This is another new experience for me. It just so happened that my friend decided to commission a portrait for her partner’s granddaughter’s birthday. She doesn’t see this girl very often and when she had a moment she snapped a few photos of this cute little girl. The girl was in a playful mood and didn’t want to pose, making faces, turning around, wiggling her hips. As a result, there was only one decent picture which she sent me by email.
I liked the girl in the picture, but I didn’t like the quality of the photo. This is a thing I need to learn. I have to be firm to refusal in accepting a bad photo for my point of reference. When I tried to scale up the photo to better see details, her eyes and nose become were blurry spots. As a solution I tried to draw her portrait till the waist line, so there would be less focus on her facial features.
Knowing this girl, I pictured her as a part of a fairy tale life, beautiful, innocent and little. That was what my friend wanted to depict. I didn’t like the fact that her hands were behind her body, usually artist who avoid the challenge of drawing hands tend to make them look like they are behind the subjects back. I wanted to show her arms and thought I could draw them myself, but I needed something to reference. Assuming that the hands of most little girls look similar, I searched for some other photo references and found a photo of another girl in a similar position wearing a pretty dress. The photo also had the same light source. So I decided to combine the body of one girl and the head of another. Then I added fairy wings behind the subject to look as though they were almost blending with background.
It took me seven hours to complete the work.
Honestly, I was a little bit nervous when I sent the photo of the portrait to my friend. She sent me a short text “I will give you a call.” Suddenly I felt like a little hearing mom saying “We need to talk…” It wasn’t a good sign. A few hours later I couldn’t wait any longer for her phone call and texted to ask if she liked it or not. Did she see any resemblance between the original photo and my portrait? She sent me a message that the girl in the portrait looked older and didn’t have the same innocence and child-like qualities. She wanted the portrait to show the little girl’s playfulness and innocence and the portrait I’d done had no resemblance to the girl. Her partner said that the girl in the portrait looked pretty, but was somebody else, not his granddaughter. I was very confused. Why she didn’t explain me what she wanted from the very beginning? I thought I was free to express my artistic vision and it turned out to be a failure…
Eventually we spoke over the phone and my friend said she wanted this girl to look exactly like the one in the photo but to make it black and white.
Gosh, I didn’t know it would be so hard! Having blurry spots on the eyes I couldn’t detect where the pupil began and ended to show exact eye focus. I never knew that facial mimicry to be so complicated. We have hundreds of different facial expression that depends on micro movements of certain parts of the face. The pupil could be more or less dilated and eye lid more or less closed and it totally changes the whole expression.
Besides every artist knows how challenging it is to draw teeth to look realistic not like a Hollywood fake smile but at the same time pretty. Any lines on the teeth can kill the charm, especially if they are tiny kid’s teeth that with show gums above them.
I did several sketches before I started to work on the portrait. Then I did one using dry brushing technique. I absolutely hated the result. I made a few mistakes and the oil I was using for it was hard to erase. It was a mess. Then I tried to use a black hard pastel and had the same problem, also the black pastel chalk didn’t look black enough to me, it had a hint of a brown undertone. But the face itself actually looked very close to the subject. I felt I couldn’t do better and decided to show it to another artist to get her opinion. She praised my work and said I was able to really grasp her expression. The only problem she saw was that I was mimicking photo rather than building a face from the traditional egg shape kind of approach where the artist structures the face first and then builds the overall shape rather than focusing on particular features. She recommended starting a new one.
And I did… reluctantly but stubbornly to get better result. I kept in mind the instructions and suggesting I’d received and started to build a shape, using my brain and memory rather than my intuition. The portrait at the end looked so much more correct in terms of shape and clarity of shades. I used charcoal this time. I loved the feeling of it and decided that I wanted to stick to it for a while.
But my last portrait had even less resemblance to the photo then the one I made right before that. It was kind of a disappointment, but at least I could give my friend a choice between a more precise but slightly messy one or a clean image but with less resemblance. She liked the messy one more, saying that I needed to make few changes with her nose, chin and forehead to make her look more round. I honestly didn’t think she was going to like it. I was kind of sick of this challenge, plus I’d now spent nearly 17 hours spent on all different attempts, which was really starting to weigh on my patience.
Once I made all of the changes I showed the edited portraits to my friend and she decided to take all of them! She told me she wanted to keep one for herself and give one as birthday present. There is always an option to have a copy of original one too. It could be on canvas. I am going to tell her.