Rainy May in Tuscany

Here are some sketches from the end of May in Tuscany.

Oil painting of a farmhouse in Tuscany

La Torricella #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Oil painting of Tina with a glass of wine in Tuscany

A Glass of Wine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

It’s been very cold and wet in Southern Europe. I painted inside by the fire a lot.

Sketch of a farmhouse in Tuscany.

La Torricella #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Oil painting of a fireplace in Tuscany.

Fireplace Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

This last one is a sketch of a couple of friends’ ten-week-old baby.

Oil painting of a newborn child.

Moss Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Portrait Painting from Video

I dislike working from photographs. I was trained over many years working exclusively from life and my work from photos is often weak. I find there is too little information in a photograph compared to life, and I can’t trust a photo for values, shapes or colors. While I have pulled out a decent painting or two from photos, it was mostly a case of luck.

Occasionally for commissioned portraits the clients wont give me enough sittings and I’m forced to use a photograph. A problem specific to painting portraits from photographs is that you only get one expression from the sitter. The beauty of working from life, for me, is that you can change the subject’s expression as you work. A portrait painted from life ends up as a composite of many aspects of the sitter’s personality. One painted eye can say one thing about their personality, the other eye can say something else.

An idea I’ve had over the years as a means of resolving this problem is to paint from a looped video of the sitter, rather than a static photograph. That way I would be able to study the changes in expression and pick the best moments to use for the features of the sitter, thus creating a more complete portrait of the subject’s personality.

An advantage of a looped video over even a live model is that portrait models often get bored while sitting. I find it difficult to keep them entertained with conversation and concentrated on the portrait at the same time. Below is a short looped gif of my wife posing for a portrait I’ve been working on, showing the moment she lights up and laughs. By playing the loop on a television next to the canvas I could, in theory, choose various frames to study for a more animated expression.

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Tina sat the whole time for this particular portrait. I did play around with the shapes and studied the muscle movements from a looped video on the tv (since neither of us watches tv, I’ve moved it to the studio to experiment with). Below is the result.

Portrait in oils of my wife in a gold kimono.

Tina in a Kimono. 70 x 60 cm, oil on linen

The best DSLRs on the market for video at the moment are the GH series from Panasonic. I have two old GH1s I got for next to nothing when the GH2s came out. Both the GH1 and GH2 can be hacked to greatly improve the amount of information that the camera records. This, for anyone attempting to paint from video, is a big advantage.

I think video could be a good addition to the arsenal of any professional portrait painter who works from photographs.

Portrait Time-lapse

This is a portrait I did of a friend a few years ago. As a last-minute idea I set my old cellphone on a chair and had it take a photo every few minutes over the course of the week. The battery kept dying and people kept bumping into the chair so the already-poor-quality image jumps around a lot. My apologies. I found the pictures recently and threw them together:
 

Boom, Headshot

I don’t often post portraits on the blog as the commissions don’t get posted and I rarely paint models anymore. Here is a 6-shot head painted while teaching a short course in my studio.

One thing I’ve often found interesting as a portraitist is how some people are more beautiful when they move, and others just glow when they are still.

Update: Here’s another. This one was just a couple of hours.

Dog Portrait

Emma. Portrait of the Artist's Dog. Oil on linen, 40 x 35 in, 2010.

For Valentines day (and our anniversary), my wife wanted a portrait of our dog, Emma. I’ve tried to paint her from life a couple of times but she tends to curl up into a little black ball and generally resists any attempt of mine to keep her looking even slightly picturesque. The other day I was photographing paintings in the studio though, and she hopped on a little stool next to me and struck different poses for about 5 minutes.

The dog was painted from the photo, and the background was painted from life. The sketches behind her are mostly from our neighborhood where she goes walking everyday.

Luckily my wife was pleased. In my experience, people are often much harsher critics of a likeness when it comes to portraits of dogs than of people.