No Hat #162
Back in April, when “No Hat #162” (above) was painted, I typically considered the neck and shoulders an area that I didn’t want to distract from the face, and this was usually problematic because these structural components are important. The neck supports the head and the shoulders might indicate tension or suggest something about the body below. So the question became: how do I give information about stance and attitude using neck and shoulders without taking visual attention away from the emotions on the face?
You’d be surprised how much time I spent in the lower third of the painting, and how frequently I went to the sink to wash paint off and work with what remained. This area is also tricky because this is where a major shift in depth occurs. You’ve likely notice that I skip ears whenever possible. Other than the background and the sides of the head and hair, the neck beneath the chin is the only other place than recedes dramatically. Unlike the ease I’ve established in dealing with the sides of the head (where I employ methods I swiped from portrait artist John Singer Sargent) I have found using the neck to define the jaw a troubling matter.
In May, when “No Hat #179” (below) was painted, I made a brilliant discovery. I began treating the area below the jawline as separate territory (see detail of “No Hat #179” below) in which I gave myself the freedom to work with an openly abstract sensibility. In my mind these areas became landscape based as opposed to portraiture. Not only did I create mini-masterpieces in the lower third, but this departure from the more representational nature in the top two thirds served to distinguish distance in the depth of field. The answer to the neck and shoulders question was not in diluted versions of what was above it, but in strongly delineated abstract features that provided the distinction I was after without becoming too fussy.
No Hat #179
Detail of “No Hat #179”
In June, I was asked to do a commission. A woman I don’t know messaged me, offering to pay up front if I’d paint a black lady “(like me)”. I said paying first wasn’t necessary and explained that painting likenesses isn’t really my thing unless inspiration strikes. She said she thought she’d like what I painted. I told her I liked a particular photo of her and she told me one of my songs is one of her all time favorites! I figured we were on the same wavelength. She knows my band and wants one of my paintings. Seems reasonable.
I definitely felt inspired when I painted these three (No Hat #186, #187, #189 below) based on the photo. I was really happy with the final paintings, but I decided not to send them to her directly because I didn’t think I’d captured a likeness of her, but then again, she hadn’t really said it needed to look like her either. I posted them for sale on FaceBook and waited to see if she spotted them. She didn’t, so I let it slide until this week when I figured I’d make a private album for her and let her know I had done the paintings (but that they didn’t look much like her). She mentioned that she recognized herself in one of them, but made no comment about buying or not buying, and I decided not to ask.
I described the whole lower third concept to her (with the hope she’d buy one) and she mentioned she’d majored in painting at one point. Anywho. No sale. And that’s fine. Maybe she was buying herself a gift and when the painting didn’t materialize in a timely fashion she bought something else with that one hundred dollars. I mean, almost six months had passed since she asked.
More significantly, these are three of the first ones where I stepped into my new philosophy about the area below the jawline. Perhaps I wouldn’t have found my way into this as quickly if they hadn’t been commissioned work or maybe I was on this trajectory and whatever I painted next would have included an abstract element in the lower third.
All of these paintings (11 x 14″ acrylic on canvas panel) are available for $100 USD plus shipping.
No Hat #186
No Hat #187
No Hat #188
Detail of “No Hat #186”
Detail of “No Hat #187”
Detail of “No Hat #188” includes the mouth only to show
the line that connects the jaw and shirt to the earlobe
A note on commissioned likenesses: working from snapshots of people I’ve never seen in real life isn’t ideal. Painting specific people feels very different than painting what I want to paint. It isn’t actually what I set out to do nor is it something I enjoy. After doing a dozen or so commissioned likenesses, I came to the conclusion my energy is better put painting what I want to paint. Plus, the likenesses end up taking twice as long and they seem to require at type of email conversation where I have to put myself into an unpleasant emotional state as I explain my preference for not doing commissioned likenesses.