Oil Painting Portrait of My Wife

Lately I’ve been discussing my recent journey into the world of oil painting, having shared my first attempt, a portrait of my kids, and an effort to use up excess paint. Now, we come to my 5th painting, in which I attempted to paint a portrait of my wife. I say “attempted” because I did experience some challenges along the way, which I’ll talk about in a bit more depth. The short version is that I had some difficulty bringing out contrast with this painting, and also somehow made it look like a “Glamorshot” from the 1980s/90s. It’s one I continued to return to over and over again, more so than possibly any piece of art I’ve ever done.

Holiday weekend painting frenzy. Just a preview – these will each be shared and discussed in separate posts. From left to right: My Wife, Bob Ross-Style landscape, Eric Andre, Pandorum, and the Princess Bride.

This painting came about during an absolute frenzy of a holiday weekend in October. It seems over the last few months, every weekend has been completely jam-packed with various commitments. It hasn’t left an overabundance of extra time to commit to this newfound passion for painting. As I mentioned in the last post, for me so far, painting seems to require a bit more substantial of a time allotment compared to colored pencils. Drawings can be picked up and dropped as time allows, but painting materials have to be set up and prepared in advance. And if I want to take advantage of the excellent blending afforded to the “wet on wet”/alla prima approach, I really have to finish most of it in the same sitting if possible. Anyhow, on this particular weekend, half of my family were down with colds, so I suddenly found lots of painting time as everyone rested.

I ended up completing the bulk of five paintings that three day weekend, which in hindsight seems like quite a lot. But it didn’t feel that way in the moment; I just did what I felt like doing, and ended up surprising myself. Granted, several had to be reworked to varying degrees of the following couple of weeks, and they weren’t masterpieces or anything. But I was shocked by how many I ended up going through. I’d finish one painting, still find myself buzzing with “Painting Energy”, and just roll right into another one. I’d tell myself, “well I’ll just stop if I get bored” but then never reach that moment of hypothetical boredom. Some paintings were planned/outlined, but others weren’t; I just went with the flow.

I’ll talk about the others in later posts, but for now back to the portrait of my wife. It started well, but once I got into the details, I found myself sort of “losing the plot” in a sense. Details were getting washed out and I wasn’t able to keep grasp of distinguishing features. Part of the issue was that the refence photo did not have much contrast, and I am not a skilled enough painter at this point to make it up as I go. I do know that can be done though, as I’ve seen many videos from Alpay Efe in which he discusses creating your own depth through color differences (warm vs cool, dark vs light). This is definitely something I want to work on, and will make it a target for future practice. In this case though, I struggled. I’ll share the final version, and talk more about the process:

Portrait of my wife. Oil paint on textured paper, linseed oil solvent.

In very early versions of this painting, I think the details held together decently well. But as I mentioned, as I progressed, details fell apart. And I think even aside from details, the facial shape morphed a bit and she became less recognizable. My wife saw this portrait as it progressed, and she believes I may have overworked it at certain points. I agree with her about that, as there were mid-to-late stages of the painting that degraded in terms of actually looking like her.

I mentioned reworking this one more than any other piece of art I’ve done, and I really think that is true. Historically, I almost never return to colored pencil portraits (with a few exceptions). And if I do, because paper’s “tooth” can only hold so much pencil wax, I typically have to just start a totally fresh portrait of the same thing. Oil paints are much more conducive to being reworked though; as long as you let the paint mostly dry, you can come back with another layer and try again and again. I definitely took advantage of that here! In fact, I was still doing some minor touch-up on this one even as I started my self portrait, which was painting number 10.

The primary areas I kept returning to were her mouth, teeth, jawline, and nose. Additionally, I felt compelled to rework contrast and general coloring multiple times; there were some iterations that were too washed out. Although the final version does still look a bit like a 1980s/90s Glamorshot in some respects, I think I was able to fix most of the more glaring issues. For the most part, this does look like my wife, and I was able to get some color variation implemented. I still want to work on Alpay Efe’s warm vs cool techniques though, because I think it makes for some excellent displays of shape and depth. There are a couple of areas that I’m still not happy with – her mouth still isn’t quite right (lips should be full, but I can’t find the right shape), and the lighting makes the nostrils look different sizes. But it’s close.

I thought perhaps I didn’t take enough photos for a progression video with this one, but luckily enough, I was wrong about that! I was able to string a few together and get another quick time-lapse style video, which I’ve embedded above. This one is pretty useful because I think it shows what I’m talking about with certain phases looking a bit washed out, and losing some of the details. There were many lessons I could take from this one for sure.

Since I’ve given a little preview here of the five paintings I did during this frenzy of a holiday weekend, I guess I already let the cat out of the bag on some of my upcoming posts. But continuing with the chronological order of things, the next one I share and discuss will be this painting I did of some mountains…with no people! A strange development for me for sure, but enjoyable nonetheless. Then, a painting of comedian Eric Andre, followed by somewhat of a do-over based on the movie Pandorum. And an iffy rendering Princess Bride scene that perhaps needs more work before I actually share it. So, more to come!


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