Sometimes I struggle and I’m not sure why. Flailing is probably the more descriptive term. Such was the case this week. I was painting from life one of my favorite models, and I thought I was doing all the usual stuff, noting proportions, juxtapositions, etc., getting all the puzzle pieces in place. But the result was not coming out right. As Dan Thompson says in one of his videos, if the measurements are correct but it doesn’t look right, it’s not right. The eye is the final judge. That is true of all painting from life–I have heard myself make that excuse (“hey, that’s the way it was for real”) and simultaneously cringe, because I do know that reality is not a justification for failing to satisfy the eye. But in this case, I really, really want to understand why my usual tools were not working. I still don’t have the answer, but I have perhaps a theory. But first, to deal with the most glaring mistakes, I made some repairs back in my own studio.
Easy to fix was the arm in the back (her right arm), which was too large. Because that arm was farther away, it must look smaller than the one in the foreground. The bigger problem was the length of her torso. While amending the right arm I also brought it down a smidge, thereby shrinking the torso the tiniest bit.
I think this helped, but it didn’t solve the puzzle. Perhaps the figure is just too skinny? My model is rather thin, but she is not particularly long limbed. My guess now is that everything is too long (or not wide enough), but only in the torso does that exaggeration jar the senses.
As if to make up for that struggle, the gods of painting blessed my effort on Sunday to paint a portrait of Grace wearing her glasses.
Keeping the glasses on was Adrienne’s idea. I painted around them until I could no longer avoid them. I tackled them very delicately, framing them in with mere wisps of paint. But one of my goals was to show the reflections as well, so I could not stay timid. One thing about glasses: you’ve got to get real accurate to matching one lens with the other–more so than with the eyes. The eyes are often seen from different perspectives, one going round behind the face while the other is in full view. But glasses are pretty much right there, perched on the nose, and aside from perspective, should match up exactly. Well, almost exactly.
I am most pleased with the mouth. Doesn’t she look alive enough to plant a kiss on you? I worked and reworked the mouth, until it is almost where I want it to be. Grace will be back in two weeks to enable Adrienne and me to finish our respective starts. I want to perfect the philtrum (that groove between nose and upper lip), the nose, perhaps the eyes, and the hair. And the background.
Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:
at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester (Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the Soo Rye Art Gallery in Rye NH; at the law offices at 41 Brook St in Manchester; and at her studio by appointment.