Revisiting an earlier portrait

This was based on an unattributed photo I found on the internet when searching for faces to paint for Practice of Painting last year. I liked the strength in this woman’s face, but I had to construct a story of some sort around her as there was nothing. This was the result:

The photo was in black and white so I fantasised the colours and I liked the result even though her face was rather flat and pasty. Her nose was quite a triumph too despite being much too long and very wide with no real definition. I hoped to do better this time round and, with no loyalty to the original, I painted over it. I’ve been doing this more and more lately; not only is it conserving of resources, the residue and textures of a previous painting form a structure that sits in the background waiting to be used.

This was my first effort – a much more subtle treatment of the features and a muting of the wild background.

I’ve used bright white and Naples yellow as bases for a darker surface wash and these are the phases in that process. I also wanted to add some blue and to make more of her hair, the iteration on the left looking a little too much like Gaddafi for comfort! These layers either mute the under layers or provide a surface that can be scrubbed back to reveal rough patches of colour underneath.

This came from a feeling of being in the spotlight and simultaneously negated as are so many women. Her eyes look fierce and, for once, that nose doesn’t need to be fudged!

Here, I’ve brought the white paint down and across – highlighting her face on the left and obscuring her shoulder, hair, and forehead in what I’m imagining as a blinding flash. We could be in a war zone.

After quite a lot of scrubbing with a damp but scratchy flannel (dried-on paint), I’ve been able to pull back some of the surface paint to the various layers beneath. This is the nearest I’ve come to a kind of classical/contemporary fusion.

Materials are all acrylics plus gloss varnish under-layers, and the support is canvas approx 35×45 cm. I’ve drawn with paint and partially imagined the woman as she was when the photo was taken. I’ll probably want to do something else with it tomorrow but for now, it’s finished!

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