Yesterday’s painting, part still life, part breathing life, represents a bit of a change of pace.  I requested a view of the model’s back because I wanted to concentrate on larger shapes, more subtle changes in value.  I didn’t really intend to get hung up on the decorative pillows and drapes, but I can’t help myself.  To my eye, those pillows now look exactly like the real thing, even though I suggested only their basic characteristics.  It doesn’t take much information from the eye to translate a form into something the brain recognizes.  That ability of the brain to glom onto something and make sense of it is what enables a certain colleague of mine to see elves and monkeys in just about any painting of shrubbery or clouds.  That ability might also be the thing that gets in the way of accuracy when you really need it, as when you are painting a portrait.  “That’s it, you got that!”  the brain exclaims, but it’s just not trustworthy.

The comparison  of my reclining nude to the Ingres “Odalisque” is inevitable–well, I like to think it’s inevitable.  Comparing my work to Ingres’ is a little bit of . . . is “hubris” the correct word?  What the hell, let’s do it anyway:

La Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Much has been made of the anatomical distortions in Ingres’ figure.  Ingres is one of the foremost figure artists of all time, so he didn’t make anatomical mistakes.  He exaggerated, on purpose, the length of her torso and right arm.   And it works, if  you don’t think about it too hard.

My model’s back was almost as smooth as Odalisque’s, but I took pains to include as much nuance as was available.  I’m now thinking some of it is overstated.  I have to keep reminding myself, it doesn’t take much of a change in value or color to get the point across, not with the brain of my viewer zeroing in on the point with great efficiency.

In my Tuesday Life Group, the pose was a carryover from the week before. (One of our artists needed two sessions to work on her painting.)  So I moved to a different part of the room, one I usually avoid.  As a result I suffered from glare from  the sunlit windows  combined with insufficient light on my canvas.  Add to that the fact that my new lens in my right eye does not focus as well as the old one, cloudy though the old one was.  With so many visual handicaps, you’d expect me to strike out on this one altogether.

African Queen

Apart from one yellow breast and one red one, there’s not much I want to change.  Is good vision overrated?  No.  I worked hard to compensate for the poor conditions:  I wore a hat with a brim that I could pull down to shield my eyes from the glare from the windows, and I would bring the painting in close to my eye when I needed to be able to see what I was doing (putting the lights in her eyes, for example. or the highlights on the earrings).  [Footnote: My left is the distance eye, which I use to see the model, whereas the right eye, is the near eye, which I use to see what I am painting.  It was the right eye that got a new lens.]

Seeing what you are doing in fine detail is not important most of the time, unless you are a classical artist.  (Like Ingres).  By the way, this is a pretty good likeness, my untrustworthy brain thinks.  And how about those earrings!  I so loved painting the earrings, which required a bit of skill, and the headband, which required no skill at all.   I love being able to put a stroke of paint on a spot and having it pop right in place and speak its nature.  Obedient.

I want to record herewith an “improvement” made to another painting.  I was bothered by the highlights on her eyelids, and when a friend confessed that the highlights bothered her too, I fixed them.  Here is the before and after.

On the brown leather sofa (BEFORE)


Less is more when it comes to values.  I tend to overdo the highlights, because that’s what I see–the highlight on dark skin is almost blindingly white, like light bouncing off a glass.  In a painting, however, such bright highlights look strange.  Or, perhaps, this exemplifies another deception, eye-brain-wise:  those highlights were never as bright as I think I see them, they just looked bright by contrast with the surrounding color.  And it illustrates another truth–sometimes you need to separate the painting from the live subject of a painting in order to see and correct the values.

So to sum up this week’s theme:  Beware of  deceiving yourself, but take advantage of your viewers’ willingness to see what you want them to see.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester; at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the Epsom Public Library in Epsom; at the Bedford Public Library, in Bedford; at the law offices at 41 Brook St in Manchester; and at her studio by appointment.

13 responses to “Deception

  1. Hi Aline,
    Simply…I love the expressionistic painting of the face in “African Queen”! I can tell you feel comfortable there ; the freeflowing simplicity, etc.

    The body…too tightly done .
    IF…you had painted the body in the same manner as the face it would have been better,in my estimation.

    Thanks so much for the oportunity to critique, you give us all so much by offering your work.
    Blessings, Janice 🙂


    • Oh, the irony! Face painted loosely to keep it as loose as the body, but body went in opposite direction while I was distracted with earrings and such. But the hand is good, don’t you think? I redid the hand so many times that the paint is quite thick, and . . . Loose, maybe?


      • Hi Aline,
        Yes, the earrings were a distraction and possibly could have been saved as a detail in the last…Myself, I am so pleased you are attempting the figure, I have so many experiences myself but that is besides the point.
        The Hand…is probably the most difficult aspect to render on the body and that is why, if you’ll notice the Master’s paintings usually they only suggest or leave it out entirely.
        Please make no excuses, the human body, face, hands, feet, etc is made to move. Learn to render as quickly as you you paint the impression of the face.
        Paint the whole body at once. there is no area of your painting that should be more finished or worked on more than the rest.

        In my view opinion and viewpoint you are doing absolutely wonderfully and I am hoping much success as an artist for you. Janice 🙂


  2. Lots of work Aline! and good stuff too. Don’t alter those breasts! A painter (lecturer) friend was sitting for me while teaching me how to paint figures instead of drawing only. “Dave, your hand looks yellow against your face!” “Well, just paint it yellow!” Dave would say to you “Don’t alter those breasts! If that’s how you saw them, that’s it.” Trust the eye. This is your individuality.
    I read an interesting article about tonal values last night and will paste the link if poss:
    You give us such personal insights into your work – thank you. I always enjoy visiting your site. Philippa


    • I read that issue of Fine Art Studio, and it was what clued me in to the fact that I might be mis-perceiving the value of the highlights.

      I examined the breasts anew this morning, and you know what? They look the same color now. My lovely digital (Nikon SLR) camera seems to have a mind of its own, interpreting one breast as yellow, one as red, or what have you. I’ve been at this for several years now (photographing my paintings) and clearly I still have a lot to learn.


  3. Hi, Actually, Ingres seems to have elongated the model and enlarged and dropped her backside, and yours is seemingly quite accurate! The skin and the pose is interesting. The cushion seems to be not quite dented enough for her weight, but perhaps it’s the view. The model with the dark skin tone is so much better now. The face of the (same?) other dark skinned model has too much going on I think. She could probably benefit from the same treatment, maybe a lighter shade of the red you used?
    Anyway, good for you!


    • You’re so right about the cushion. I may have removed a portion of it inadvertently while working on the background.


  4. Good Morning Aline,
    I sincerely would like to open this conversation a little more for my own benefit as well as yours.

    The conversation you are having with your model in each of these paintings is interesting to say the least and I am hoping truly that my observations help.

    I study the renderings first. I read the words afterwards.
    A really good rendering needs no words.

    There are so many “pretty” pictures in this world of ours.

    I do not think, from knowing and speaking with you and having the oportunity
    to see your renderings that you are trying to creat or produce another “pretty”

    You “want” to creat a masterpiece.

    The model you see in front of you IS a masterpiece.

    You would like to creat an image that would “convince” us that you
    have EMPATHY with with the LIFE in front of you.
    You have chosen paint and canvas.
    You have the ability.

    The hand in “African Queen” is a beautiful work in itself and shows the desire you are capable of expressing in attempting to reach your goal. It shows movement. It shows some life. It shows something of the essence that permeats that life.

    If you can come to grips with the passion that motivated artist such as Artemiesia Gentilchesi in the 15th century or perhaps the examples of such in the works of Giacometti then you have made some inroads into a universal understanding of what it might take to produce a truly great masterpiece.

    Thanks so much for reading my words, I hope I am helpful.

    You have so inspired me and I appreciate your help in my own process.

    Blessings, Janice 🙂


    • And you inspire me, Janice. You’ve got my number, for sure. I will keep your words in mind this morning as I head for another conversation with a model. A man, for a change.


  5. Not just elves and monkeys – I also see elephants, teddy bears, dragons, ghosts, skulls … LOTS of things! LOL
    Good improvement on the eyelids on brown leather sofa – by comparison her eyes look open, but with no irises in the first one.
    Do you have/use one of those little keyhole value scales? Might be helpful. Or the old index card with a hole punched in it to isolate color or value. One more thing to carry!
    I like the pillows and the earrings too!