Thursday, 24 February 2011

How to Paint Portraits Effectively - Kerra Lindsey

This month's guest post is by Kerra Lindsey. Kerra is an established portrait artist but I came across her work through Greeting Card Universe and she also uses her art to creat delightful products on Zazzle. You can browse Kerra's portfolio on her website and read more about her on her blog

Here she shares with us some practical ideas for improving our drawing for portraits:

Put the Pencil Down!

You don't want me to say it but I'm going to anyway:  draw, draw, draw!  That's right--you want to be an impressive painter?  Learn to draw first--then practice until, well, your hands stop working.  Portrait painting can be unlike painting anything else--you may be going for a 'figurative' look and be satisfied with that--but if you want the piece to be recognizable, you're going to have move past the 'blocking' stage and get to the details.  Here's a great way to get geared up to do just that!

Sick of your pencil?  Not to worry--there is a way to draw with your paintbrush, too!  Not as easy to carry, and yes, you've got to have some water and a few other tools nearby, but the experience can help you move forward and avoid the 'boring' factor of repetitive lines.

Here's an exercise I've used with some of my students as a warm up in our 'drawing class'.  It brought about
smiles and enthusiasm for the piece we were working on and forewent the 'sigh' of pulling out the pencils.  We used watercolor to sketch and draw with.  The results were more than impressive!

We start with a blank piece of paper--no pencil guidelines to follow.  Then begins our blocking phase and instead of small, graphite lines, we use a round watercolor brush (sz. 6 for our 11" x14" area, almost dry), to create large shape areas.   There is no need to worry about hue at this point so I'm not going to cover that.  This exercise is for your brain to accurately interpret what it's seeing and portray that 3-D shape onto a 2-D object.--with a different medium than you've been using. 

I have found that negative drawing works wonders for getting your brain in the correct 'art mode', and I encourage such with my students to find the negative spaces and concentrate on them.  I try to follow a path of continuously smaller shapes and values paying close attention to how they interact with each other.

We draw all over he paper 'blocking in' the shapes that are found.  Remember, this is an exercise for getting your brain ready to paint accurately and you shouldn't give up if your 'exercise' doesn't give you immediate results.  It takes time and practice.

Here's a tip:  

If you find you are getting 'stuck' on a certain area stop yourself.  Focus your brain on the activity at hand--the negative shapes, and the feel of the brush in your hand as you trace your shapes from your object onto the paper.  Start with thin washes and increase the pigment as you get closer to the details. 



Sadami said...

Dear Kerra & Judy,
Thank you very much! I've really enjoyed this post and learned a lot!! Please keep up.
Kind regards, Sadami

Judy Adamson said...

Hello Sadami - thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! But I can hardly believe that you have anything to learn when it comes to portrait painting and I hope that anyone reading this who hasn't yet seen your wonderful watercolour sketches will visit your blog and enjoy them!

Sadami said...

Dear Judy,
I learn from anything & anyone even from children(*in my eyes, they are geniuses in art). Regarding Kerra's post, how she puts values was most interesting--darkest comes first? When a midium value comes? What an outcome? Is the child still smiling or in what sort of mood? What are the effects of the cast shadow and the background on the monochrome work? From now, how I will apply what I've found to my own work?
Judy, my studying is never ending. I'm always a beginner:).
Kind regards, Sadami

Kerra Lindsey said...

Hi, guys! First, Judy, thank you so much for showcasing my little write up. It's pretty condensed, and I can see by Sadami's comment that there are some questions.

Actually, I guess I do paint the 'darkest' spots first--it helps me get the balance from one end of the value chart to the other: the whitest with the paper, and the darkests with my first sketch marks. I like to have at least three major values in each sketch--and having the lightest and the darkest already in place helps put in the mid-tone which gives the sketch it's form.

I have been sketching my, (very active), boys for over 20 years now and have had to adapt to their constant movements. I watch them for a while, until I can get that 'five minute pose': the pose that that they keep returning to. So, every few seconds I can make another mark, wait while they move...then another...they move again...then return to that position...then make a mark again. I'm lucky if I get a full five minutes before they're off and running. Kind of like speed-painting!

Thank you so much for the nice comments. I still learn so much from each painting and each sketch I make. Someday, maybe I can be pretty good at it. :)


Judy Adamson said...

Hi Kerra - it's a pleasure to have such an expert giving advice!

Sketching your 'boys' reminds me of when we were asked to draw a model doing an Egyptian dance in a Life Class years ago!

I think you are already very good at it and hope everyone reading this will take the chance to visit your website!