Painting from Life, Compared

In terms of number and variety, my output last week may seem disappointing–my figure workshop with Peter Granucci skips a week and  last week was a skip week; then my portrait class with Cameron Bennett was taken up with critiques and a demonstration painting by Cameron; and finally our Saturday life group (SLG) was cancelled because our model was sick with the flu.  However,  the Sunday clothed-model group met as planned, and resulted in a piece that makes me happy.  No, make that thrilled.

Profile of Sabrin

This is Sabrin, the same model that we had the last two weeks.  The first week with Sabrine I painted a 3/4 portrait from a 3/4 view on the lighted side (see that week’s blog).   The next week, I drew her in profile in charcoal (last week’s blog).  This week, I found myself again on the side with a profile, but with an exciting new headdress and the full three hours to paint.  I actually finished in about 2 and 1/2 hours.  The panel was small–only 12×10.

Her headdress pattern comes from gold threads.  I created the impression of a gold pattern by simply drawing through the wet paint with my “color shaper”, which is a rubber-tipped point.  I used the same technique to create her earring.  When the paint dries a little more, I will add some sparkle to the gold threads, her earring and the gold chain around her neck.

You might be able to see that I added cerulean blue to the highlights on her skin.  The light bounced off her skin so brightly that it was hard to determine exactly what color it should be (never pure white!  Lois Griffel’s voice echoes in my brain).  I decided to use the blue of the sky, even though she was lit by a combination of natural light from the window and a spotlight from the same direction.  The blue works, I think.

I have to confess I got the idea of using blue light from two sources–one is Peter Granucci who uses the blue light on rocks and other surfaces lit by the sun, and the other comes from a class at the Institute conducted in the same room where I take my portrait class with Cameron Bennett.  The students left their works in progress in this room and their assignment was apparently to paint the lit surfaces of a human figure in a bright aqua blue.  Sounds bizarre, right?  But it was remarkably effective.  My experiment with the same was much more subtle.

Last week, the piece I was happiest with was a painting of a portrait from a photo I did not take, indeed from a photo of a person who was a total stranger to me.   How does the one compare to the other?

Contest Portrait, Final

I love both of them equally.  I can’t come up with a way to measure the merit of the painting from life over the painting from a photo–even knowing intuitively that the former ought to be better than the latter.  But maybe any judgment would be contaminated by one common attribute that helps them both–I didn’t care about getting the exact likeness of either one, which freed me to just paint beautiful, as I see beautiful.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Gallery at 100 Market Street in Portsmouth; at the Sage Gallery in Manchester; at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester; at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; and at her studio by appointment.

Link to website:

9 responses to “Painting from Life, Compared

  1. Oh, Aline, the Sabrin portrait is simply stunning. By far the most powerful. Love it.
    But … somehow I did not get this in an email. I just checked your site and found the current blog. Am I off your list somehow? Hope not. M.


    • Oh dear. I remember writing the email, but perhaps I forgot to hit “Send”. Will do that right now. Thanks for the alert, and even more so, for being interested enough to go looking for it. I leave Friday for my Florida plein air painting vacation, but I may be able to post something through my smart phone. It might not be as polished, but should be interesting. Marco Island.


  2. Aline, i love the expression of the 2nd painting.. the eyes!! i wonder what she is thinking! and in the saibine painting – i love the textures the most! beautiful work! happy vacation!!


    • I’m not sure about the texture. You know how they sell the finer textured linens for painting portraits? Here I was using the coarsest of the coarse, not to mention lumpy gesso. But maybe the old rules are for breaking.


  3. After today’s snowy bounty, Marco Island sounds like a great place for a painting spree. Enjoy. Paint lots. M.


  4. Hi, Hope the weather is wonderful; say hi to Mary. 6″ of snow here in Merrimack.
    The two portraits have the similarity of lovely highlights on the cheeks making them dramatic in their own ways. While we were at the Roosevelt national park this last weekend, there was a portrait of Eleanor that was similar to Sabrin in the darks and lights, even though the two women are actually very different in skin tone. I think the blond model’s portrait is so delicate and the other so dramatic, I couldn’t choose a favorite. I admit that I have always adored the African women’s wardrobes with their matching hats.