My new painting of Jeff, entitled “Presence”, grew out of a sketch that turned out particularly well.
One of the ways I stay in shape, drawing-wise, is by doing a lot of rough sketches. My drawing board is next to my iMac, with its gorgeous 24-inch screen, and I begin by pulling up some random photographs of my various models. Then I start drawing, just flipping through photographic images one by one and drawing whatever comes up. Whenever I don’t have a specific idea for a painting, I’ll just do rough sketches until something interesting happens.
Sometimes I’ll draw rough sketches day after day for a week before something really strikes me. But a few days ago, I was drawing from some photographs of Jeff (from my first photo session with him, where he was sitting on my bed), and got lucky.
I really liked the feeling and energy of this rough sketch, enough so that I did a second version of it. In the second version I taped an additional sheet of paper onto the left because the hand was getting cut off and the composition was looking like it needed to be more square.
I liked the energy of the first sketch, but I really loved what happened in the second sketch. Some magic happened with that one. One of my favorite things about both sketches is that funky one-eye-way-too-big thing…I don’t know why I like it so much, but I do.
Below is a shot of the finished painting on my easel. I didn’t take any in-progress shots of the actual painting process because it happened so fast! At this point I’d been painting nonstop for several days—I think I did 3 paintings in the space of a week—so I was warmed up. The more warmed up I am, the more in the painting groove, the more likely wonderful things will happen. Taking even a couple of days off from painting usually means another several-day warmup period before things get flowing again. I think this is pretty standard for most painters.
Anyway, before I began, I mentally saw the colors I wanted to use—the red background, the green of the comforter—and as I began covering the canvas with color, I saw that it was going to work. That’s always a huge relief! I did have to do a lot of repainting of various parts of the body to get the right mix of flesh tones. I ended up using a lot of oranges and pinks, and used the rich earth-yellow tones of raw sienna to bring it all together.
I’ve always had a tendency toward crowded compositions, so I was really happy that I was able to give the figure room to breathe in this one. Notice how much space there is above Jeff’s head in this painting. In the past I’d have probably have brought the top edge down much closer to the top of his head—and probably brought the bottom up closer to his foot as well. I don’t know why it’s been a challenge for me to give a composition breathing space. It’s almost like I have a fear of wasting space in the painting by not filling it up with something. Sounds silly, I know. But for me, painting is always about going through my fears, and this is just another one I’m beginning to master. There’s a quote I read, attributed to Aristotle Onassis, that I’ve always loved: when asked the secret of his success, he reportedly said, “Three things. Boldness, boldness, and more boldness.”