(16 x 20", Oil on Stretched Canvas)
For the last several years, I have been wanting to revisit painting the figure after a more than ten year hiatus...and that includes reconnecting with painting portraits. I've had some recent success with the latest paintings, so I thought I'd get a bit more ambitious in two ways: paint a definitive portrait of someone I know personally, and do it without any pre-sketching or planning. The result is "Jeannie".
And you have no idea how scary as all get out that was to accomplish... I stopped painting portraits around 20 years ago for a couple of reasons, but mainly because, as an empath/intuitive I learned far more about the subject person than I perhaps wanted to know. It becomes personal when an artist deliberates and defines the planes, lines, and eyes in a subject's face, seeking an internal spark to bring their work to life...and sometimes that intimacy connects a bit too much, or becomes a biting frustration because no matter how you try, the person's closed mind won't allow their spark to shine forth. Then again, there are dark places within the human spirit that no matter how beautiful the person is, you just don't want to paint them. Any one or group of reasons is why I stopped painting people, let alone taking commissions...I sort of stopped dealing with people on an artistic level, and it has taken me a very long time to reconnect them to my art. Also, I have matured as an artist, and my technique has blossomed into what I hoped it might be all those years ago...
So, I've had photos of Jeannie on file for some years, both candid shots of her and borrowed photos from her husband's (Patrick) archive. He is a gifted amateur photographer, and she, a brilliant and willing muse. Together, they created and have run 'Illuxcon' - the annual art expo in Pennsylvania for the last eight years that brings together artists, students and collectors from all over the world to learn, teach, buy, sell, and generally celebrate 'The Art of the Fantastic'. Since the beginning, they have become dear friends treasured confidantes. Is it any wonder that I decided to borrow Pat's muse to paint?
Taking a deep breath and a gessoed and sanded stretched canvas, I put it up on my easel. I started with one of Pat's photos of Jeannie as a guide off to my left, and laid out paint to my right. Using a clean rag and a little Drying Linseed Oil mixed with Raw Umber oil paint, I scrubbed the color into the canvas to create a mid-value base tint to work on. Using a Size 6 Round brush, I sketched in the basic lines that formed the face and hand, and quick strokes to get the shape of the hair blocked in. Adding Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine to the palette, I used a 1/2" Angle Flat brush to start blocking in the deeper shadows. And with Yellow Ochre, Titanium White, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red Light, and Sap Green, , and Size 6 Filbert Brush to start laying skin tones. Notice how scrubby the non-background is. I hadn't fully decided where I was going with this painting yet, so I left it for the time being.
Upon impulse, I used a lot of left over Cobalt and French Ultramarine Blues to smoosh into the background...still not sure where I was going with it all. A simple portrait of Jeannie was starting to take on deeper dimensions, so I just decided to go with the flow. Being a bit out of practice with just painting directly onto the canvas as I was, I thought I suffered the usual amateur problem of having my subject situated too low (or any other compositional problem, really) in the canvas. So I thought about it for awhile, and came to the conclusion that the composition was just to plain for a personality as bright as Jeannie's. Off to the computer to troll through photos.... There, I remembered that fellow Illuxcon Alumni, the accomplished artist from the Netherlands, Iris Compiet had once created a gorgeous headdress for Jeannie and that many photos had been taken of Jeannie wearing it. Voila! All of Jeannie's whimsy and personality began to shine the moment I decided to paint it...and of course, the allowance above her head in the composition was actually perfect. Problem solved, so back to painting...
Here, the first blocking of the headband, blue flowers and nebulous feathers are blocked in in their basic colors. When that layer dried, I went back in with very loose brushstrokes and completed a truncated version of Iris' elaborate concoction that frames Jeannie's face rather nicely, without obscuring it. I worked on finalizing the hair at this point, and employed the addition of Cobalt Violet and Alizarin Crimson to Yellow Ochre to create Jeannie's distinctive red hair color. To break up the sharp lines, I took a fine liner brush and pulled wispy bits of painted hair down to wrap around her wrist and flow outward a bit. Still, there was still something intrinsically missing...
Here is the completed portrait, sitting on my easel. Another piece of Jeannie's personality is her passion for elephants, so I created a loose wrap bracelet in 'silver' with an elephant charm on it. Largely signifying that she wears her love for those lovely beasts literally on her sleeve.
There is a poem by William Wordsworth that was ascribed to me by a dear friend on my 21st birthday many years ago...and it comes back to me every now and then, to bemuse and humble me. I'm not sure I ever was that sylph described in the text, but for some reason, in the back of my mind, it comes very close to describing my friend, Jeannie. Thank you for sharing this journey, my dear... xxoo to you and Patrick.
She Was a Phantom of Delight
She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.
I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin-liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A Creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.
And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A Traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned for my next adventure in paint...