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Narrative Portrait Painting - Completed & Framed

edited July 10 in Post Your Paintings
Now that I've some basic skills under my belt, I'm looking to expand the complexity of my work. Right now, I'm kicking around an idea for a narrative painting series - this piece is sort of a test run at it.

I shot the source material a couple years back. The image/scene is from a community theatre production of Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons"

As you can see I've done some digital editing of the original to improve the composition.

At this stage, I'm focusing on getting the first pass of the basic values roughed in and establishing the forms.

My mahl isn't quite large enough to reach the rail above painting so it has smudged the upper right some.



  • Even the smudges look good so far. Keep going but don't maul ma with your mahl.
  • It is certainly a good study in values.
  • Looking good already, @douglail. The changes you made are good. For example, in the original photo  the string of the ladies' balloon lines up too closely with the edge of the guy's scarf. It looks better the way you have drawn it.

    I like the way most of the picture is more or less monochrome except for the faces where we get some colour. 

    I look forward to seeing it progress. :)
  • Mahl stick suggestion:  Here's what I did several years ago.  Bought a three quarter inch dowel at the lumber yard, and one of those "U" shaped bathroom door hooks from Walmart.  Flattened about an inch worth of one end of the dowel, attached the hook upside down.  I hook my dowel-mahl over the edge of the canvas.  That way, I don't have to hold it and manage it while painting.  It hangs there waiting for me to grab it.
  • Thanks @oilpainter1950, @BOB73, @tassieguy. That is a great idea @broker12 - thank you.
  • This is really good the man's face looks pale compared to the woman but maybe that's the way it is. Excellent job on the shadows on his face. 
  • @BOB73 - Thanks - yeah he is very pale in photo -may need to give him a wash to bring their skin tones closer.  

    @broker12 you got me thinking and I came up with a solution.

    I just made a vertical rail with feet that rests on horizontal rail. It just slides across horizontal rail and is more stable than my traditional mahl stick.Thanks again! 

  • Here is a detail shot - there is just over an inch clearance between painting and vertical rail.

  • Good fix!!  BTW, I see now why the man looks pale. He is closer to the overhead light source.
  • I have two metal vertical strips each side of my easel and use a magnetic T square as a Mahl stick, works for me and was easy to set up
  • I love her jacket, it looks very fuzzy.
  • This is coming together well, @douglail. I really like that everything is in shades of gray except their faces and his scarf.

    I can see some texture in her coat but I relate totally to your dissatisfaction with the way cameras don't capture depth and flatten everything.  :)
  • This is great no doubt!
  • She is more sculpted and he is more diffused...should be other way around. Too much emphasis on definition of female will make them look older and or masculine. He looks weak and subordinate to her. 
    The fabrics are excellent.
  • Really like what you are doing with this work. The only thing that catches my eye is her arm, shoulder to elbow, it appears longer than the source, but it could be just me.
  • edited May 13
    I think you may be right, @ChuckA.  But easily fixed.  :)
  • @tassieguy, @kaustavM, @Tramontane, and @ChuckA - Thank you guys for the input. 

    Yeah, the image of painting does look soft overall but in life it isn't. Think that is the camera optics at play. But Tramontane that is a great call to soften her up a bit without making her sweet. Her character in play is very rigid and sharp. 

    The scarf and coats are going to need to dry some before I add any more paint. Colors are just smearing around right now. 

    Yeah - her arm is off - I wasn't sure how I was going to handle the texture and it looks like I over painted that area and extended it vertically.

    Thanks again for all the insights they are very helpful.

  • edited May 20
    Getting back to this piece after a week and in the homestretch just have the balloons to go. Roughed them it but they are really too bright - need to be toned down quite a bit. Also as you can see it has start to dry now and is really splotchy - I just don't paint quickly enough for larger pieces yet. Oil in isn't an option unless I put it away until it completely dries. Really like that she and his scarf are so 3D. Hope to get where all the elements have that much depth.

    Reduced the exposure and that seem to have helped with everything looking washed out. It may be too dark. But when I compare phone image and painting I think the photo looks closer to what painting actually looks like.????

  • This is great @douglail:)

    If the dark flat areas are touch dry you could spry lightly with retouch varnish to bring back the depth until you are ready to apply a final varnish. That's what I do so I'm not distracted by the dull flat areas. 
  • @tassieguy Thank you - that's a great idea!!!

  • In the final stage on this now - basically complete just a few minor touch-ups here and there. At the point where I feel I'm messing stuff up rather than improving it. Overall I feel pretty good about it. 

    Ready to move on - shooting reference material on Sunday for 2 more portraits. More to come!

    @tassieguy the retouch varnish works great - thanks again.
  • Terrific job, great flesh-tones, super good textures in the clothing and the balloons really pop!
  • Can I suggest one little thing? Soften the edge of the black glove against the women's coat. It stands out to me..
  • edited May 30
    Glad the retouch varnish was useful, @douglail.

     I like this painting a lot. Especially the composition and the texture in the clothes. I also like how the strongest colour is in the faces and the highest values are in the balloons. I go from their faces, up to the balloons and back down past the faces to enjoy the texture in the fabrics and up again to the faces and then repeat the circuit.  :)
  • BOB73BOB73 -
    edited June 4
    I like it too, I love it actually but why do you call it a narrative portrait? Do you talk to yourself while you paint?
  • edited June 6

    Hi @BOB73

    I'm glad you asked - 

    The proper description should be Narrative Art I guess - art that tells a story, either as a moment in an ongoing story or as a sequence of events unfolding over time.

    This is a scene which encapsulates the primary plot struggle from the play Mothers & Sons in which Katherine and Cal try to reconcile.

    The balloons represents Katherine's son Andre that pasted away 20 years prior. 

    The length of the string and position of balloons to the characters are symbolic of their relationship between Andre and each. 

    The tightness of Katherine's fist and her grip, represents Katherine's dominance over Andre even in his death. 

    The holding on of a person's memory - not being able to let go - no matter how painful those memories may be. Chained to regrets. Words not spoken and conflicts unresolved. 

    I could go on and on but you get the idea. 

    This is my way of exploring portraiture other than the standard portrait painting - hence the my description narrative portrait.

    Sort of like Andrea Kowch.

  • I love this. And the frame really sets it off.  :)
  • This definitely is a masterful portrait and more than a portrait by weaving the narrative into it.  The finished work framed looks perfect.  Excellent work!
  • Great concept That should be a good title: Mother and Sons. BTW we sometimes get balloons to remember loved ones and friends passing, meeting up some place and releasing the balloons all at once.
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