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A Portrait, Start to Finish

Updated on August 26, 2015
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Portraits for feeling.

I’ve been doing portraits for a while now and I find them fun for me and fascinating for an audience. Each face is different, of course, but more than that. Each face has feeling and emotion. It is more than the outward look of a person. It also has all that person’s life experiences and emotions, hurts and joys, etched in it. If I cannot make that come across somehow, I have failed. You see a photograph can capture the image of a person. Only an artist can capture the essence of the person, if that’s possible. I try to get the personality, the emotion, the person behind the person.


My photos for this concept

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Start with good photo

For this portrait, I started where I usually start with a concept. This is my husband. He is a writer, actor, drama director, pastor, councilor, a really great guy, and so much more. He is most happy when he is writing and counseling people. My concept was of him for this portrait is as a writer. He likes to scribble his ideas out longhand on paper. I wanted to look down on him from above for this, because he is so often writing about lofty and godly things and I wanted to see him as God sees him. I set up my lights and stood on a chair to get several photograph images of him. Later I chose the one I liked best and corrected the lighting a little.

Finished Pastel Study

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Start with a study in pastel

The next step was to make a preliminary drawing in pastel. It is always easiest to capture all the necessary elements in monochrome. I worked with reds and sanguines on a grey toned paper, using a light green to correct anything outside the lines that I didn’t want to show.

Start by defining the outline of the portrait as if it were a silhouette. Slowly fill in the large shapes using the medium light red color and build up to the darks. Each layer adds a little more detail to the subject until you have a soft portrait. Next the lights, highlights and deep lines for detail like eyelashes and eyebrows are added. Along the way I added a green to “erase” or mask parts of the red that escaped the outline. The green has to be added sparingly because it can overpower the whole piece if you bear down on the pastel.

After I stood back from the piece I could tell I had made his fingers on the right hand too long. This is something I will correct for my collage portrait.

Now I’m ready to start my portrait.

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Pastel Portrait

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Adding highlights and darks.
Adding highlights and darks. | Source
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Would you have a portrait done if you could afford it?

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Torn Paper Collage

I decided to do this portrait using my torn paper collage effect. It is quite versatile and intriguing when done. I’ve won many awards with this effect and really like working this way. I have found it to be fun for me and less messy except for the little pieces of cut and torn paper. It is ecological as I’m recycling old magazines and catalog pages to make my art. I could do the portrait in watercolor or oils but I chose the torn paper collage to get a loose feel. I start with a drawing and begin gathering my colors.

Start with a pencil sketch on the paper.

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Gather colors

Gathering the just the right colors is the hardest part. I had to dig through a number of magazines and brochures to find just the right reds and oranges for the face, not to mention the blues and greys for the jacket. I wanted to keep some of the wood grain look of the table top so I chose to do it in shades of tan and pale yellow.

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Background

I like to start with the background. It makes it easier to place the important subject pieces on top to cover any overages the background pieces make. I often loose my pencil lines in this way but I don’t find it hard to find them again. I remember where they are. After I’m done I will go back and add a few cut out and saved words and messages to the background, but for now it is just the flat colors. Also nothing in space is completely one flat hue. Space and distance, not to mention light and shadow, change the colors. Even if the wall were a flat white, it would appear darker the farther away from the light source it got. Keeping this in mind I used several “shades” of grey to get my background.

Jacket and Face colors

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Jacket

Next I lay in the jacket and the face colors. Sometimes I cut pieces to fit exactly but most of the time, I like to tear the paper. I like the softness of the freighted edges. When the details get too small for tearing I have to get the scissors out. Notice I am not bothering with the glasses. Not yet. I’ll place them on his face last. It is easier to make the face right and then add glasses on top, than to try to put on glasses and make the face right under them.

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Hands and TableTop

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Hands

After the face colors are added, I begin working on the hands. The colors have to be similar but not always the same as for the face. The hands and fingers have smaller planes and sharper turns from light to shadow than the face has. Most of the fingers have to be cut rather than torn. Also on average, the hands tend to be a little bit darker (sun tanned) than the face is.

TableTop extension

Next I started working on the tabletop colors. I wanted to keep the wood grain look and used light yellowy-tan colors because yellow goes well with the blues I used for the coat.

After a while working on the table top, I decided to add a couple of inches at the bottom of the page to give room for the frame and matte I will be using later. I can always trim away excess later but it will be harder to add length unless I do it now as part of the process. Being that this is collage, gluing on a couple inches of length is no problem.

Finish Hands and TableTop Extension

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My honey likes it.

As it flows along, I am really starting to like it. My husband walked by the easel and mentioned that he looks better in torn paper than in real life. I think he looks pretty good both ways.

I still had to do some facial corrections on the nose and chin plus the glasses, and a little adding of key words and images.

Finished

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Ready for an Art Show

I hope you liked my process for this portrait. Thanks so much for taking a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      wendyramsey,

      She must have a very fun interesting person. Thanks so much for the comment and the visit.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • wendyramsey profile image

      Gwendolyn Ramsey 2 years ago from Curwensville Pa

      Absolutely beautiful work! Great idea... to capture the steps. I love art. My gram who is now passed away... was a wet water color artist. She sparked my curiosity in art and travel as a child. Your art, although not the same type, reminds me of her.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      whonunuwho,

      Thank you very much. I am a professional. I do illustrations for children's books as well as fine art I enter in art shows throughout California. I'd love to do more because... well.... let's face it, art doesn't pay much. But when you love it as much as I do, you just don't care about the money part.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      Nicely done my friend. You are a gifted artist and I can see from your work a professional. Good job. whonu

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Dana Tate,

      Yeah, I used to paint and draw exactly what I saw but after my dad got so mad at me for drawing his double chins, I realized an artist is supposed to take off 10 years if he/she wants to get paid... lol. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      The portrait is amazing Denise. You are truly talented. I also enjoyed the fact that you took us step by step which shows you put a lot of heart into your article. I would definitely have a painting done, if the picture was flattering.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Jodah,

      Well, thank you very much. Color adds a whole other dynamic to portraits. I know when you do pencil drawings in black and white it makes it easier because all the color variations are eliminated. However color is a lot of fun. There is so much you can do with it to add depth of field and perspective. You should try it. Use colored pencil at first for greater control. I think you will like it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What an amazing portrait of your hubby. I love that torn paper method, it really adds extra interest to the finished product more so than just a "realistic" portrait. You are very talented Paintdrips and thank you for taking us through the process. I am sure your husband love it. I have done pencil drawings of my wife etc, but I still have not mastered painting. Who knows..one day maybe. Pinning and sharing.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kailua-KonaGirl,

      Thank you so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 2 years ago from New York

      Amen to that!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kailua-KonaGirl,

      Well, wow, that was very nice to say. I think that it is like Whistler said. I don't charge huge fees to sell art that only took a few days. I charge fees to sell art that took the experience of 40 something years in art. It takes time and a lot of practice to get there. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 2 years ago from New York

      Wow! You are so incredibly talented. Wish I just 1/10 of your talent. Thanks for the viewing. Even with the image steps to the pastel, I would never be able to pull it off. I might fare better with the collage, but never as well as your accomplishment.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thanks so much, Rachel. I have been working on this technique for about 2 years now, doing landscapes and portraits and still lifes. I think I like the portraits best. It takes some time and thought finding just the right color and texture for the place in the portrait, but that's the fun of it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      drbj,

      I've noticed the Up has disappeared. I wonder what that means. Thank you for the kuddos. I really appreciate art lovers.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Denise, you have a God given talent. I could try and follow all your instructions, but it would never come out like that. I would never thought of a portrait using a collage. Great job, thanks for sharing.

      Blessings to you.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 2 years ago from south Florida

      There is no doubt in my mind, Margaret. You are a living, breathing, extremely talented artist and I'm lucky to have found you on HP. This is a remarkable piece of writing and drawing illustrating how you created these portraits. Thank you for this outstanding and original treat.

      Voted Up even though the Up seems to have disappeared.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      Does that make me immortal? Wow. There's something I hadn't thought of before. Something to live for.... haha. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I try my best to draw well, but I just don't have the gift. Wonderful portrait and tips for us mere mortals.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Chantelle Porter,

      Like they say, art is 1% talent and 99% perspiration and dedication. I sweat a lot and just can't stop trying to get better at what I do. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      sallybea,

      Thank you so much. I think I love art so much; doing it and teaching it, that I just wanted to share it too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      Very interesting. I wish I had your talent. Great article.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      You so clearly put a huge effort into this piece of writing. The artwork is amazing and the end result speaks for itself. Very well done.