Web Log and Painting Diary
6-12-06: Otto - Update
On Monday June 5th, we delivered the painting of Otto to Phil's mom, Elizabeth, for her 86th birthday. I'd placed it in a box, wrapped it with fabric she had given me and tied it with crochet thread. She was sitting on the couch when I handed her the box.
"What's this?" she said.
"Otto in a box," I said.
I helped her open the package. When she pulled out the painting, she was taken aback - in a good way. A look of amazement was on her face.
"It looks just like him," she said.
She asked me to take down the black and white picture of him behind the television and replace it with the painting. I did so.
Later when we were seated at the kitchen table, I said. "We brought Otto along, too. I feel him with us."
At that time she did not feel his presence, but she did have a glow about her all the while we were there. I told her she looked pretty.
"I do?" she asked. She's exhausted and in a lot of pain a good deal of the time.
"Yes," I said.
Phil's sister, Helen, arrived. When she saw the painting, she said, "That's Otto."
On the weekend when Phil talked to his mother, she said we had brought Otto with us. He'd been with her ever since and seemed connected to the painting. She is so pleased.
All that work, all that frustration in trying to get the painting just right was worth it. She's a woman who does not easily accept gifts, but freely gives them. It feels like now, finally, I was able to do something for her. Bringing Otto to her is the best thing that could have happened. I'm so glad.
I started today thinking I would redo Otto. I even stretched a new canvas. Once I had the canvas on the easel, I realized I was not at all motivated to paint a new Otto. So I worked on the original a little more. I highlighted the forehead slightly. Added highlight to the bridge of the nose and added a strip of dark hair in his left side. I'm done. That's it!
I worked more on Otto and was thinking maybe I should start over.
I reworked Otto and became totally frustrated.
4-15-06 : Otto
I found the fine sandpaper and buffed away Otto's zits. In fact I sanded the whole forehead, which left part of it dark and splotches of light. With a filbert sable brush I slowly began experimenting to even them out. I applied only a little color at a time and then started highlighting. What worked best for highlighting was white with a touch of the yellow green. I decided I should stop before I started removing color again with subsequent layers. I'll let it dry until tomorrow afternoon.
One of the problems with the Otto painting is that the weave of the canvas shows up so much. So today on his right cheek, the left side as I face him, I carefully filled in the area with more paint, over and over, first in the darker values and then the lighter. Then, of course, everything had to be blended. I also redid the forehead. In the process I rediscovered ridges of paint. I don't know how they got there. I've tried to be careful, but there they are. I sanded and repainted several times. I tried filbert and flat brushes, bristle brushes, real sable and synthetic sable. Always there were ridges on the forehead. Even when they seemed gone, the part that stuck up a bit, was lighter, like zits. I decided to let it dry over night, so I don't keep taking some of the paint off with each new application. Acrylic paint is persnickety that way. It can seem dry, but until it's dried overnight, or better yet, 24 hours, sometimes a little new paint applied will remove the old in splotches. I redid the eyebrows with a little darker paint. I added more shading around the eyes. I also worked on the lips. I do think, overall, he looks more real. Tomorrow I conquer the ridges. (The photograph of the painting on the site will be updated when I'm all done, again.)
After a week of arguing with Otto, a week of him being difficult, a week of struggling with minute changes in color and shading, a week where I had to sand off ridges I'd built up along the edge of his face, I believe I'm finally finished, again. Tomorrow, if I still like it, Phil will take a photo and post it on our site. Yea!!!!
Turns out Otto was not completed. Comparing a picture of the painting with the original photo side by side on the computer revealed the inaccuracies. Phil created a transparency of the photo and overlaid it onto the painting. I set up my easel beside my monitor. The eyes were off, as was the width of the head. The shoulders were a bit to high and the hairline was back too far. The eyebrows were also too high. The ear was up too high and not wide enough. So for the last week I've been working to fix it all. I wiped out the eyes and eyebrows and started them again. I painted the outline of the eyelids with the same color I used on the eye brows. I shaded the eye area a little. I'm now giving it a rest to gain perspective.
I "completed" the painting two days ago. Since then I've been tweaking it. When a painting is complete I remove it from the easel and set it on the fireplace mantel. Then I look at it objectively for a few days and add or subtract a little shading or whatever here and there. Each time I think it's done, and I find something else. Today I adjusted it again, hopefully for the last time. We have to figure out the best way to package it and send it to Elizabeth, Phil's mom. We could wait until our visit in May and take it too her, but I'd like for her to have it sooner. It could cost up to $50 to send it, if we use UPSs special boxes. We're looking for a cheaper alternative.
I worked on shaping the eyes and highlighting the face. I tried several color combinations to see what works best. Not sure at this point. The face seems to either be too pink or too yellow. Some of the shading is either too dark or too light. I'm getting a build up of paint above the eyes, all across the brow ridge. The weave to the canvas is filling in and becoming smooth in places. I decide it was time to quit for the night. I'm close to being done . . . yet, not sure how long it will take.
Yesterday I used my number four flat sable brush to add color around Otto's eyes in a little gentler shaping. Then today I mostly used the number 6 Manet bristle brush to add color and highlight to Otto's face. I experimented with ultramarine blue, Payne's Grey and white, using it for shading in the darker areas. Then I added a light mix of the yellow/green, alizarin crimson and white to the rest of the face. After a while he started looking very sick or like a ghost, so I had to add back more pinkish/brown colors. When I did that, I sort of feathered it over the whole face, following the contours. I worked around the eyes some more, adding shading in the corners and underneath. Again it's better, but the face is not full enough. My Otto looks younger than the original picture. I obviously haven't added in enough of the beginnings of wrinkles. When I got frustrated with that, I began adding color to his suit - burnt sienna, payne's grey and white in various combinations. After working on it for three hours it was time to stop.
I drew in the shape of his eyes with an aqua blue colored pencil. I used my favorite Manet brushes, number 6 filbert bristle brush and number 4 filbert sable. First I used the number 6 to add color and shading to Otto's forehead and add light to his brow ridge. I also used it to add some color to the rest of his face, kind of scrubbing in the various colors, and even the beginning of the light around his eyes. Then I outlined the shape of the eye with the small liner brush. After that I started scrubbing in color to the skin around his eyes. The skin color was variations of brilliant yellow/green, alizarin crimson and white. To shade the darker areas around the eyes I used Payne's Grey and ultramarine blue. The other thing I did this time that I did not do last time was go strictly by the black and white pictures of Otto, rather than using a picture of someone else for color comparison. This way the painting did not start to look like the other person. I just had to guess what color Otto would be. It's better. I feel I made real progress tonight.
I returned to the painting of Otto that gave me so much trouble before. Tonight I changed the background color from a pastel orange to a light blue with shades of aqua and lavender. I will need to ad more color later, probably to make sure all the orange it gone.
I wiped out Otto's eyes today. It took several layers of different colors of paint. He just looked too grouchy, and I couldn't figure out a way to ungrouchy him. Then I started on the leaves and grass in the Missy picture - the painting of our menopausal raccoon on the ramp out from the deck. She's eating dog food. I also worked a little on the dog food bowl and the dog food. At this point with this picture it's about layering to create depth. It's nice to not be worrying about Otto for a change.
9-26-2005: - Otto
I painted in two sessions today, on Otto of course. Last night when I painted because the lighting was bad, the shading became too blue and the highlights too yellow. Then today I pinked him up a bit, and lost some of the shading. His eyes at least now have shadows half way down across the eyes. I got the eye color that I wanted and the white etc., then I took straight Payne's Grey, slightly watered down took my number 4 flat sable and drew in a across the area that needed to be shaded, but not enough to wipe out the eye. A couple of coats across and it worked. The eye brow area and under are still too dark. And he looked like he's scowling still.
9-25-2005: - Otto
I sat down to paint tonight thinking to wipe out Otto's face, but I could not do it. It didn't seem as bad as I thought. So I remeasured from the corner of his right eye to his hair line. The problem is that I can't tell where his hair begins and the shading ends. A good photo is so important. But I can't resurrect Otto to fix this problem. I struggled with this kind of thing tonight. I got the left eye better. Payne's Grey sure is better if I need black. Sure don't want to ever buy regular black again. And I think I'll get medium viscosity paint next time, not heavy. It just seems to spread better with the scumbling strokes. I haven't been painting as much lately because I'm trying to get my book The Sword of Ruth done by the end of the year. It's a timing thing, with the Da Vinci Code movie coming out. But I miss the painting a lot. Gotta find a way to fit it in. I need to do it at night when my brain doesn't work for the words. Need to find a good inexpensive light.
9-17-2005: Otto - a down day
I've been down because of what is going in on this community, the planned development, the continual clear cutting and the environmental degradation. We are approaching the point of no return, yet people continue to shine it on and blind themselves to those who are at fault. Choosing ignorance will be the death of us all.
I worked on Otto for a short time tonight, and although I don't think I changed the picture for the better, I need a good light for night work, I felt better after painting. Thankfully painting is good therapy. It helps me cope with things I can't control.
9-13-2005: The trouble with Otto. And Missie
The portrait I'm working on is from a black and white photo taken in the sixties. I only have one other picture of him. Although it is in color, it was taken years later and his skin is whited out by the sun. Otto passed away in 1980. So it's not like I can take more pictures.
When converting from black and white to color in a portrait, the problem is one of microscopic changes in skin tone. In a good colored picture the colors change very quickly and one can match those changes. But with black and white there is nothing to go by but variations of black and white, i.e. grey. So I try to compensate by finding a color picture of someone else whose skin tones might be similar. Doing this I can end up making the picture I'm working on look like the second person rather than the subject.
Today I worked on the eyebrows and the eyes again. Otto's eyebrows in the photo are light and a blur. I understand he had brown hair. I'm assuming his eyebrows match in color, but they look lighter. It could be the studio lighting - where the picture was taken. I lightened them back to skin color. When I repainted them, I added less water to the paint. That helped a little. The first layer was light brown. The second layer was a mixture of ultra marine blue-burnt sienna and a touch of white. In the eye area, I had to reshape the eyelids bottom and top and try to make the corners recess more, by adding darker skin tones. That didn't do it, so I added a little of the eyebrow mixture.
And additional problem - the look on Otto's face is stern, if not grouchy. Phil says he wore a stern look, but he was a nice guy. As I paint it, it can make me grouchy. I have asked his spirit to come and help me with this. I get the sense it's important to him, that he didn't feel like he did right by her. I'm hoping he will help me get the picture right.
It's helped to also be working on another painting when I'm working on one that's giving me difficulty. So I recently started one of our favorite old raccoon, Missie.
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