I'm very pleased to share with you one of my major projects from 2019: my first formal portrait in oil of my wife, Deirdre.
I set out with the cooperation of my gorgeous wife, Deirdre, to make a beautiful and elevated portrait of her. I have long wanted to attempt a portrait of my wife that was more than a quick pencil sketch (which I often have the pleasure of doing) and I'm very grateful that I was able to work on it this year.
We set about gathering together three or four different outfits a few weeks before the sitting. I took these outfits in the studio to coordinate and harmonize them with different background draperies and other props that I had well before Deirdre came in for the photoshoot. With this previous preparation we were able to set about posing and snapping photos of Deirdre in the context of my studio's wonderful North light. (I actually had her come into the studio on her birthday!)
During the process I would take dozens of photos, giving Deirdre some direction about her pose ranging from asking her to perform small actions like straightening her hair or setting out a fan to inspire or discover a pose that I had not yet imagined to asking her to tilt her head slightly one way or another to refine a pose that was already working very nicely. Every once in a while I would give Deirdre a break from posing and we would discuss the images that we had taken so far and she would be able to give me immediate feedback about what her favorites were. After about an hour and a half, 300 pictures, and various adjustments, we went back home to start the sorting and editing process.
Some work in progress shots:
After hours of sorting and editing I narrowed the source material down to four photos and let our Beauty Advocacy community help us decide on the final! (thank you!) Then the work of the final painting got started.
As we went through the development of the painting it was fascinating to both Deirdre and myself how the image was transformed. A painted portrait from a photograph can never be an exact copy (which is a good thing). It will always be changed in some way through human eye and mind. It was remarkable to see how some slight shift in an eyebrow or the curve of the lips could bring about large changes in the tone and expression of the sitter and the feel of the painting altogether. I hope that the crafting of these nuances has brought about a deeper and truer image of Deirdre than the camera was able to capture; one that is in fact more reflective of her personality, warmth, and dignity.
One of the last adjustments to the image that we decided to make was to change Deirdre's earring from a large wooden one that was in the original photo to a smaller, gold, fan-shaped hearing that you see here. I made this decision for a number of reasons - the first reason was to elongate the feel of Deirdre neck to give a greater feeling of dignity and grace - I felt the large chunky wooden earrings took away too much from the vertical lines at this particular angle. After this I tried a vertical silver earring which we found made the picture overall feel too cold. Finally we decided on the earring that you see here and we're very happy with the warmth and interest it brought to the picture.
I'm also pleased with the way the wedge or triangle shape of the earring plays into and interacts with the other triangles in the composition. If you take a look you'll see a series of these shapes in Deirdre dress, made by the angles of her arms, her fingers, and of course the shape of the fan at the bottom of the painting.
The fan is an antique one that Deirdre fell in love with at a thrift store when she a teen (and had a penchant for costumes and all things dramatic) and which her mother later gave to her as a gift. The bracelet she wears is also an antique and, although it's not visible to the viewer, is actually a Rosary bracelet so that it can be a sacramental companion to prayer. Hopefully the brightness of her face and some aspects of her character are complemented by these details.
I am thoroughly delighted with this completed the painting and we hope you will be too!
Now I need your help again: what do you think should be the title?
Hello there, I'm John H. Folley, an oil painter in the Boston School tradition. Thanks for visiting the Beauty Advocacy Blog, where it's my job to help you become a more discerning art appreciator.
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