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.

Fun with a Brush

So last semester I downloaded some brushes [link] created to to imitate Oil Brushes and the textures/effects they can create. However, I was still very knew to the mechanics behind Photoshop brushes and unsure of how a lot of the settings worked. Thus I found myself struggling to correctly use them a lot of the time and ended up turning off a lot of the settings, using them only as brushes with nice textures. Over the last few months though I have learnt a lot about Photoshop brushes as I have been creating my own to varying degrees of complexity (and success).

So I decided to go back to these brushes and see what I could do with them. In the end I only used one of the brushes, many of the others were simple Stamp Brushes (which I am not a big fan of) or did pretty much the same as the brush I picked. So I stuck to the one brush and opened up the settings to see what it looked like. Most of the settings were simple: transfer and shape dynamics; a overlaying texture to give the rough canvas appearance; and a dual brush mechanic to control these textures better. But it’s the Colour Dynamics that really made the brush special.


The Hue and Saturation Jitter allow the brush to alter the properties of the chosen colour to varying degrees, and recreate the subtle inconsistencies found in real paint. I lowered these from the original settings as they were a bit too strong for my liking, but you still get a nice variety of colour in a single stroke. The real magic happens with the Foreground/Background Jitter. The brush initially had this set to both a percentage and the pen pressure, but this was too strong for my liking and so I changed it to just Pen Pressure. What this setting does is mix the chosen foreground and background colours as you paint, giving the illusion of paint mixing together naturally. The lighter the pressure the more the background colour is prominent, and vice versa. It takes a while to get used to this setting, and I had to change my painting style to fit it because you need to pay attention to both your fore- and background colours or you get something completely different from what you need. A sad side effect is that it also slows down the painting process as bit, as you need to be continuously changing these colours to avoid muddy results.

But the results are impressive.

Playing with the brush 1 Playing with the brush 2 Playing with the brush 3 Playing with the brush 4

As I said it is a tricky science with this brush, but experimenting has taught me a lot. For example I found that making the background colour a bit desaturated makes the mixing work a lot better and helps to avoid muddy transitions or gaudy, overly-vibrant clashes.

Given its rough texture, I think this brush will mostly be kept to background work as it is far too cumbersome for much detail. I might use it for blocking in the face, having that texture underlying would be nice, but it also might be easily lost in the detail stages. I’ll need experiment a bit more to find out.

Some Experimental Stuff with Abstracts

As I mentioned when looking at Hadi Baghlaf’s work, much of his abstract work has the suggestion of characters and subjects waiting to be pulled out of them. I wasn’t entirely sure how this contributed to my portrait work to begin with, but it did open me to a different view on colour and brushstroke and abstract form.

abstract 1 abstract 2 abstract 3 abstract 4 abstract 5

Rather than create my own abstracts I looked at some of Baghlaf’s. My reason for this is because if I made my own for this task then I would likely end up unintentionally create intentional forms upon which to develop subjects. using another persons work means I go into the process with a clean mind. Obviously I cant do anything with these works since they are Baghlaf’s work and that would be plagiarism, but as I said this was a simple experiment into what I could do with my own backgrounds, colours and forms. I learnt a lot about how I can loosen up and vary my colour palette, or get messier with brush and form, and still have a subject within the painting. Obviously Baghlaf’s work is too abstract to draw conclusive form from, but I’m a big believer in using extremes as learning examples and then toning back when incorporating it.


(Just to reiterate: None of the paintings are mine. They belong to Hadi Baghlaf. I merely used them as a learning experiment and sketched over them.)

Artist Review: Hadi Baghlaf

Hadi Baghlaf

Hadi Baghlaf is a bit of a step away from the other artists I have looked at. He is very much an abstract artist and creates these works shown above that have no subject other than interpreted emotions. I am looking at his work less to study it, and more to provoke inspiration within myself.

I don’t have much else to say about this artist other than I enjoy his rough and messy style. What is rather interesting about this is that the abstract shapes sometimes hint at potential subjects. For instance, the large one above with the blue, orange, and black suggests towards the profile silhouette of a figure. It might be an idea to try and utilise this idea and use it to pull characters out of abstract backgrounds, rather than build a background around a character.

Artist Review: Mike Savlen

Mike SavlenMike Savlen is a great example of using a limited palette of surreal and contrasting colours to create harmonious paintings. Favouring bright ochres and blues, I believe it is the way Savlen chooses his in-between colours that gives his imagery dynamic balance.

Whilst it would be conventional to travel from ochre to blue via green, Savlen instead takes the long way around the colour wheel and goes through red and purple. This grants him access to a wider range of colours and thus softens the transition between the two (very strong colours). There are some greens present in the paintings, but these are more to highlight the blues than to transition between colours.

This unusual colour application could prove very useful when it comes to create harmony in my own works. Granted, I might want to create violent clashes of colour to reflect character, but I will be keeping this thought-process in mind.

Artist Review: CATF


I don’t have a proper name for this artists, but I found their work here while searching for artists who make use of bold colour and shape. I am in love with their work, it blends what I like best about Veronique Meignaud and Aaron Smith into works full of life and movement and character.

The artist is not worried as much about colour or realism as many artists and instead transform the subject into a whirlwind of movement. There is almost a music to the pieces and they suck viewers wholly into the events they portray.

I would love to replicate some of the techniques and applications seen in this artists work, but I have often found in difficult to replicate such rough brush-work digitally. Getting digital paint to react to what is already on the canvas very tricky and usually can only be done is slight mixing around edges, you cant get the streaky effect or on-canvas-mixing. I am going to use this as an opportunity to have another go at trying to make it work though and see what happens, if anything it will be a nice break from portrait studies.

Artist Review: Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith (who also goes by the online handle Mucksnipe) is another artist who I have found inspirational to this project. Though not as bold and direct as Veronique Meignaud, to create dynamic portraiture. His subjects are often very cool, with only a couple of warm colours upon them, and he prefers to use pastel colours compared to the vibrancy seen in Meignaud’s work.

What really stands out to me though is his brush work. He uses strong strokes and thick paint to give his portraits a tantalizing texture. This texture is what holds the attraction of these portraits I believe. For me certainly, it makes me want to reach out and touch with canvas. Whilst the colours give the subject their character, the brushwork gives the painting itself life.

Whilst his colours might be too pastel and messy for my liking, I will be using Aaron Smith’s work as inspiration towards my texture techniques and brushwork in future.

Artist Review: Veronique Meignaud

Veronque Meignaud

Veronique Meignaud was one of the artists that sparked this project into being and really motivated me to improve myself. Introduced to her work through her portrait series in Dishonored. She uses as tempest of lines and shapes to fill her pieces with a storm of energy. However I think what really pours life and personality into the paintings is her use of colour.

Pouring a spectrum of both warm and cool colours into paintings, she creates a clash of emotion that is somehow also balanced out. These colours and shapes reflect and build upon the personality of the subject and give a viewers a profound idea of what they might be like. This is especially prevalent in her work for Dishonored, and I intend to preform some more precise studies relating her portrait techniques to the subject character.

I admit I struggle to properly describe Veronique Meignaud’s work an its effect on me with words. But it has changed my view on colour and composition and I will be keeping her work close at hand for visual inspiration.