Art: A Portrait in Stages

Here’s how I paint a portrait.

Space Amanda

Space Amanda

This is Amanda, and she’s leaving town for the Summer – so I decided to send her off with a painting of a memory and a reminder to come back soon.

Amanda and I volunteered to help set up, decorate, and tear down the annual people’s prom this year, which we did alongside a crowd of our talented and lovely friends. This year, the theme was a prom in space, and I spent the weeks ahead of the dance collecting and curating hundreds of kitschy, cool, fun, weird science fiction clips, and then I cast them in a mixing loop split across three projectors onto the ceiling – as if they were the windows on the bridge of a star-ship.

I wore a three piece suit and a robot helmet (with a cane) that would have disguised me completely if it weren’t for the fact that wearing a three piece suit with a robot helmet is exactly the sort of thing I’d do. Amanda wore a hooded dress made up of glow-in-the-dark galaxies and she put stars around her eyes.

Our friends all came dressed as robots, aliens, and classy prom-goers of the far future, and we danced amid the lasers in the simulated gravity of the star ship we’d built together. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone float out the door.

Stage One

Stage One

This first stage of the painting took me about two hours. I suppose I could have shown a couple of earlier stages, but they were simply messy strokes of placeholder shapes and colours. Still, I wish I’d kept one at that level just to show where things really begin. Next time.

Stage Two

Stage Two

At the second stage, I’m trying to maintain a likeness and pull all the various features into final order before I start the long process of continual refinement and detail work.

I find I have a habit of painting eyes much larger than they really are, for example, and this can sometimes give the painting the look of a caricature rather than a portrait. I try to step back from my work for a while at this point and determine what, if anything, is killing or emphasizing the likeness.

In this case, there wasn’t a huge leap in changes between this stage and the final piece. I had tried a handful of ideas that didn’t really work out the way I had planned at this point, such as putting stars in the darkest parts of her hair. I think that concept might have worked if I could have found the right colour for them.

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