Portrait almost completed

edited December 2022 in Post Your Paintings
Oil on board. 137.8x91.4cm (54"x36")
Well this has been a long time in process - but almost there. These are my four children who I hadn't had all together with me in five years. They immediately resumed their roles at the table as they had interacted as teens. I know several things I wish to do to complete it (eg, fine tuning the balance on faces, left hand side of dark jacket lost edge, hair, one shirt needs more work, highlights and other tidy up). But often things are staring you in the face and require someone else to point them out - so deeply appreciate any input. If something doesn't look right or needs tightening up I really want to know.
Title? There is a lot of memory for me at this table. The tiny rocking horse is a model I made years ago of the real rocking horse I built that they all used. These are only my 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th portraits - difficult to balance them, particularly in the lighting. Clearly my children are the motivation for this, but I also wanted to capture that instant when an abstract thought is apprehended by someone. It's a very subtle thing and in preparation for the photoshoot I studied body language and listened to actors to try to identify that moment. All human society and accomplishment is built on that transfer of thought. (It also creates a wonderful irony of painting an abstraction with modern realism.) Then I also wanted an excuse to paint all the things that as a child made me stare at paintings in wonder and long to be able to do - glass, metal, flame, faces, dimensionality, chiaroscuro-style paintings... I was playing with titles like: Abstraction: past and future. or Transference of thought or Visual thought. My wife describes these attempts as a 'bit cold'. =) That title is more for an art show to touch the universal in what is a very personal portrayal. Maybe.

On zooming in: This is not a single photo - I can't photograph it with my DSLR or phone and get detail - it comes out cartoonish. So it's a composite of six photos (photomerged in photoshop) and I also had trouble with bluish light from windows hitting dark spots (eg, across the plinths, an arm). To give higher resolution on the faces I took close ups and inserted them into this photo - you might see where I pasted them. If you want high-res of any section I can post that.


  • How lovely! I’m sure your like me that it truly warms my heart to see my adult children sitting together relaxing and visiting, and you have captured those sibling feelings by the body language. How large is this painting? @Abstraction
  • @joydeschenes - ah, thanks I forgot. I just wrote that in above. 137.8x91.4cm.
  • You have done a great job with this, a real labour of love.
    Each sibling is very recognisable and you have handled all the bits you included very well. (cloth, glass, brass, flame etc...

    Just 2 things I would look at again if it were mine.... 
    The nose of the youngest ?) on the left looks  a bit flat and arrow like.   
    The tendons on the back of the neck of the brother on our right look a bit contrived and unnatural.

    I like the idea of someone holding the lemon.  That works really well and brings a relaxed and believable element to it.

    Now you will have to do 3 more so each can have a family heirloom...! 
  • It is an ambitious painting.  The only thing that stands out is the highlight on the neck of your son on the far right.
    I like all the items on the table.  The fruits especially. And I like your reflection in the gold colored decanter.
    Nice work!
  • Thanks @toujours and @GTO I can see the back of his neck jumps too strongly. There are two light sources and I haven't finished the highlights in his hair, but I will pull it back. I think the nose on the left does need adjustment also. He's a computer games programmer who created a 3-D model of this for me so i could resolve some perspective issues. Rather handy.
  • edited December 2022
    This is a BIG painting, Abstraction.  I admire how you been able to keep control of value and color over such a large area. The kids look great. The hand holding the lemon and your daughters hand gesture and smile are wonderful. I like the skin tones which play nicely with the blue of the clothes. The table and the still life items are beautifully painted. It's good that the ornate stairway is almost lost in the background darkness - we sense its presence but it does not take too much attention away from the subjects.

     You could adjust the couple of things others have mentioned but I really didn't notice them. Overall, there is a feeling of happiness, of relaxed contentment. It's a heartwarming family portrait.

    I think you can be justly proud of this. I'm sure it will be treasured by the family and be handed down through future generations.

    As for a title, I think I agree with your wife. I'd keep it simple and call it something like A Family Supper.  That says it all. :)
  • Very ambitious! And it works really well. One thing I notice is that the glass vase in front of your daughter is drawing my eye as it appears to have very sharp edges and higher contrast that the surroundings. Might want to check that out? The same with the gold vase object for me as well.
  • edited December 2022
    @tassieguy Thanks! It is big, it was ambitious. It bit me in a few different ways to remind me oil painting doesn't reward ambition without providing lessons. On occasion the only rewards are the lessons. Yes, hopefully the staircase and periphery is pulled back sufficiently to set off the subjects and not draw us away. I didn't want to simply suspend everything in darkness, even though that's simple and powerful. Extending the trompe l'oiel (which didn't run all the way across), for instance, gave me a horizon rather than a flat blank wall or fade into obscurity. I like dimension and liked that as a solution. I also aimed for visual movement with primary (interaction of four people), secondary and tertiary, etc, levels of interest. Like much classical music hoping the counter-melodies and percussive elements enhance and ultimately reward but don't jump in the way of the main movement and themes. It's on a second or third listen you notice that bassoon line is interesting. ;) What we hope to achieve and what we actually achieve are all rolled up in the lessons.
    @Richard_P Thanks for that - it may be the light around the edge of the brass vase that accentuates that as well - probably bits of the decanter the same. I've had one go at pulling back the contrast on the decanter but you're right - it's still a little dominating perhaps.
  • @toujours @CBG I'm assuming this is what you mean - I've put it with the photo so you can see my source. I've been endeavouring to tone back the photo highlights - photos tend to overburn them and after playing around i decided on slightly more natural complexion - hence more pink. I do need to adjust his neck but interested if you have further thoughts. I also haven't finished his hair - it's a bit steel wool-like atm - which does also need stronger highlights. I can see possible slight adjustment needed on the eye highlight for that sense of him visualising the thought his sister is making. So there was a light behind them to the right and a second light from LHS that picked up only the two faces on the rhs.

    1. The LHS of the neck highlight needs softer transition. 2. The hair and shirt need some stronger highlights - but not as much as the photo. 3. Is the neck too bright and distracts? 
  • Yes, that's the spot.   Yes, it is brighter in your painting than anything on his face.   The photo has it similar to highlights on the face.   I wonder if lightening the hair, forehead, cheek and ear would help balance the back of the neck?

    Have you put the original photos and your painting in B&W to compare the values?  I find it helps me isolate where I need more or less contrast.
  • Blows me away! I can’t even imagine painting something this complex. Obviously, I am not worthy of constructive feedback. Beautiful work! 
  • @Abstraction just wow. How on earth did you get to such a result after only 2 portraits. The subtlety of values and drawing is astonishing. I think you have captured a family moment that is not due to randomness. It is well thought and designed, truely a masterpiece. 
    If I may ask, how did you get the drawing so damn accurate?
    I am deeply impressed.
  • Probably no need for comments on such excellent work. I'd just say, wow... four children, a travel job and such mastery of art, all-in-one...
  • I think maybe the neck in the photo is not as distracting because the light in the forehead is much brighter.  I think just toning down the light in the neck a notch is all that is needed.
  • Thanks @adridi, @whunt and @outremer for your kind comments. When you bite off more than you can chew and just have to constantly find solutions to emerging challenges over 18 months - including needing to completely sand back 70-80% of it at one stage due to a technical problem and the temptation to toss it more than once - you can end up posting a painting with lots of misgivings and doubts. I appreciate your thoughts more than you might expect.
    Adridi I will answer your question about drawing accuracy in a separate answer when i get some time. There were multiple methods and lessons. It was highly complex (for me) because of all the architectural features and I also combined multiple photos and changes perspective on all of them. Man, did that send me away studying perspective details! And my son Jared on the left developed a 3-D model for me (games programmer). I also do have a method I developed for seeing what needs fixing - it's superb. I suspect the photorealists use it also but I've never studied their methods. 
    @GTO Thanks again. Your comments some weeks ago really hit a blind spot about the way I handle dimensional edges - a gap in my understanding somewhere. I applied your observation liberally to everything I could see - not sure how well I did it. If you notice any others not looking quite right let me know. In my mind I drew a distinction between two things: fixing hard and soft edges <=vs=> transitioning values on a rounded edge. I interpreted that it could be either or both. Soft edge simply makes it indistinct, blurred. Transitioning values means the edge may still be hard because of location, but that, of course, it sweeps away either away from or towards the light with an exponential change in values.
  • Superb work @Abstraction. I can understand your frustrations as its such a complex piece but it sounds like you have the right approach by taking your time with it.
  • edited December 2022
    @Abstraction could you point me to this discussion you had with GTO about edges ? I'd be interested to revisit that topic in the context of your last painting.
  • @adridri I asked for input from a few people offline so there isn't a post on the edges. I didn't feel ready to post it and they were very helpful. Hopefully I've addressed all their input. But the gist of @GTO 's feedback on edges was that there was a 'stiffness' to two of the figures based on my edge treatment and lighter parts made from mixture of pure white - that there's more grey in the world than we think. He thought it may have come from working with a photo. His work on still life leaves me in awe. Context of 'Last painting' - do you mean the seascape?
    Favourite sketching approach: My preferred sketching method is wipe back - eradicate the white with a single pigment then wipe back. Sometimes I also use a grid drawn lightly for placement or even just the measurement marks of a grid only on the edges of the canvas. I'm planning a plein air in the next week or so and will almost definitely do this, probably without grid. It gives control of values and the entire painting very quickly. I'm a tonalist at heart and never paint details until I have main big areas of values defined so that the drama leaps off the canvas. ("I think you missed a hair on that bee's knee," my teacher say to remind me that I was in details too early. "Capture the big, simple tonal statements.")
    Needed different approach: But for this painting the architectural details meant I needed accuracy. My friend who taught me woodwork told me how the eye is quickly drawn to any imperfection in man-made objects. However to add to difficulty, I combined multiple photos with different perspectives and also wanted to change the table arrangement, lift perspective above eye level to array the table more and make John on the right lower so vanishing point above their eye level, wanted him smaller (camera was too close!!!) so as if camera was further back... I did this in photoshop, posted online elsewhere and a French artist pointed out multiple perspective errors. My son Jared on the left then created the 3-D model that I could move around and see from any angle. Link to his model here at top of discussion:
    I also learnt that both cameras and classical perspective training will distort round objects that are not centred. The little understood best solution is to portray them as they would look if you turned to look directly at them so they stay round. @Richard_P found the solution in the same discussion above.
    Sketch methods used: oil sketch based on print out of my photoshop image for placement. Lots and lots of painstaking measurements for architectural details. (Lesson learnt: avoid detailed architecture.) The oil sketch soon disappears under paint. My main method for accuracy is one I developed myself - to superimpose a photo of my painting over the source photo on photoshop. It is the single best method I have used. (eg, Mirrors, upside-down, black glass, measure with paint brush or similar...)
  • Yes, I've done the superimposed over a photo trick. If you play with the transparency it's really useful.
  • edited January 1
    Thanks for noticing that, @Richard_P. Great catch. I had noticed the slightly different eye direction based on the specular highlight, but the highlight you point to is possibly even more important. It's actually there but the value isn't light enough. I appreciate it as thinking is action, and action is powerful in portraits. That you picked up on that makes me feel understood - what i was hoping for.
    What I've noticed with some degree of awe is this: you can have a strong likeness but you know you haven't quite captured the thought or emotion on the face. You can't see why and it takes ages of searching and adjusting and then you discover it's the tiniest, subtle difference on a portion of a lip or eye or cheek => then all at once the correct emotion appears. The difference between indifferent or amused or unimpressed is often very little. Yet almost every human, even children, can read the thoughts and emotions behind people's expressions without any effort. Great actors like de Niro do less not more. I want that in my portraiture.
  • @Abstraction really good work. Bravo for all the work you've put in this painting, it looks like it needed a lot preparation and a lot of work for such a big piece. It looks like the "the last supper" by Da Vinci. I like how you've blended realism and a bit of surrealism. 
    Just one note about the colours. Looks like the skin tones are a bit cool compared to the reference which is warm. Could that be the white balance of the camera or just how it was painted? 
    Again excellent work!
  • Very big and complex! It is amazing!
  • @Abstraction
    This is  an ambitious painting as GTO has pointed out. 
    I have problems with the piece as a whole. 

    I don't have criticism of the painting process. It's skilled.

    My friend Ianni used to say that a painting had to be unified. I came to understand that meant that the abstracts had to blend to create a unified image or story. The abstracts, negative and positive shapes, are the points of interest or focus. I feel this painting is very unified challenged.

    Nearly every object has the same attention to detail. The figures are each isolated and seem to have separate light sources. The rightmost figure also has an isolated light source on the face along with a rim light on the figure. I find the column bases each treated the same as very out of space.

    There's too much going on. Is it a still life? A classical scene. Troumpe L'oell?, Portraits?

    When we look at art history especially expansive paintings like this one most of the time there were studies done to resolve all the bits and pieces. Drawings of every component and how all the shapes a values interact. Resolving the issues of light. After alll what we paint is light. Before the paint hits the palette.

    I did a crop of your painting. I know it's a bit late for that but I simply eliminated some spaces and directional keys. The figure are now united. Somehow I feel you saw this in the beginning.

  • @Abstraction – well, I am mainly in awe!

    Congratulations on both creating this painting and figuring out the many technical challenges, both compositionally and physically constructing the painting.  Your decades of problem-solving in different areas really came out in your approach.

    Even though I disagreed with you at first about the objects on the table - I thought they were cluttered and distracting - now that I see the finished painting, I think they are fine and work well to help guide the eye from the foreground to the main event: the four figures.

    I hope you don’t mind an unsolicited comment: The son on the left: he seems to me to be isolated from the others. He is physically distanced, he does not touch or overlap with any of the others, he is portrayed mainly in the shadows, he has the darkest clothing covering most of his flesh, he appears physically thin. I know that you deliberately planned the transition of the clothing from left to right from dark and uncolored to lighter and colored (blue). But I personally think it would be better if you gave a little stronger hint of blue in his clothing somewhere. It would help link him to the other figures.

    Very nice blue unifies the composition 😊

    I hope you share more thoughts and observations on the design and composition of this. I have learned so much from you.

    Do you have any idea of how many hours you have in on this?  

    I agree with @toujours that you will have to make more paintings to give to each of the children – and keep one for yourself. 

  • I think you've made it harder for yourself with altering the hue and removing highlights of the original photos in your head whilst painting. It makes more work in getting everything right.

    I can see other things different with the face on the right, but don't want to overwhelm you with all these comments. If you do want me to point more out please let me know.. :)
  • @Abstraction I meant this current painting not the previous seascape. Thanks for explaining the process in details. I would not have imagined running into so many problems for the preparation of a painting. This is really heavy in terms of logistic, and I can well imagine you going through all the steps of the process of creating a masterpiece that was posted some time ago, including the vally of despair (or i don't remember how it was called). I'm learning a lot through your work and others, thanks a lot for that!
  • @Abstraction – I think it is both an excellent and extraordinary piece of work.

    Showed it to my painter daughter a couple of days ago, and she regarded it as being stunningly impressive. Her mother described it as 'awesome'. I'm happy to endorse both of those comments.

    Have read carefully all comments above, and find the technical discussions interesting and informative. Nonetheless, the depth of backstory in your opening post, together with the persons and items depicted, suggests clearly this painting is deeply personal to you. So I'm inclined to suggest you simply follow your own nose regards any adjustments you might choose to make.

    What I like most particularly about it (apart from all of it) is the way you have decided the placement, expressions, and gestures associated with the figures. It is clear you have put a huge amount of thought and work into the picture, and I'll bet your children love it.  :) 

    With kind rgds, Duncan
  • Thanks @kaustavM and @Marinos_88 - all my sources were different in terms of skin colours so i had to make some decisions to balance and get best result.
    @KingstonFineArt - Appreciate your experience and thoughts  and your crop is excellent. Agree a painting should be unified, obviously it hasn't worked for you. I put a lot of thought and research and sketches into this. I looked at hundreds and hundreds of photographs, paintings, listened to actors, researched lighting, studied a few artists - Caravaggio in particular (the allusion is obvious I think). Here is my thinking, for whatever it's worth. Lighting: The light is exactly as the photoshoot. It consisted of only two light sources as, since these are equally my children, I didn't want any face in full dark and also wanted conversation/ interaction around a table not all facing the same way. I wanted a single moment: a thought. You'll find the lighting is consistent with the two lights (as I was there) with a little ambient light as well (eg, dusk in the window). Focus: I often do paint with a single point of focus. Everything else is obscured or understated. I tend to do this for smaller paintings. But 'single glance' is not the only human experience of the world. We more often drink in a scene and our eye refocuses and notices other things. I didn't distort the pillars (classical perspective error, frankly) because we never see them that way as human beings. Design: There are many design principles we can draw on and some contradict each other. This isn't a problem, there are simply different ways of observing beauty. Look at art history: there are many famous and successful paintings throughout art history with 'lots going on', without losing unity. If this was a small painting or still life I would be simplifying and perhaps even reducing what was focused upon. But with this large work I wanted primary, secondary and then minor points of interest using an hierarchy of attention such as lighting and other devices to create these layers. I have a number of design devices (fibonacci spiral ends at the lemon [i didn't purposely do this I noticed it during my analysis before I began painting], use of colour, lighting, eye direction of each person, table, architecture, etc) to unify it. Or attempt to do so. :) There will be folk like yourself who don't think I've succeeded, that's fine. The trompe l'oieil exists because I didn't want a flat blank wall or fade into darkness - I love dimension in a painting - but it's semi-hidden in dark and relatively obscure - and so in creating a horizon in that sense it is no different to any work of art outdoors. The modern 'still life' is arrayed almost as a rainbow and arranged in a line like a lizard lying on the table to be almost a single object. I could have put boring crockery and cutlery instead I suppose. The figures isolated? I don't know what you mean there - they are making eye contact, conversing, emotionally engaged. The tension of one sat back is a purposeful creative one, I think.
    Anyway, your view will be shared by many others so I take it on board and appreciate you taking time to share your experienced perspective.
  • @Desertsky Thanks - I appreciated your early input on this and here again. The use of lighting was always intended to be pulled back to find the level where the focus is hopefully immediately pulled to the subjects. My son Jared was originally sitting closer and that guy from Wet Paint suggested he be moved back and I thought it worked. It does create a sense of isolation though. In the last few days I've strengthened the blue on his t-shirt (prussian, very kind of him to wear that as there is an array of blue shades). The highlights on his hat will hopefully accent his belonging even more. It's also true to personality - he does a lot of observing and has done so from childhood. Wonderful wit though when he does speak up. I don't know how many hours. It's been 18 months of painting (weekends when i'm free) - but I had months where I was stuck looking for technical solutions and then had to sand back 70-80%.
    In terms of more paintings: I gave their mother (first marriage) her first painting lesson. Then she went to a class and won three awards at shows with her first three paintings. Seriously. She doesn't want me to paint any of the children or any of the grandchildren because she kind of claimed that space. I felt a bit lost when she reminded me of that. So I came up with this idea and she was very supportive of it. But I certainly won't be painting this 3 more times. I'll give them prints or something.
  • @Richard_P - thank you for your detailed feedback - it was spot on. I suggest you post here as anyone interested in portraits would gain a lot from your thoughts. On a person's face, the final tweaking makes difference. The tiniest line or value shift can unleash expression and personality.
    @MoleMan Duncan, you are a very generous person and always manage to touch people warmly. That was wonderful encouragement, thank you.
  • I love it...I love how you have positioned them in what appears grand and hugely spacious and then focussed the light and detail in their faces and limbs. They are animated and real....a very intimate knowlege is apparent in their portrayals. A might fine work. congratulations
  • As @Abstraction is ok with it, here is the C&C I gave him:

  • @Abstraction - again, this is a wonderful painting. I do understand about territories; my first marriage also had some of these and a few have remained for over 30 years after the divorce. 

    In addition to creating this marvelous image, you also learned much in the process. Thank you for sharing what you learned with us. I regularly re-examined my own thinking and assumptions, based on what you shared.  

    ...What do you think your next project will be? 
  • edited January 3
    tassieguy said:
    Fantastic feedback, @Richard_P:)
    Yes tassie, I agree – and very nicely presented and worthy feedback from Richard also.

    The only point I'd wish to add to that is Richard's mention of the 'white teeth' – in his fourth graphic (as immediately above). It's important perhaps to see these things in proportion, if not in perspective, but comparative values do matter nonetheless. As does balance. My own teeth are (passably) white, but unfortunately, there are so few of them these days that those that remain might dominate—or distract—unfairly a family portrait. But I'm old, and I suspect that @Abstraction's objective was more to mark and celebrate the passage of his children into adulthood.

    @Richard_P, if you would care to PM me with a postal address, I'll very happily send you a spare tooth. I have several and I've kept them all—apart from those that were swallowed, of course—but those that remain available are now no longer very personal to me. Had been saving them with the intention of having them strung as a necklace to leave to my wife so she has a deeply personal memento to treasure (and reflect on) after I'm finally gone.

    Kindest rgds to all, Duncan  :)
  • What a wonderful offer! But I feel at this time I cannot accept your overwhelmingly kind gift. I wish you all the best (and a toothbrush)..

  • (You have to learn with DMP that when you select a quote you need to first create three empty lines and put the cursor in the middle line so that you can write above and below the quote. =))
    Desertsky said:
    ...What do you think your next project will be? 
    I'm planning maybe tomorrow (depends on weather) to do my first en plein air. I have a spot picked on a cliff edge in Flinders that overlooks the sea below and pier. I also proposed to my wife at that place. I have no idea what time I should be there to get the best light - and the sea is all about time of day and weather and what the light chooses to do on a given day. Yesterday I measured out a piece of hardboard for it, decided I wanted a wider perspective and then cut it. Then I realised it was too short(?) Oh. I cut along the wrong line. Sigh. As it was the end of the day I walked away. Life is best lived from that place where you feel centred. I felt otherwise at that moment. =) I'll use it for another en plein air some time.
    Then I want to do that beach photo I posted the other week. It will be big I think - it deserves it. And I'm starting a 12-string guitar build with my grandson. No idea how I'm going to bend the sides. A project is worthwhile when you're a little out of your depth. You grow. As I did with the above painting. The feeling of being inadequate is one that many of us subconsciously avoid and so we shy away from things. But... it's one of the feelings of the path of learning so we have to learn to interpret the feeling differently and become comfortable with it.
  • Excellent work @Abstraction,you got the likeness.
  • Impressive endeavor and painting!
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