When working on Units 1 and 2 I was drawn to the human body and this was shown in my work. The human body has always been an interest so this is why I decided to study portraits for Unit 3. There were several things about portraits that interested me. First of all the idea of drawing/painting a portrait of someone and getting it to resemble that person was an exciting idea for me. At a younger age I was interested in getting a likeness of the models I would draw. I wanted to develop that ability. In the past when I had drawn from life I had only used pencil. By choosing this as my theme I knew this would give me the chance to draw portraits using other media.
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The first artist who helped me start this project was Pablo Picasso. I spent much time studying Picasso by looking at his different periods. I started with his African inspired work. However it wasn’t until I studied his Rose and Blue Period that I really became interested in portraits. It was this era of his work that inspired me to study portraits. His works in the Blue Period captured my imagination. I feel they are powerful in capturing mood and emotion through Picasso’s use of colour, realism etc. This was something that pushed me in the direction of portraiture. I wanted to capture mood and emotion in my portraits. He was the inspiration that led me to study other artists including Giacometti and Lucian Freud. I studied artists which had relevance to my work and to the themes I wanted to explore.
The first artist which I studied was Giacometti.
The son of a painter, Alberto Giacometti was born in Stampa on October 10th 1901. He began to draw and model at an early age and in 1919 he enrolled at the École des Arts-et-Métiers in Geneva. He travelled in Italy in 1920-1921. He studied with the sculptor Émile Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére in Paris from 1922-1925. After sharing a studio in Paris with his brother Diego from 1925-1927, Giacometti set up his own. He would often use his brother Diego as a model.
I studied his portrait of Jean Genet. Giacometti’s technique with line drawing and gesture was something I wanted to explore through my own work.
Another painting which reminded me of his style was a portrait of Giacometti.
I chose this portrait because of the artist’s style in gesture drawing. I was interested by his ability to capture his model’s expressions through line and gesture drawing. I used this technique in my initial sketches in order to feel my way around the subject. Something that I found very interesting was choice in colour. The colours he uses in this particular portrait are all very warm (consisting of different shades of browns). They give a feeling of warmth and comfort yet the expression on the model’s face appears quite sad and cold. I found this to be somewhat of a paradox. This use of expressive colour I found very exciting and was a concept that led to more research for my project.
I decided to paint a self portrait keeping these paints in mind. It led to the creation of a self portrait in this style using similar colours too. One technique the artist has used that I tried to show in my work was the layering of paint thickly. I felt this added volume and history to the portrait. Giacometti uses strong and thick layers of paint in order to emphasise the contrast between light and dark. He paints a dark figure on light background. I found the texture of the brush strokes very interesting but also hard to create in my own work.
Giacometti usually focused on sculptures of the human body and for one of many portraits he created, this one shows how skilful he was at creating figures.
I think the main aspect, of his paintings I have studied, that captures my interest is his style of painting. He uses free brush strokes and brush strokes which are applied like the crosshatching pencil strokes in a drawing. The shapes he creates with these brush strokes I think are most effective. I have tried to use mark making in my own work in this way.
Having completed my self portrait I began to feel that it would be a good idea to try and capture expression in my work. I was interested in Francis Bacon’s expressions that he created in his model’s faces. Often distorting the faces, Bacon’s portraits and self portraits push the boundaries in portrait painting. The mood in his paintings is often sombre. Bacon uses dark colours such as dark green, blue and black. Much of his work conveys feelings of suffering and despair. His work is similar to that of cubist style painting and reminds me of Picasso’s work, such as the ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon,’ in particular the facial expressions of the figures.
I studied ‘The Screaming Pope.’ Bacon completed this painting after being inspired by Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X in 1953.
Bacon creates a claustrophobic and nightmarish scene. The figure of the pope is ghost-like. He looks dead or like he is dying. There is a haunted feel about the painting. The screaming face of the pope and the strokes down the painting adds to the horror of the image. One can almost hear his cries. I am not sure why Bacon decided to create such a horrific image of a religious figure who is seen by many as someone holy and graceful. Bacon may be expressing his feeling toward religion or to the concept of the pope. The fact that Bacon was a catholic who later came out as homosexual, perhaps he was suffering from quiet retribution. He may also have been challenging the status of the pope, shocking the public.
Bacon had asthma as well as allergies to horses and dogs. During his attacks, he was given morphine, a strong drug, which may explain some of the creative expression in his work which have the quality of drug hallucinations.
I am interested in this portrait; the colours convey a sense of horror. The use of purple and gold compliment each other very well but also signify riches and royalty. The black shadows in the background may represent growing shadows around the figure. The use of these colours and the dark aggressive feeling Bacon creates are very effective. When looking at the painting one can almost feel shivers down ones spine. The fact that you can see through the figure’s robes and that no legs are visible adds to the horror of this painting.
After studying this painting I felt compelled to create a piece aiming to capture emotion in a similar way. I wanted to capture the expression in my portrait as Bacon did. I did another self portrait however this one differed from the first. I used different shades of blue acrylic paint. I did not however paint the whole face. Focusing from the nose down to the neck I painted a piece in which my mouth was wide open. I did this to try and capture a similar atmosphere which Bacon captured in ‘The Screaming Pope.’ By focussing on the shapes created by the lips and cheeks, I was pleased with the result. However I think that perhaps the texture of the hardboard breaks up the brush strokes and makes the brush marks difficult to see.
When it came to studying Lucian Freud I was amazed by the way he creates skin texture. One of his finest pieces of work was his self portrait entitled “Reflection.” Portraits and nudes are Freud’s specialties and with this piece it is clear to see why. The thing I found most fascinating about this piece of art is the texture of the flesh. Freud seems to capture the raw and ugly nature of the human flesh. In this self portrait Freud has successfully captured every wrinkle and crevice on the face. He uses strong contrast in shadow and highlights and this is something I took into consideration with future paintings. His brushstrokes are carefully applied to create an accurate portrait, whereas Giacometti’s portraits and figure drawings have a more abstract quality. Lucian Freud’s portraits are so realistic that they become almost surreal. Freud captures every shadow and highlight in a meticulous manner and I was interested in achieving something similar in my own work.
There is a strong significance about the colours and paint he uses:
“I want paint to work as flesh… my portraits to be of people, not like them. Not having the look of the sitter, being them… as far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.” – www.about.com/painting
Freud uses a granular pigment called cremnitz white to achieve his unique painting of the flesh. I mixed sand with paint to give more texture to my paint to imitate the texture. I thoroughly enjoyed working with it. I felt it added character to the portrait and made the texture of the skin far more interesting.
I found the texture of the hair quite intriguing. I liked the rough and coarse look Freud creates and it was an option to try and achieve a similar look when painting my model’s hair. However the hair was probably the thing I had most trouble with. I struggled with texture and colour. Perhaps I should have spent more time studying how artists paint hair put it into practice before applying it to a large portrait.
The expression in Freud’s self portrait is interesting in relation to what it is I am trying to achieve in my work. I have looked closely at the forehead: the lines created from the artists frown. This was something else that I wanted to achieve in my own work.
Self Portrait: This portrait was inspired by the portrait of Giacometti which I studied. Using similar colours I attempted to get that similarity to his work. For a first attempt I do not believe I achieved this. I did however succeed in getting a self portrait to actually look like me. This was a great boost of confidence for a first self portrait. From this piece I learned that I should create the background and plan it at the early stages of the portrait. I learned that the background is just as important as the face when creating mood or atmosphere.
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Oil Pastels on Brown Paper: This was the first time I used oil pastels for a large piece. My aim was to try and set a mood of strong emotion, so I went for feelings of anger and rage. This idea was inspired from paintings from artists such as Picasso and Bacon who use colour to manipulate the mood of their work.
I used a strong red to achieve this, combined with black for shadows, orange for mediums and yellow and white for highlights. I drew from life. While looking in a mirror I tried to draw myself with an expression of anger. From this piece I learned how effective colour is in a portrait. For example I could have used a different colour other than red and a different feeling of emotion may have been evoked.
Open Mouth – Acrylic on hardboard: The aim with this piece was to capture emotion, a feeling of pain, fear or shock. I thought the use of different shades of blue would emphasise these feelings. This was influenced by works from Francis Bacon. The emotion in some of his paintings such as “The Screaming Pope” appealed to me and I wanted to portray that emotion through my work. However, I decided to take a different approach. Rather than painting my whole face I focused only on the bottom half, from the end of the nose down to the chin. My intention was to capture the emotion from just the open mouth, as I felt that is where most of the strong feelings of emotion exist in Bacon’s “The Screaming Pope.” Eyes can often show a person’s true feelings, so I wanted achieve this without painting the eyes.
The recycling of the hardboard was chosen to give myself experience working with other material. I used the rough side of the board to add texture and to give the piece some more character.
In all I felt I had successfully created feelings such as pain and fear through not just my use of a cold colour like blue, but by focusing on the wide open mouth.
Portrait of Brother: On A3 paper, I drew a portrait of my brother in pencil, from life. Before this I had practiced drawing portraits in pencil from photographs. This was to prepare me for drawing from life. I wanted to get an idea of shading, proportion, texture, etc. It was a challenge drawing from life as I was quite comfortable with drawing from photographs, however I needed to take that step in order to develop my skills in drawing portraits. Looking at the portrait now I see it lacks in volume. An obvious problem was that I only had a 4B and 6B pencil, so I learned the importance of having different grades of pencils.
The portrait required more time in capturing the highlights and shadows. I also had a slight problem with measurements, as the eyes were a little out of proportion.
I learned to spend more time in studying shading and to be stricter with my measurements.
After drawing this portrait I then photocopied it. Working with the photocopies I tried to capture mood atmosphere by adding colour. I used blue oil pastels in the picture which ultimately led to a colder mood. I also tried to get a different effect. After colouring the picture I scrunched up the paper into a ball and dampened it with water. This then led to cracks on the page which I felt added to the mood, perhaps suggesting a mood of feeling cold and broken, etc.
I then used a photocopy to draw it in a larger scale and with different material. Drawing on a sheet of brown paper larger than A2 I used chalk pastels with colours like orange, yellow and blue to try and get different effects. However I soon learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to use brown paper. I used the smoother side of the sheet which led to problems. It proved very difficult to work with as the chalk did not stick well.
Portrait of Mother – Pencil & Charcoal: with this piece I drew my mother from life at a profile view. This was the first time I had drew someone at this angle, so I was interested to see how it would compare with my previous portraits. I used pencils grading from 2B up to 6B. I also used a rubber for the strong highlights that appeared on her hair.
I found it challenging doing a profile view. I found that I had to be much more aware of the measurements from the ear to the eye and from the eye to the bridge of the nose. This was quite a challenge but I feel I was quite successful in getting the measurements quite accurate. I achieved a likeness in the drawing to my mother’s face so this I felt was an achievement.
I then moved on to a bigger piece using this drawing as a guide. On A2 grey card, I created a charcoal copy of the drawing. First however, because of our school’s lack of resources, I was restricted to using a sheet of card, which was of poor quality. It had a shiny texture that did no agree with the charcoal. To solve this problem I mixed grey paint with sand. This changed the colour of the sheet but also made it rougher to allow the charcoal to stick.
My measurements were a little off this time leading to a failure in getting a likeness to the model. I used the black of the charcoal for the dark shadings, the grey pain acted as a medium and I used white chalk for the highlights.
From this I learned that it is possible to create better textures with the use of substances such as sand mixed with paint. I also learned that I have to be even stricter with my measurements as the charcoal piece was less accurate in comparison to the pencil drawing.
Portrait of Tom:
I drew a classmate from life using charcoal. When drawing this I wanted to explore different effects from light. I did it in a dark room with one office lamp. I feel I was quite successful in getting a likeness. My proportion has become more accurate.
I then painted a final piece from this charcoal drawing. This I found a challenge as it is the largest portrait I have done yet. My aim was to get a Lucian Freud look and feel to it. I painted on the background first as I had learned from the past that it was easier to work in this progression.
I painted thick brush strokes to create texture. I used shades of cream and pink for the skin colour. Then for the highlights I mixed sand with paint to give more texture to my paint to imitate the texture of Freud’s cremnitz. I enjoyed working with this as it created an unusual and interesting texture. It proved to be effective in contrasting the highlights with shadows.
The size was important as I wanted to experience with working on something large scale also I felt it would have a larger impact.
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