Revisiting a Portrait

Revisiting a Portrait — August 2019.  

“See the World”, 32″ x 24″, oil on linen.

In the fall of 2017, I began a portrait of my friend Scott O’Neill. He posed in our living room holding a ruby glass goblet and wearing a long white Venetian shirt.  Behind Scott, above my fireplace mantel, my master copy of Holbein’s Sir Thomas More hangs in a golden frame.  For this figure painting, I created an imaginary landscape of clouds, water, and green fields.

You may have seen my blog post about it then or my short YouTube video describing what inspired it.

Artists are rarely satisfied with a finished painting.  Revisiting a portrait, in particular, seems like folly because there are so many other wonderful faces and poses to explore.  And at the end, you know it’s too late to improve a composition or other fundamentals.  But sometimes you know you can still improve what’s on the surface by tweaking colours, some values, and edges. And it’s an opportunity to demonstrate newly-acquired knowledge or  skills.

Below, on the left is the revised version; on the right, the original.

What changed for me shortly after completing the first version was a new appreciation on how to mix colours with more accuracy and efficiency. In November 2018, I took a workshop with American master Graydon Parrish on the Munsell system and it completely changed how I approach colour.  Then I acquired the Munsell Book of Color with its set of chips representing a range of hues with different values and chromas.  I’ll have to write a separate post about that specifically.

When I looked again at my first version, I saw how I had tried to use too many different hues of colour to represent the skin. With some photos, the planes of the face came across as somewhat purple, red and orange and those shifts in colour or hue were not justified by the lighting or surroundings I had created.  So instead I chose one hue (2.5YR in Munsell notation) and then applied a range of values and chromas as needed.  In highlights, skin tends to be of high value and low chroma (low intensity or saturation).  As the surface of the skin moves away from the highlight, it gets darker but increases in chroma.  Finally, as the form of the face moves away from the lightsource and into shadow, the value and chroma decrease proportionately.

I also took the opportunity to make some minor changes in the shirt, in particular, darking the left arm and softening its edges.  In retrospect, there was more that I could have done but I am satisfied with it as it stands now.