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.

The Fourth Dimension

I recently got a new DSLR camera capable of filming in 1080/24p full-HD (a Panasonic Lumix GH1) for some video projects I want to do. Having never filmed anything before (and I’ve only owned a regular camera for a couple of years), I’ve been using the forums over at DVXuser and youtube tutorials to learn a bit about shooting and editing the footage after.

Here is a road trip made last week with Leo Mancini-Hresko and Joe Altwer to find where Corot painted his ‘Bridge at Narni‘ in southern Umbria.

My hope is to start using video to do tutorials, so stay tuned.

Blog Mechanics

My mobile blogging set-up.

My mobile blogging set-up.

A few artists have asked about the technical side of doing a blog so I thought I’d do a quick post. This blog is running off the free WordPress software and its all hosted on Bluehost, which I have been happy with. Bluehost has all the tools you need and is pretty easy to get running, and its cheap. It won’t handle getting on the front page of reddit, but you can sign up at MediaTemple for twice the price if that’s a possibility. The theme for the blog is Simplex, and the gallery plug-in is NextGen Gallery which, to be honest, is less than stellar, but its the best gallery of the ones I’ve tried.

For the hardware, I try to only buy gadgets and computer gear that have a large community of online users as I find active forums better than relying on the manufacturer’s support. The camera I’m currently using is a Panasonic GH1 as I want to start adding more video to the site, the active forum I follow for it is DVXUser. For blogging while I move around, I have a small Dell mini 9 which is souped up and hackintoshed thanks to the guys over at the MyDellMini forums. The cellphone is a Nokia N82. Its a good phone with real GPS and a decent 5MP camera (and it geotags the photos), it also doubles as a mobile wi-fi spot using JoikuSpot which is the most useful data-tethering program I’ve found. (It takes your 3G data connection and broadcasts it as wi-fi, much easier than fussing with cables and drivers. It works with all smart phones, except the iphone of course -ha ha suckers). My home computer is home made and built around a Gigabyte EP45-UD3R motherboard which I love, 8GB of ram, 2.8 ghz core 2 duo (Wolfdale), 2 TB of storage in Raid 5 and dual boots windows7 and osX.