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Creating A Gallery Figurative Oil Portrait “Lady Bug”

This is a figurative painting that I am creating for a gallery or collector.

It is a 30×30″ oil on canvas in progress, and we are looking for name for it at this time.

If interested in my detailed procedure, see the Commission Portrait Painting blog. In this blog I would prefer to just add some abbreviated notes.

I designed a painting composition based on a recent photo shoot with my favorite model at the Landon Azalea garden in Bethesda, MD.  After I stretched my 30×30″ white linen canvas, I applied a very thin alziarin/black and white under painting to the canvas and let it dry for two days. I don’t usually sketch a line drawing, instead I painted the figure directly on canvas as shown by the below two photos.



Above is my first figurative paint layer which I applied very thinly, kept loose,  and let dry.



I added another darker layer on her face and hair. I create darker layers first, then add lighter layers on top. Im starting to add the foliage.



Im continuing with the foliage and adding a darker layer on her dress. I want to paint her dress fairly close to where it will be before I lay in the foliage that will cover part of the dress.



Foliage added on top of dress. Background gets another layer. Im going dark with black/greens for depth so the light figure pops, but I will also add some mid-tone green foliage coming out from the dark shadow.



Added some mid tone green foliage in background.


I now have the painting completely laid in. The composition has been established. Value and color temperature decisions have been made. Paint layers have been built up and there is now sufficient paint accurately laid in, and since I didnt paint up to lines, my edges are mainly soft and loose like I like them. The paint finish is beginning to glow with a beautiful luminescence.



Now it’s time to step back, take it all in, squint down, look at the painting carefully in my mirror, and  decide where I want take it from here. I try not to over think it, however when a painting gets pretty far along, if I lose my focus, the painting could look worse at the end of a long session, and it’s not like photoshop, you can’t go back to previous layers. After a 6 hour painting session the previous day, it’s pretty painful when your wife says I liked it better before your last session!

So it’s important to have a plan, step back and look carefully often. I try not to obsess on the same area for too long….just do the best I can with it in a reasonable period of time and move on, knowing I will come back on it later if necessary.

Oh yea, did I mention prayer?  Especially in later stages, for fear of going backwards, also because the finishing layers are so critical, I really need to be in the right state of mind when working. In order to get in the right state of mind,  I typically play gregorian chants (and other soft peaceful music…whatever works), get on my knees and pray for God to guide my brush.  When I lose focus or get confused or frustrated when painting, I do it again. It helps alot.

New decisions will have to be made. I dont have the time or energy to paint every leaf, flower or strand of hair that exists in reality, so I will have to decide which to paint, and which to leave out. It is my desire to create a very realistic and beautiful painting, however I dont want it to look like a photograph. I also do not want to over work it…I want to keep it looking fresh. At this stage, it looks great from a short distance, but like any painting, when you light it and get up close, it really looks like a painting.

I try and think how the painting will be viewed. The eye comes in from the lower left and is lead to her beautiful face. I love the beautiful flowers but I want them to compliment this wonderful child not to distract from her. So when viewing, if my eye wonders too freely from her face I may tone the distracting elements down. It’s a balance that Im striving for.



Above, I added another layer to hair ribbon, flowers above and to the right. I added highlights on her face, and covered the green leaf that was on her chest. You can still see it under the paint layer. It will need another layer to cover it completely. Im still not sure if I should have a leaf up there or not……what do you think?  Feel free to comment below.