May 20, 2016
I saw a painting at a gallery here in Puerto Vallarta recently that gave me an idea.
Actually it reminded me of an idea I’d already had—one of the many painting ideas that bounce around in my brain for years sometimes before finally getting insistent enough that I start to act on them. The painting I saw that triggered this was a grid of several faces on colorful backgrounds. Because I’ve done a lot of Expressionist portraits over the last 2 or 3 years, the idea of doing something a little different and new with the same subject matter appealed to me. It also made me think of some other works I like, like Andy Warhol’s iconic multiple portraits.
I thought about this over a couple of weeks while I was working on commissions, then some time opened up and I started work on my idea. The first thing I did was search through one of my many image archives, this one of intriguing male faces. These are photographic images I’ve found online which I use as inspiration for drawings. I picked out a bunch, then I started sketching. I had a very good day and did around 20 different sketches. I liked a lot of them, so l would need to choose which to use.
My next step was to scan my sketches, then use Photoshop to group them and find the most appealing combination. I had been planning to do a grid of 8 portraits but I realized that was going to be an unwieldy shape—too tall and skinny for most walls. So I decided to do a 6-grid. I tried several combinations and ended up with the 6 you see below.
My next step was to cut a piece of canvas for the painting. I decided to make each portrait 14 inches square, which meant the entire image area would be 28″x42″. After cutting the canvas, I drew a grid, then transferred my rough sketches to their appropriate positions in the grid. Next I used one of my favorite tools, a Montana black acrylic marker, to re-draw the faces in black acrylic paint. When that was done, I painted a neutral cool brown wash over the whole thing and while I waited for it to dry, I began mixing my colors.
Then I began painting. I wasn’t sure of the background colors I would use, just that I wanted them bright. As it turned out, I used the 3 primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and their complements (green, purple and orange). I didn’t plan this; it just worked out that way. For fleshtones, I used just about every color of the rainbow, since my six portraits constituted a broad spectrum of ethnicities and skin colors. (That was on purpose, by the way.)
I’m noticing as I go along that unlike working out the fleshtones for a single portrait, each of these portraits must work not only on its own but in concert with the other faces and fleshtones. In other words, they are individual portraits but they’re also part of a larger composition and I need to constantly be aware of that as I work.
At the end of the second day of work I’ve got all the faces painted in. I quit for the day, knowing that the next day will be about taking the painting to the next level of finish, and maybe completing it. My goal is to be satisfied not only with each individual portrait, but also happy with the way they all work together when I stand back and take in the entire composition.
In in-progress shot 4, shown above, you can see there have been big changes to the two center faces, the African guy and the redhead, but I’ve also revised the Asian guy at lower left by making his left ear visible. I’ve also reworked the colors somewhat in most of the faces.
The next day I spent quite a few hours bringing the painting to completion. At the end I was happy not only with the portraits on an individual level but with the feel of the whole painting. I call it Six Guys.
Below are some closeups of the individual portraits so you can get a better look at each one.