I’ve been casting around a bit for something new to draw. Although I have lots of pictures printed off, none of them seemed to hit the spot, somehow. I really fancied having another go at portraiture; I really enjoy the challenge of trying to make the faces come to life, but who to do? I’ve not taken many ‘people pictures’ recently, and Mark gets a bit fed up of being my ‘muse’ (although I think I’ve started to really get him something like right!)
A progression of Mark drawings!
Well, I was looking through some holiday pictures, mainly for use in my other blog (https://sanonthelam.wordpress.com, where I describe a day, usually on holiday, with some pictures.), and I came across a rather nice photo of my Mum and Dad. Back in 2014, whilst we still lived near Montreal, they had come across to see us, staying for a month. In the midst of that stay, we all went on holiday, taking a two-week trip to visit San Francisco, Monterey, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Reno, Tucson, Sedona and the Grand Canyon. A three state tour, with an internal flight (Reno to Phoenix), it was quite a trip. I had photographed Mum and Dad, with the Golden Gate bridge in the background, and it was a happy photo. People who know her, know that Mum is a cheerful person but that she hates having her picture taken, so you don’t often get a smile! That was the problem with my last attempt at a portrait of them, neither of the subjects were smiling, although it was only my second-ever portrait so there was a lot to improve!
Anyhow, here is the reference photo, taken at the northern end of the Golden Gate bridge, in San Francisco, on a misty morning in June 2014.
I liked the pose, I liked the smiles (much more natural), I didn’t much like the rather boring background (I know, it’s the Golden Gate, but it doesn’t look like much in this photo), so I determined to draw the subjects first, and decide after what sort of background to add. It might be just a colour wash or it might be a real place.
The next choice was of materials. Nearly all the portraits I have done have been in watercolour pencil, including the original parent portraits and all of the Mark portraits except the monochrome one. It does lend a nice softness to the features. However, I had also worked coloured pencil over watercolour pencil on a portrait of two friends, a technique which definitely added some definition:
(the right-hand picture is the ‘final’ with coloured pencil added)
And, of course, the ‘Monochrome Mark’ picture was entirely coloured pencil. I’d enjoyed that one, particularly, so I decided that this portrait would be coloured pencil, and I would use the Bristol vellum that is currently my favourite surface. Using Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablos exclusively, I got the portraits completed in just a few days. Maybe Mum is a little pale in colour, but I had done a number of layers already and didn’t want to go over again in case I lost the more delicate shading, which I think worked quite well. Dad, a red-haired Englishman, always has quite a lot of colour, especially when he’s been out in the sun, so he’s quite true to life.
I debated a bit on the background. I was a bit concerned that too busy a background could overwhelm the subject matter. I thought about just a colour wash but really wanted to try something a bit different. Looking through the picture files from the holiday, I considered landscapes at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon (all those layers of rock!), Sedona, Fisherman’s Wharf at San Fran and at Monterey…none felt quite right. Then I found a picture of Big Nose Kate’s Saloon at Tombstone. We had visited Tombstone when stopping at Tucson; Dad really wanted to go there having been brought up on Saturday morning Westerns at the local fleapit and, of course, the story of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We went to Boot Hill graveyard, the re-enactment of the gunfight (hokey, but surprisingly well done and enjoyable) and wandered down the boardwalks of the Western town. I thought this frontage could convey the location as being somewhere different, and provide an interesting backdrop, but it could not be denied that it was pretty busy!
Well, ‘faint heart never won…’ and all that. I decided to go for it, and I’m glad that I did. It doesn’t seem to overwhelm the real subjects, whilst providing some interest and a lot of colour. I really enjoyed the process of incorporating the background into the picture. I know it may be the wrong way round, but it works for me-I would never have thought to use the saloon picture at the outset, although maybe Mum is a tad overdressed for Southern Arizona in mid-June. Anyhow, I’ve just got to get parental approval; they did say that they liked the previous attempt but I’m hoping that they will like this version a lot better!
‘Downtown Tombstone, Arizona’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos), with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on Strathmore 300 series Bristol vellum.