Ponytails and Tales of Woe

I’ve been experiencing a bit of a slump lately.  Just the past week or so, really.  Still, it can be quite nerve-wracking.  I didn’t want to admit to it on the blog, and I especially didn’t want to post the unsuccessful painting that inaugurated my current situation.

But when did hiding and running from your problems ever solve them?  I tried that once, and it resulted in ten years bereft of any art-making.

So, in the interest of soldiering on, we’ll take a look at a piece that just didn’t quite come together.  I’ll comment on a couple of things that *did* work, and also identify what seem to be the most egregious missteps.

A week ago Friday, we had a lovely woman sit for us at the Old Town Artists portrait session.  Her hair was a lustrous graying blonde, and she wore it in two pony tails.  During one of the breaks, she noted how the juxtaposition of the hairstyle with her age threw a lot of the artists for a loop.  They either painted her way too young, or way too old.

I’ll leave it up to others to decide whether or not I fell victim to *that* particular trap.

Things started out poorly almost immediately.  Little things. I sketched out my composition, as usual, on a page in a sketchbook.  It looked good.  But when I re-drew it on my watercolor paper, something was just a little off.

The picture originally included her hands off to the left, but the proportions of her body were wrong.  I cropped the paper with intention of adding more space between the body and the hands, but that wasn’t working.  The hands were discarded, and the narrow piece of paper that remained became the focus:



Colors were blocked in on wet paper.  The colors deliberately shift towards neutral grays and earth tones.


Next, the darks were darkened and details added to the face.  So far, so good.

You can see that the preceding photo was taken in hurry – while the paint was still wet.  There is a distinct reflection apparent above one eye.  There’s also a pool of red on the chin that looks like a pimple.  Don’t worry: no Clearasil needed.  It disappeared when the water dried.


On the finished piece, the model’s complexion is the most successful part.  Well, that and the hair.  It looks detailed, but not fussy.  The light seems to dance off it just right.

Unfortunate parts include the cloudy eyes, which I just couldn’t fix.  Not for lack of trying.  However, there’s a point when continued attempts at improvement only risk disaster. The main problem isn’t even the flatness of the pupil, but the “outlined” effect around the rim of the eye.  Better luck next time.

Well… next time turned out to be… interesting.   Stick around to see the results from the most recent session.

This entry was published on March 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm and is filed under Figures, Portraits, The Artistic Process, Watercolors. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

9 thoughts on “Ponytails and Tales of Woe

  1. You’re a very talented guy. Thanks for sharing your Art 🙂 Hope you got over your slump- paint your way to happiness!

  2. Fiona.q on said:

    maybe my thoughts is a bit wierd.. why i feel this lady has a “grandpa-looking” face? lol

    • Perhaps you have unresolved grandpa issues? More likely I just didn’t quite capture the femininity of the sitter. She was a little advanced in years. Could have been a recent grandma…?

      Of course, as we age, shifts in hormone levels cause subtle changes in our bodies that result in less pronounced physical differences between the sexes. Since the model isn’t wearing much (any?) makeup, and nondescript clothing, it’s natural that her face may look as grandfatherly as grandmotherly.

      Thanks for making me think a bit this morning, Fiona!

  3. Interesting seeing the breakdown of one that didn’t work for you, and why. Although I’m still impressed!

    • There are some good things happening, for sure. I just don’t like the overall feel of the finished product – I never really had control of this picture. The next post will feature one that started out fine, but started to slip away.

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