Head to Head: Getting Into Shape

When it comes to painting portraits, it helps to think big. This train of thought not only applies to setting goals but also to applying paint. A direct approach of applying simplified, accurate shapes at the beginning of a painting can often lead to a strongly stated portrait which captures the unique personality and character of your sitter from the very start.

The "shapes" that I'm referring to are seen as a result of the way that light falls across your portraiture subject. By themselves, each one of these shapes has a specific value (how light or how dark it appears), color (warm or cool), and series of edges (hard, soft, broken, etc.) that accompany it. When put together side by side, these shapes create a bigger picture. Although void of any major detail, this visual shorthand carries with it the weight and strength of the entire painting. It's the foundation on which all detail work is built. Without this framework of solidity first established, you may find yourself frustrated at the results, often focusing your attention on areas that are better left for a later stage, such as getting an exact likeness or paying too much attention to unnecessary details in a painted portrait.

The initial stages of this portrait were dedicated to finding the large shapes made by light falling across the model's face. The initial stages of this portrait were dedicated to finding the large shapes made by light falling across the model's face.
The initial stages of this portrait were dedicated to finding the large shapes made by light falling across the model's face. The initial stages of this portrait were dedicated to finding the large shapes made by light falling across the model's face.
The initial stages of this portrait were
dedicated to finding the large shapes made
by light falling across the model's face.
Portrait of Edward Wertheimer by John Singer Sargent, portrait painting.
Portrait of Edward Wertheimer
by John Singer Sargent, portrait painting.

My early introduction into this broad approach to painting portraits came as a result of studying the work of the great portrait painter, John Singer Sargent, particularly his portrait of Edward Wertheimer. What makes this painting so rare and valuable to an artist is that it's one of the very few unfinished portrait commissions that have been left by Sargent, due to the sitter's untimely death. This canvas contains some of the greatest insights into the working methods of Sargent and his initial approach to painting a portrait by using large shapes to quickly define the figure, while achieving a sense of volume in the planes of the head. The importance of this broad approach of shaping the entire painting as a whole cannot be overstated, as it's at this stage that Sargent chose to end the sitting, leaving behind a solid structural foundation for future work.

So, the next time you're looking for ways to strengthen your latest portrait painting, remember to get into shape by exercising your artistic skills to see the big picture.

–Brian

Related Posts:

Categories

Oil Painting Blog
Brian Neher

About Brian Neher

Brian Neher is a professional portrait painter accepting both private and corporate commissions. 

His work has gained recognition and awards from both the Portrait Institute in Manhattan, New York, as well as the West Coast Society of Portrait Painters in San Diego, California. His portraits have been shown in American Artist magazine, Portrait & Figure Painting Highlights by American Artist Magazine, Charlotte magazine, ID-Digest.com and seen on national television. He is a member of the Portrait Society of America and his work can be seen in private homes and institutions throughout the United States. 

Having earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pensacola Christian College and studying under world renowned master portrait painter, Joe Bowler, Brian has learned the principles and techniques of painting that are used to create a timeless work of art.

For information on commissioning a portrait, or to see more of Brian Neher’s work, visit http://www.brianneher.com.
(read less)

Comment