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Ngaire Winwood 08-08-2015 12:59 AM

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Hi All SOG members

It has been a long time since I painted a portrait (2007) and decided to dust off the brushes and paints to once again develop as a portrait artist. No holes barred this time I have wasted too much time already.

Leela was a model at a portrait workshop I attended in late June and we sketched her for about 45 minutes. The tutor then asked her to change into modern attire and we all attempted to paint her.

Personally, I like her english attire more and promised to paint her when I got home. She reminded me from a lady thinking about something nice in the 1920-30's. So over the last 4 weeks after work I put a few hours in to produce this before a local exhibition deadline (about 40hrs).

I know she has problems and I am hoping you can help set me straight with her.

Thank you in anticipation...


Michael Georges 08-25-2015 06:01 PM

Hello Ngaire,

Well we are late in getting to this. Hopefully a critique will still be of use to you. Please take my words in the spirit in which they are given - the desire to assist you in improving your work. :)

Overall the piece is reasonably composed. The figure placement in the frame is just off center and I think that always adds interest.

The overall impression the painting gives is - flat. The lighting on the figure gives the impression of flatness, the rendering of the forms are not fully fleshed out and thus appear flat. Even the paint appears in the photo to have uniformly "sunken in" and gives the impression of chalkyness. Let's address each in turn:

The lighting in the painting appears inconsistent. Now, I am not sure how you painted this - if you took a photo in the session and then painted from that, or if this is from sketches and memory? Regardless, there is some indication that the light is coming from a high angle and to the left of the form as you were to face her. I sort of feel as if in your reference, the light was not terribly strongly defined...or as if there are multiple lights as there is a fairly strong cast shadow under the chin, but not under the nose...and the shadow under the chin is showing reflected light from below. Similarly, if the light source was high and left, the it feels as if the light on the hat, would fall away more and the backside of the hat, and the side of her face and neck would be more in shadow.

Weak lighting, multiple light sources, or sources of light reflection can be difficult to manage in a portrait.

The rendering of the forms is fairly loose and sketchy overall, and somewhat tighter in the face. It feels as if you have not fully expressed the values that would have been present in the live form...not sure if your reference captured these or not...the hat seems to have a fairly strong highlight, whereas the nose is missing a highlight that might have helped you turn the form...brows and forehead look flat. The highlights on the cheeks look inconsistent to the light source. The flesh tones are a bit muddy.

From a warm/cool flesh impression, remember that where flesh is "fleshy" it will be filled with blood - hence warm. Where flesh stretches over bone or sinks into hollows, it will usually appear cool. The very warm patch over her left eye feels very warm for flesh stretched over bone and specifically jumped out at me. Your edge of the face is good and not too sharp to the background. If you cooled your flesh tones as you approached the edge it would make the form turn away better.

Clothing. This appears very sketchy and needs more work to give the impression of fabric and form.

Since I mentioned the background...it is too jumbled, too "left vs. right", and too stark and harsh for the image in my opinion. It fights the subject. The lost edge on her far shoulder is nicely done.

As for the paint. This could well be the photograph, but that at least gives the impression that the paint is chalky and looks "sunken in" and potentially underbound. That is, if this is painted in oil. If you are working in acrylic, then that can be the look acrylic paints give without any additives. If either of these is the case, then please disregard. Otherwise, look to your method of paint application.

And so, I do hope this helps! If anything I have said is not clear, please ask. Happy to have further conversation.

Be well,

Michael Georges

Ngaire Winwood 08-28-2015 04:27 AM

Hi Michael

Thank you for a great reply Michael, I really appreciated it. Work has been busy and I haven't had a chance to reply till now, so sorry.

Yes it is Acrylic and the photo is bad with a sheen across it which also makes it appear flatter and it is burnt umber to boot.

There was multiple lighting on the model. A photographic light on high left and fluro lighting on the ceiling which created weird lighting and my inexperience didn't reduce it down. I was sitting in on a group session and didn't realise the effects it made until I painted her. I first sketched her and then took a photo which I then painted from.

I also ran out of time to finish it.

The sunken in effect might be the photo colours as I haven't learnt to use photo software yet. I just uploaded straight from the camera. I had trouble shooting it. It didn't matter which way I moved it, it would put a glare on it. I went outside and placed it on a mdf board on the ground and stood over the top of it to take it. If you have any ideas how to photograph a painting well, I am all ears?

I actually forgot about cooling the shadow as it turns and alot of other basic form details, it seems. My creativity has been starved (non-existent while completing a degree) so I relied on my memory to create it. I will need to relearn the basics (from the forum) of do's and don'ts to get me back up to speed.

It is varnished, should I try to fix it or leave it?

Thanks again.


Michael Georges 08-28-2015 06:16 PM

You know, that sort of question to fix or leave always comes down to the question of "is there anything more this painting can teach me?"

Given that you have varnished it...not sure what you used and how difficult it would be to get off...that might make your decision for you as well.

As for how to photograph a painting...I have always done it by placing lights at about 45 degree angles to the face of the work - both left and right. I purchased photo lights with umbrella reflectors that I use. I usually lightly oil in (not sure if you have an equivalent in acrylic or not) so any areas that might have sunk in will be vibrant and hopefully the work will not have too much gloss overall.

You can also do it outside on a more cloudy day where the light is even, though if the work has sheen/shine to it, you will still likely see some in the photo. Sometimes you can do a very slight angle down to help eliminate the sheen, but slight enough that it does not negatively distort the work.

Hope that helps! :)

SB Wang 02-27-2020 09:15 AM

Nice work and critique.
Instead of painting, more sketches can train our eyes, etc.

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