Live vs. Photo

Many (most?) artists work with photos when they do portraits. The advantages are clear: the sitter is not forced into hours of boredom; the artist can draw and redraw the face in her own time; the hard work of going from 3D to 2D has been done by an apparatus. The problem, I find, however, is that there is a tendency for the portrait done in close dependence on a photo to often look “frozen”, stiff, and inhuman!

There is something in the drawing using stereoscopic vision with the breathing model in front of me, that captures the energy and reality of the living person better than a drawing done from a photo. The downside is that sometimes the resemblance slips away (and that can happen, maddeningly, with a slight mistake in the distance between the eyes or the length of the chin or the shape of an eyebrow!).

In previous centuries, the best artists could not only get a resemblance, but they also (amazingly) could retain the image of the person and repeat it from memory! However, part of this skill came about because artists redid work: redrew, repainted, reconceptualized the image, as can be seen in many Degas studies. I was not trained to do this, but I am going to be working this way for awhile to see what I can learn from it. The trick, I think, is to reverse engineer the image in the photo to recapture the vitality of the living model.

My friend Val was kind enough to sit for me recently for the drawings at the top of this post. I usually draw for about 1/2 an hour then take photos of my model. The drawing on the right was done from life; the one on the left from the photo I took during the same sitting. The drawings are, as always, watercolor pencil on paper.

The Daily Practice of Portraiture

Chris with Bonchat
‘Chris with Bonchat’ watercolor pencil on paper 11″ x 15″ © J.Hart

I am going to take a suggestion from Seth Godin and start a daily blog of my portraiture work. I am practicing doing portraits in order to become as skilled as possible so that I can work with live models as well as photos. Also, doing this practice in public will keep me honest and on task!

Today’s drawing is of my neighbor Chris with his very ironically named cat, Bonchat sitting on our balcony in late summer. This portrait got to the heart of their relationship: undemonstrative cat, very loving master!

Although I did this from a photo, I worked to get some of the more interesting and less definitive marks of unmediated seeing. It is also fun to do portraits of friends and family that I know well. The portrait is more likely to be an authentic representation of the person.

More on the difference between working from life and from photos tomorrow!

 

Magnolias!

'pinkie' magnolia web
Magnolia ‘Pinkie” Water colour pencil and gouache on paper 11″ x 15″

Spent the past week at the Botanical Gardens. The magnolias were in spectacular bloom until Thursday when it went up to the high 80’s. I actually got to see blossoms open, bloom, and then drop their petals even as I was drawing!!

saucer magnolias web
Saucer Magnolia Water colour crayon on paper 11″ x 15″

The Garden also had some yellow saucer magnolias that were lovely but I will need to catch them next year.  Magnolias bloom before their leaves are out so the flowers and branches make for striking designs.

'Butterflies' magnolia web
Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ Water colour pencil on paper 11″ x 15″

One special point of information for early birds: the Botanical Garden is offering, if you are a Montreal resident, a card that would allow you access to the outside gardens between 6 am and 9 am every morning! It costs 8$ for the year. This will be particularly nice in the hotter part of the summer!

Un point spécial d’information pour les premiers oiseaux: le Jardin botanique offre, si vous êtes résident de Montréal, une carte qui vous permettra d’accéder aux jardins extérieurs entre 6 h et 9 h tous les matins! Cela coûte 8 $ pour l’année. Cela sera particulièrement agréable dans la partie la plus chaude de l’été!

 

Flowers & Fans

white-rose-peony-webwhite-peonies-1-web

 

During this past summer in Montreal, I had the pleasure of spending hours in the Botanical Gardens when the peonies were in bloom. I did a series of sketches using watercolor pencils which, as the name suggest, are colored pencils that act like watercolors when water is added. The drawings were done on a heavier weight but smooth tooth mixed media paper. The sketches will be available soon as prints.

Not all artists work from Nature, but I like to start with more realistic botanical drawings and then use them for references for looser, more abstract paintings. With these I have chosen to paint a series of fans using acrylic paints to which glaze can be added to create a watercolor effect.

I’m just starting this series so I have not yet decided on the type of fan or the look I want. This first paper fan is small (about 10 inches when open) and takes the paint well. The inspiration for doing fans comes from the fan pieces that Edgar Degas did in the 1870’s. (The fan below is Degas’.)degas_fan_dancers_1879_0