Opening Strategies vs. Endgame

   Coming down the homestretch with only (counting slowly in my mind….) 6 or 7? “free” portraits to complete in the next 2 weeks, (YIKES!) I am taking a minute to post photos from the portrait I started 2 weeks ago. This portrait was “commissioned” on a wonderful chunk of wood with a history, and I had been given a fabulous digital photo of the gentleman in question to work from. I was looking forward to starting!
    As always, the beginning of a painting is the most exciting part to me. I would go so far as to say that the trajectory of my painting career has been the slow teaching of myself how to sustain the excitement and attention to detail and signals throughout the entire painting, all the way to the bitter end. I have of late been thinking of the end of the painting as the endgame, just like in chess. I am not much of a chess player, but I can assure you, as in painting, my opening game is much more accomplished than my endgame, when my brain hurts and there are too many details to follow up on and several pieces are already in jeopardy; it just makes me want to go eat a sandwich and read a book.
    As I was saying, there is almost nothing as exciting as starting a new painting. It bursts with possibility and decisions and openings…it is akin to kissing a new boyfriend when you are 18. So I decided to stop every 3 minutes or so during the first 20 minutes of beginning this one. I even forced myself to stop and snap a photo during one of the scary moments when the painting had quickly taken a wrong turn, because those moments where one is walking dangerously close to the precipice are what creates the challenge and excitiement….

The first step was to choose which side of the panel to paint on. The panel had the donor’s name and contact info taped onto the side with more unstripped paint on it. I wondered if this indicated that it should be the “back”. I removed the paper and studied both sides; one side was mostly weathered wood, the other had a compelling sort of strip of white paint running up  the right side and some un-removed green globs along the bottom. I opted for the painted side.

Burnt sienna is a traditional underpainting color, and so I sketched out the “map” for the portrait…being especially careful to keep things smaller and contained within the planned painted area, rather than erring on the side of extending outwards, as part of the challenge with painting on found materials is to allow their interesting surfaces to be an unmarred aspect of the final piece…..
Here, I have started in with some  white mixed with the burnt sienna for lighter facial areas ,and then some other variations of white for the interesting green and pinkish t-shirt shadow colors. At this point, I didn’t realize it, but the left ear is too low, the left shoulder should come higher, but the general placement is good. Also at this point, the likeness feels really easy and accurate. I am so busy attenuating to every interesting shadow shape and the incredible variety of color, that the likeness is simply a by-product of all the wonderful shapes and colors.

I only realize now that it was at this point that the resemblance started to go. I was still busy laying down base colors and it all seemed to be falling into place…..
I think it was here that I had to force myself to pick up the camera, because all of a sudden, the man materializing on the wood was starting to look like a different one than the one I was painting. Probably, now that I have hindsight at my disposal, the harsh light and dark contrasts were starting to change his facial characteristics in the wrong direction….
So, I slowed down and paid attention to exactly how long his smile extended to the right past the edge of his nose,  and I filled in the right lit up edge of his face, and added a lot of intermediate tones to bridge the high contrast areas that were bothering me. Relief flooded through me as he slowly started to look more like the gentleman in the photo again.

Obviously, I have continued on from this point, but it was the initial battle that I wanted to portray…I am planning a post about the “endgame, not of this painting, but of a commissioned portrait that I have just finished. As it is on canvas and involves the whole interface of a subject on a painted background, it has provided a real arena in which to flex my endgame muscles. I will post about it on mother’s day,. as that is the day that the lady will receive the portrait and she doesn’t want to see it until then.

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