The Portrait from Life

I’m posting this to show how I compose a portrait when working from life. If I’m working from photos the sketch stage is not as necessary. I begin by doing a quick sketch like the one above. This sketch took about 25 minutes. I draw as much of the model as I plan to have in the painting. I’m careful to get a reasonably good likeness so that proportion will be consistent to those in the painting. With the sketch as a reference, I design the layout of the painting. Before the model comes back I will have the abstract portion of the painting roughed in and two little marks to show me the size and placement of the head. These two marks are enough regardless of whether I’m painting just the head or the full figure. Having the colors laid-in in advance is important because when the model comes back I will need to use those colors in the flesh to unify the painting. When I begin painting from the model, as long as I keep her head inside the marks and I’m not tired or hungry, its works like a charm.

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From Sketch to Lay-in


I finished laying in the figures for the “mob” painting today. It worked out well. I did end up adding one more figure than I had in my thumbnail sketch (below). Fortunately I was able to get the figures to work well together. So far it’s going smoothly.

Dummies make my paintings look smart.

No, this is not me greeting a nudist parade. These are the my life-sized dummies that I use for painting models. This is the next stage of the “Joseph Greeting the Mob” painting, after transferring my concept sketch to canvas (see The Early Process, Sept 06) . I set these guys up to get a sense of scale and perspective and to work out thing like head and eye direction and model relationships. This makes it possible to work with one model at a time as I paint. As long as each model stays consistent with their corresponding dummy, things tend to go smoothly. Much of the painting I will do from photos I’ve taken of one model at a time. Then I will dress the dummies and work from life to get more info. I will also do studies from life and or use live models for the final touches. Joseph Smiths head will be done entirely from the sculpture at the left of the photo (see Before the Paint, Sept 06).

What else can I do?

I’ve spent almost the last two months working on paintings for the US Artists show coming up on October 19th. A lot of people will see my work for the first time so naturally I’m a little nervous. I look at my body of work and think to myself, “I’ve seen the tricks to making paintings that sell. It would be so easy to pull peoples heart strings a little. People would buy like crazy”, and yet I continue to do what I do. Success or no success, I’ve done my best. What else can I do?

The Early Process

I’ve been told I have a unique process. I expect that with the growing number of painters simply tracing, gridding, projecting or even copying photos verbatim my process is unique (don’t even get me started on art ethics). Much of my process is inspired by that of great painters of the past. I begin with a sketches from my mind until I’m completely satisfied with the composition. Then I copy the sketch to the canvas. This ensures that I maintain the exact composition that I planned. Then I Begin to bring in the models. One at a time, I carefully pose each model to the exact pose of the imaginary figure lightly sketched on the canvas. I carefully draw each model directly on top of their corresponding sketch. In the photo you can see I’ve begun to draw the first model in at the left of the canvas. After each model is drawn in I will begin to add color. That process I will talk about when I have a painting to show you.

Before the Paint

I’m currently working on a couple of paintings Involving Joseph Smith. Its important to me that I get as accurate of a likeness as possible. Using His death mask photos of his skull and written accounts regarding his appearance, I came up with this sculpture of his head. I left him bald because hair changes from pose to pose and covers important anatomy (ears). I will add the hair in the painting to fit the situation.

In progress


Here are a couple of portraits in progress. The one in the left of the photo is about 7ft. wide and will be a interior with seven people in it. It is a commission family portrait. I’ve simply sketched in the interior at this point using the string on the floor which is attached to a vanishing point on the easel to the right of the canvas. I will complete the interior then add the figures in later.
The painting on the right is a non-commission portrait of my assistants that will be in the US Artists show in Philadelphia, in October.