Category Archives: Friend Studies

Photostudy 11

Louise 13 Photostudy 11 was a success I feel. I used the limited colour scheme to my advantage to create a portrait depicting a fierce and cold hearted woman above the concerns of others, just as I had hoped.

Granted there are some issues with the portrait. My brush work got a bit muddled in places and resulted in loss of texture and definition, especially on the nose. I am still undecided on this brush, it is nice and neat and easy to use, but I much prefer the rough textures of the brush I used in the background.

Aside from this though I am very happy with the portrait, especially the blend of colours. It was always going to be difficult to combine such contrastingly hot and cold colour into one piece. I am happy that I went with using the blue as the main colour and red for strong lighting. If I had done something similar to studies 8 and 9 and only used the colours in conjunction with more realistic colours, I think a lot of the effect would have been lost. Here however, the fierce contrast creates a dynamic personality within the piece. The end result certainly could have looked better, but I am happy with the result as it is.

I had thought to light the face from below, to emphasise the power in the figure (relating to the narcissism theme), but as such an angle it would have been rather unflattering and probably taken away from the authority of the piece. Thus I settled for a heavenly light, as if the subject were special in some way.

One last piece of detail I added to emphasise the narcissistic and uncaring queen theme I have mentioned before was the background. I wanted to make it look as if she was sat upon a throne glaring down at subject. However at such a perspective and range there was not much room. To try and convey the idea of a throne I decided to add some simple but fancy decorative carvings to the hint of a chair behind her. Its not quite the Iron Throne but it adds the idea of grandeur.


I recently got some feedback from Ryan who pointed out come key issues with the feedback. Firstly the image is very dark, too dark. He agreed that the lighting I was aiming for was a good idea, but that there needed to be more definition in the body. Looking at it now I can agree with him, it seems very much to be just a floating angry head. Secondly the throne I included doesn’t quite work, in fact Ryan wasn’t sure what it was until I explained. There are several reasons for this, namely the lack of detail on the throne, but also the perspective is wrong and it looks too small. It’s too late to fix these at this point in time, but at least I know know of what I can avoid.

The WIP of this portrait can be found here: Progress-gif I had hoped to make one last study after this before beginning my final 3 submission pieces, but alas due to time I wont be able to. I am away for a week and so the plan is to sketchbook people for this time, and come back refreshed and ready to begin these portraits with an open mind. I think I will continue the inspirational word idea I have been using, but we’ll see how I feel in a week. I’m not even sure who I am going to paint yet.


Prepping for Photostudy 11

So I’m onto the next photostudy and I need to sort out the words and get the colour scheme down. My subject for this is Louise, who has been painted previously. Like Stuart, I am not sure how seriously she took the request, as the words given were: Snarky, Sarcastic, Harsh, and Narcissistic. Whilst true to an extent I would not say these wholly represent the subject, but then the whole point of this idea is to get their own views and not (just) mine, so I will press on.

Louise Words

From this I began to imagine the character of the portrait. The themes of narcissism, self importance, and uncaring give me the impression of an evil queen (like Cersei, or Charlize Theron in that Snow White film). She is calm and sophisticated, above the rabble of others and above their problems. She sees herself as in a position of power at the centre of the world, and I think that will play heavily on the composition of this piece.

louise palette

Blue: Deceitful, Spiteful, Coldly Detached.

Red: Brutal, Aggressive, Sharp.

Orange: Self-indulgent, Overly Proud.

The colour scheme I have ended up with (once more drawing on existing colour theory and my own understandings) is and interesting one. It contrasts quite heavily with an even balance of cold blues and hot reds/oranges and has no other colours. This presents some brilliant opportunities however as I can then split the hot colours and cold colours between light and shadow.

Another idea I has was to paint the subject mono-chromatically using the blues and then add the reds as highlights. I quite like this idea since the blue colours more wholly represent the words/emotions given, whilst the warmer colours act to support them.

In terms of composition at the moment I am thinking of continuing with creating my own rather than using photo references. Keeping with the impression of an aloof and self-obsessed evil queen I quite like the idea of her sitting on a throne looking down on the viewer, perhaps with the lighting underneath her to further emphasise the display of power. However I still want the face to be the main focus so how much throne I can fit in will be interesting.

Photostudy 10

Karolina 16So this is quite a leap in terms of colour. I decided to shove myself in at last and try some truly abstract colours for this piece, but I am unsure of how I feel about the end result. This might have something to do with the fact I painted the colours as natural and then layered colour over the top using glaze layer, or it might just be that I am not quite as confidant as I had thought with colours.

Some parts of the painting work well, such as the yellow and magenta on the face and combine nicely with the painting for an overall pleasing effect. Other areas, such as the hair, are much bolder, striking, and jarring however and really punch your retina. As my classmate, Kate, mentioned it is probably due to the colours in the face being closer to natural than the hair, which is very artificial. Perhaps if the face were made more vibrant or the hair toned back a bit the portrait would have better composition.

Another area of issue is the background. I wanted to implement a cracked appearance, referring to the subject’s stubborn nature and the idea that if an object doesn’t yield to a force it will crack and splinter. However I am not sure the spider-web crack shows this very well. It frames the subject nicely, but as Kate once more pointed out it looks as though she has smacked her head of the background. Perhaps more earthquake-pavement-cracks would have worked better.

There are some parts of this portrait that I am happy with. As I mentioned before the colours of the face are quite harmonious and pleasing. I am also very happy face itself and the expression. Unlike previous portraits I did not have a singular reference for this piece but instead combined several to create the composition seen. There were some struggles with getting perspectives right (especially in the eyes) but I am pleased with the end result.

Whilst this piece may not have been a huge success, it is definitely not a failure either. I have learnt a lot about my skill level, my boundaries, my comfort zones, and where to push myself. I think in future I will continue to explore creating my own compositions rather than simply using a photo-reference. However I think I wont be continuing down this line of colour application. Instead I will continue with that used in my previous study, and use bold/abstract colours to accentuate features and the like.

The WIP can be found here on Behance, but also I have created another progression gif below.


Preparing for Photostudy 10

So I am going to attempt something new with Photostudy 10 (subject: Karolina) in that it wont be a direct painting of a photo as such. Rather, with the composition I have in mind I am going to need to draw on multiple references to then recreate her in a singular pose.

This is a bold move and will take more time and effort to get right, but I feel confidant in my abilities. I am also very set on this composition as I believe it supports Karolina’s personality very well. To give an idea of what I am aiming for I made some quick sketches (yes they are quite cartoony and not at all realistic, but I just wanted quick things to get the idea down).

karolina compositionI want to convey her stubborn, unyielding resolve, but not necessarily as a bad thing. Thus the portrait will be a bit more pulled back than usual, so as to so her standing rooted and powerful. Her body will so her her stubborn loyalty, whereas her face will show her friendliness (and a little bit of her sarcasm) with her characteristic smirk and raised eyebrow.

I plan to begin collecting references and getting the sketch down tomorrow, then I can begin the underpainting. There will be a lot of prep needed for this piece.

Photostudy 9

Stuart 13 Photostudy 9 is complete! I am really happy with this piece and how the style ended up.

Following from my previous post discussing how I would be inspired by this piece, I knew from my source material that I wanted the portrait to be happy and jovial. I also wanted it to be a bit loud and bold as that is an important part of Stuart as I see him. Luckily I had plenty of references of him smiling to draw upon.

As you can see, the style I implemented in this piece is very different from others. In keeping with the bold colours and energetic expression, I wanted my brushwork to compliment the overall expression of the piece. Thus I went for a very rough and painterly style, full of bold strokes and energy.

Whilst I am moving towards expressionism with this piece, I didn’t want to go down the road of using only abstract colours. Instead I kept realistic colours as the base of the skin and hair, and then used my abstract colour scheme in the shading and highlights to make the shapes and face pop. I am really pleased with how this looks and it has encouraged me to be a bit bolder with future attempts.

There are some issues with the piece however, It gets muddy in parts which I repeatedly painted over, trying to get them right, such as the neck and to the left of the mouth. In future I will need to remember to erase and then repaint if I use these brushes again.

Also, I am not sure I quite got the expression right. As was pointed out on Behance, it could be viewed as either laughing out loud, or screaming. I think I managed to pull it more towards the laughing side of things, but the scream is still there a tiny bit.

Regardless I am pleased with this piece. It looks like Stuart, it captures his personality well, and it uses bold, abstract colouring better than I could have hoped for. Yes there are some issues, but this study has given me a lot of confidence to continue down this path and experiment more, as well as teaching me where and when I can go wrong.

The WIP can be found here on Behance, but also I have created another progression gif below.

Moving into Expressionism

So I am now at the stage that I will be taking my portraiture work from realism into exaggerated colour and Expressionism. I wasn’t sure how to do this, wasn’t sure how to pick the colours and convey what I wanted to. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to convey with the paintings. Luckily, Ryan swept in from the sidelines to rescue me.

We discussed inspiration and ideas for what I wanted to present in the portraits. The subjects are my friends, and so naturally I wanted to show the good in them, the reasons they were my closest friends. But then the portrait becomes a projection of myself upon the subject. It would risk the portraits all being very similar to each other as I share many feelings among my friends.

Instead, Ryan suggested a different approach. Rather than using my own thoughts as inspiration, I should use the subject’s thoughts as inspiration. With this in mind I went to the subjects and asked them to sum themselves up in 4 words or short phrases. This way I wouldn’t just be projecting my own views/thoughts/emotions of the subject into the painting, but also their own (I wont be able to completely  remove my own projections since I know the subject).

With these 4 words/phrases I would then break it out into synonyms and then use this collective pool of words and emotions to create a basic palette to be added to the portrait.



Stuart Words

From this pool I refined it down to:

  • Confidant with himself,
  • Able to laugh at himself,
  • Fun & silly,
  • Relaxed,
  • Childish, but in a good way.

And from all of these I then chose the following colours:

Stuart palette

  • Red (Scarlet): Attention-getting, bold, enthusiastic.
  • Orange (Amber): Sociable, enthusiastic, confidant.
  • Purple (Lilac): Immature, creative, social.
  • Blue (Azure): Calm, peaceful.
  • Turquoise (Aqua): Clarity, balance, calm.

Alongside these I have several intentions towards the application of these colours and the overall composition of the painting:

  • Strong, confidant strokes,
  • Few sharp edges/points,
  • Exploding colour patterns,
  • Tie-die inspiration (90’s),
  • Laughing expression.


Karolina Words

Refined down to:

  • Strong-willed (both good and bad),
  • Caring and faithful,
  • Humorous, but blunt,
  • An anchor in the storm.

Into the colours:

Karolina palette

  • Yellow: uplifting, critical, fun.
  • Blue (Dark): Loyal, responsible, rigid, caring.
  • Red (Burgundy & Crimson): Assertive, strong, domineering.
  • Purple: Integrity, structure, faithfulness.
  • Green (Jade & Yellow-Green): envious, spiteful, reliable.

Compositional elements:

  • Arms crossed, proud and confidant.
  • Cracks and/or lightning to show harsh sarcasm.
  • Fills canvas imposingly/solidly.
  • Happy expression.

It should be noted that I am not yet sure how much I will be incorporating each of these colours  into the portraits , they are simply a base.

Also, when linking colours to emotions, I used several colour theory references alongside my own understandings. In particular I found this website extremely useful, as it also shows how slight changes in hue (for example burgundy compared to scarlet) can alter what expressions the colour connotes.

Photostudy 8

Tone 12

Photostudy number 8 is complete and oh boy am I a happy man! I was much more relaxed with this piece and gave myself more freedom and the result can be clearly seen. The piece is full of life and character.

I decided to be much more artistic and painterly with this piece, and so used the photo-reference as a general guide rather than a target goal. I was much looser with my brush work and you can see some nice strokes throughout the piece which construct the subject just as well as any soft airbrush would. This is especially present in the hair, where I took the general gist and look of it and painted based on that, rather than ardently copy each exact strand of hair.

I also had some fun with the colours in this piece. This is especially noticeable in the purple tones found throughout the face. These purples came about because they were present in the deeper shadows of the reference photo, and so I pulled them out into some of the other tones as well whilst painting. I then added some more shading and highlights using purple ‘glazes’ (layers set to Darken, Lighten, and Multiply) to really unify the tones across the face and hair. I also made the jumper more red-purple than the red-orange it originally was.

To counteract the warmth these purples added to the the image I made the background out of cool greens and blues. I then tied these to the colour of the Iris and this really helps make the eye pop out and draw the eye. It is filled with life from the over-saturation. These cool colours interact greatly with the warmth of the face and balance out the image.

There are still some issues with the piece. Something is up with the nose, although I cant for the life of me figure out what. I think it might be the harder shadows around the nostrils but I’m not sure. Also the lips are a bit too neat and clean cut compared to the rest of the image and stand out a bit. These areas also lack some of the purple tones found across the image and favor the red-orange tones which  might be the issue.

Regardless I think the image is still my best yet and if I can continue on this path I should be in good stead for some great submissions.

As always, a WiP can be found on my Behance page. I also create a progress gif, although the quality is a bit low in places.


Photostudy 7

Tom 7

I’m a bit late in posting this but another photostudy is complete! Although I am less than happy with this one. I dont know what happened but I just could not get any life into this one. There are some anatomy issues (the eyes are slightly disproportional for one thing), but I think its the colours and brushwork that kill the image.

I was too focused on trying to copy the photo-reference that I did not stand back and think about what I was trying to paint. Because the photo was taken in poor lighting the skin tones were quite ugly tobacco-ochre tones, and between trying to copy the image and trying to make the subject look healthy everything just got really muddy and confused.

There brushstrokes as well let the piece down in that there aren’t any. They all just combine into irregular blocks of tone and shade. As a result the face just looks flat and lifeless.

So where do I go from here? Well while I will still be using photo-references I don’t think I will focus on mimicking them to such a fervent degree. Rather I will use them as a base and develop my style and artistic freedom on top of them. It’s a bit of a gamble, it could go very bad, but it will hopefully pay off and grant me some great portraits.

A WiP can be found here.

Photostudy 6

Gerda 7

Another photostudy complete! And I am more than a little pleased with this one. It took a little longer than the last but I think I have caught the likeness a great deal better.

I did a two things differently with this one. First off I increased the number of squares in the reference grid, which gave me more reference points and made it easier to block in the tones. It also increased my confidence such that after the initial shading was all complete I was confident enough to remove the grid, only using it again a few times to double check I was not deviating.

Secondly I used some new brushes which I feel work much better. I still used some of my blocky rectangle brushes to get the flat initial colours down, as well as in the rough shading of the background. But then I used a new brush with was similar to the streaky brushed I used in the previous painting, but much softer and so it looked less spiky/scratchy.

I chose this picture because of its visual complexity. Although much of the head is covered by the arm the lighting is quite complicated with 2 light sources of different colour. The face is lit by the warm light of candles whist the back is lit by the cold light of a tv. Thus the skin on the hand is different from the skin on the face, and the fringe hair different from the hair on the back of the head.

Gerda comp 1I almost got it right on my initial pass shown above, but I unfortunately made it too bright all over, too yellow at the front, and too grey at the back. It looks relatively fine on its own, but when compared to the reference image you can see a world of difference.

Gerda comp 2I am beginning to suspect that it might not be an idea to have the reference image on a saperate device/screen from the one I am painting on. I didn’t notice this strong orange in the original image until I compared them on the same screen, and when I compared them separately again the orange wasn’t quite as strong. Luckily I was again able to remedy the situation with some adjustment and colour layers.

In future I plan to have both images on the same screen. It will be a bit cluttered, but it should help with colour.

Again a WIP can be found on my Behance page:



Photostudy 5

Julia 6

Now in Technicolor! I spent much longer than I intended on this and it slowed production down a lot. I intend to alter my schedule to include only 1 (maybe 2) coloured portraits a week.

Julia 1

There are a couple of issues with the portrait. First and foremost is the shape of the head, which is elongated and much pointer than the subject. I used a grid with much larger squared for this piece and I feel this effected me a bit. I shouldn’t use the grid as such a crutch but it is certainly a useful learning tool, and I need to pace myself with it accordingly.

I am happy with the colouring in this piece. Its not spot on but it does fit with the piece and breaths life into the face. The portrait was actually quite desaturated for a long time, but after leaving it and coming back I noticed this, and was able to fix things quite quickly using a colour layer above everything.

One thing I am not sure about is the brush work. I usually quite like rough brush strokes, and they do work well in black & white, but here has made the skin look a bit unhealthy. I have several options here: I can work on improving the smoothness of my brushwork and filtering out the obvious strokes; or I can work towards incorporating into a style; or I can combine the previous two options and reduce the definition of the strokes but keep them present in the painting. I think I will go with this final option and work on creating/finding/implementing some softer brushes. Stay tuned for more on that.

A WIP of this piece can be found on my Behance: