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WIP - Large Figurative Portrait

edited May 18 in Post Your Paintings
I have completed a sketch from life of a figurative portrait on a 24 x 24 canvas. Obviously, I am pushing the envelope hard. I have noticed that I sometimes can't judge the success of a composition from a photo, sketch, or even from life. As a result I have invested a lot of time painting several pieces that (when finished) I discover the composition was "off" and the painting was ruined. Has anyone else experienced this? Maybe I am looking at this wrong, but I really do not want to devote 100 + hours painting and have to put the completed piece in a drawer because I made an error in composition. So please look over this sketch and give me your feedback. What do you see as the pros/cons? On some level I think it works. To me it leads the viewer's eye around the canvas in a circular path; painting: flowers: cup: silver service: drape: figure: back to painting. However, I am apprehensive that I am missing a glaring error.  I welcome all comments and suggestions! Thanks, Tom



  • I believe this to be a good composition, strong composition. This will give you the confidence you are looking for.
  • edited May 10
    It looks very good of a composition, looking forward too see its WIP!
  • I like the layout.  I am wondering about her legs and feet.  Have you double checked your drawing for that aspect of your composition?  They don't look quite right to me, but line drawings can be deceptive when the shadowing isn't present.
  • Yeah, I agree with @Forgiveness; it's got a good composition from where I'm sitting!

    You don't have anything jarring up the middle or the very corners, no real patterns or halos & your thirds have interest- go for it.
  • Good composition. check the bottom line on the big picture frame for perspective one of us is slightly off. I hope it's me. I think (not an expert view) it would be a better picture if she were not looking up at the painter/viewer but looking at the book or the tea service.
  • FlattyFlatty admin
    I say go for!! :-)
  • I think it's a good composition.. It seems well balanced and the eye is lead through the picture.
  • I agree with the comments above, it looks a good strong composition - get stuck in! 

    More generally, to build your confidence and to explore alternative solutions for a composition you can also stick your photo (or a photo of your drawing, making sure the photo is taken square on) into image manipulation software like photoshop or gimp and play around with the cropping/zooming, aspect ratio etc. You can also select and move individual elements around a bit, and you can also overlay compositional guideline grids like the rule of thirds or golden ratios if you find that sort of thing helpful. And then just fiddle around until you are happy. The graphite artist Mike Sibley has an online guide for the process that you might find useful ( You can also do the same sort of thing the olde fashioned way with a couple of printouts and a pair of scissors. Viewing your drawing upside down or on its side can also help identify points of conflict etc. 
  • dencaldencal -
    edited May 11

    Looks OK. However, most of the visual focus elements are clustered on the left half of the painting.

    Much depends on the colour distribution to determine a visual balance.

    The table could be shifted to the right, but that would cover the pipe folds in the drapery. How about shifting the framed pictures to the right ?


  • Here's my 2 cents.. Maybe lower, or shrink the oval left of the picture frame. Play with the perspective of the picture frame maybe? I think it will be great.
  • Thanks to all who commented. In particular those of you who caught the odd perspective.  I know that it is unsettling but it actually looks like that in life, due to where I was sitting when I took the reference photo. I will go back over it and check the perspective on everything again. I also agree that it will be more interesting if we have her look away from the viewer, like down and away to her right. Ill redraw that. The legs and most of the clothing are a little out of focus, but I will tighten all that up with the first few brush strokes. Thanks for the encouragement, now lets get started !

  • Well, here we go. Darks going in first as the grey background. Light source is coming in from a window on the right (which cant be seen). I am going to change the flowers to red roses so their value will not jump out from the background. I usually paint smooth backgrounds, but this time I left the brush strokes in the paint. The photo is not blurry, it is just the pastel sketch lines creating that effect. Happy painting everyone!
  • Yay. A WIP.  Rename the thread so we know it's a WIP.  Looks very kool so far.
  • Very nice treatment for your background and the shadow under the picture frame cured the perspective for me.
  • One suggestion I have is that the square picture in the background competes fro attention. If i scroll up your photo so that about 1/3 to 2/3  of the painting is cut off, then it looks a bit more unified. Then the face of the figure is the main focus of the image, rather than the competing painting in the back ground . It's OK to have some elements in the image "go off the plane".
  • edited May 18
    I like the composition and I think it will work even better when you get the painting nearer to completion.
  • fbraakam, I agree, cutting the large painting above the subject to about a 1/3 of its size does improve the focus and composition. But, that would require cutting and re-framing the canvas. This is exactly what I was talking about when I originally posted this thread. The best composition reveals itself as the painting progresses and the pre-stretched canvas is no longer the correct dimensions. I have a good mind to just buy a roll of canvas and cut the shape around the finished (best) composition. Very Frustrating!
  • There was once a western I saw, probably in the 70's after school or on Saturday, where a wise old native american is telling a white man that they lived in tepee's because there was power in a circle.  "There is no power in a square" he said.  Its funny what sticks with you, but I have never forgotten.  I have often wondered if that is why art teachers recommend rectangles.  So, you can resolve this with the overall cast of the the painting.  Notice that you have a gradation of shading from right to left.  You can deemphasize the squareness with those diagonal rectangular stratas of light.  You won't be able to see the benefit until the canvas is covered but i have seen portraits done that way.
  • Mike, so basically you are saying to keep the composition as is and manipulate the focus with values. So tone down the frame and what goes in the framed painting so it recedes and accomplishes the edit that fbraakman suggested, without cutting and re-framing the canvas? That is an intriguing idea, I will try that. Thanks!
  • edited May 19
    You can also make the picture over the sofa a longer horizontal rectangle.  That will add to the illusion and add strength to the top third.  I was thinking maybe 2/3 of the sofa.  I am not sure about the oval.  I think I would remove it and darken that corner.  
  • I like it and think you should paint it as is.
  • Well, I took everyone's advice and rough sketched the painting, focusing on values and a little color exploration. This is pretty rough, but it will polish up as I progress. I am planning to do the big picture frame in gold, with the upper left of the frame a darker value than the right & lower portion. Any one have any ideas about what would make an interesting painting for inside the frame? 

  • monochrome bridge reflected in the river nothing to bright.
  • edited May 22
    I think the painting in frame should reflect what your setting is ..who is she, what time period is she and where does she live? For example does she live on the coast ... picture frame could have a sailboat shells or seascape, or is she an asian woman so picture in frame be floral landscape or cherry blossoms, or just put an old masters painting in it lol... that just my thought on it probably not much help and honestly I thought it was just a mirror before you asked
  • A couple points about this piece.  I think the viewer's eye may be inadvertently drawn to the picture frame depending on what you do with the colors.
    Second the anatomy of the feet appears like it will be problematic. 
  • Awesome! Is this where you started to detail?
  • Yes. The facial portraiture has to be 99% complete, before adding the other components, since they will primarily be put in with impressionism (if I can restrain myself from doing too much detail work)
  • Incredible work at that size. Looking forward to the rest 
  • Great sense of realism from such small brushstrokes. I'd need a magnifying glass with my eyesight.
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