between assignments. I'm thankful for online art classes and Black Friday sales that make it easier to justify buying just one more, even though I haven't finished the online gouache class I purchased last month. (I'm taking it slow, and savoring every minute.)

I'm thankful for my family, and for you, my readers. Happy almost Thanksgiving. I hope you have plenty to be thankful for, too.