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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Portrait of a Little Boy

When it was time to photograph two year old CJ for his portrait I wondered if he would get the significance of what we were trying to accomplish. Turns out, he did. Maybe it was the crisp white shirt (that soon crumpled and folded under his constant movement) and the large camera lens pointed at him. Or perhaps it was his older sister's oil portrait already hanging in his home that helped CJ understand that it was his turn. Regardless of the reason, CJ slowed down that sunny morning and followed instruction. I took tons of photos while he rested on that rock -- taking in his surroundings.

CJ loves the outdoors and rocks (throwing them is a favorite pastime.) And so it seemed appropriate that both of these elements would be a part of his portrait.

CJ
20 x 16", Oil on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson
Stage 1: Painting the contour lines. I painted CJ's image with loose contour lines using a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Transparent Earth Red thinned with mineral spirits. My biggest challenge at this stage was to slow down and study him as I worked on his features.

Stage 2: Starting with the eyes...Once I felt like I had his likeness I began painting the eyes, the focal point in this portrait.
Stage 3: Completing the face. After the eyes I moved on to the rest of his face. Because the back lighting from the sun is slightly to his upper right, I realized that everything on his left side is slightly darker in value.
Stage 4: Painting the shirt. I started his shirt by blocking in the darker shades of blue resting in the folds and creases.
Stage 5: Completing the shirt. Once the darker values were in I began filling in the rest of his shirt with lighter shades of blues, purples, yellow and even some shades of pink.
Stage 6: Painting the shirt and hands. When I was at a good stopping point with the shirt it was time to move on to his hands and blue jeans. Keeping the variations of the edges is important and it helps to work wet on wet.

Stage 7: Painting the hair and ears. I started this step by painting in some of the background so that the outer edges of his hair would be soft. Working with wet paint makes this step so much easier.
Stage 8: Painting the background and completing the painting. I used a palette knife to apply some of the paint in the background. It helped create a rough and rugged feel of the rocks. I then used a brush to move some of that paint around and blend the colors together.

When the painting was at this point, I left it alone for about a week and then came back in and reworked pretty much everything. (Taking out some detail, adding color, removing too much color in places, changing values, softening some edges...it's all part of my process.)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Portrait Commission of Two Women

At first glance, an oil portrait like this might simply look like a picture of two beautiful smiling people sharing a happy moment. But through the years I have learned and experienced that a portrait is not just a portrait. It is much more than that.

All portraits have one thing in common. They have a story to tell. This story begins (like all my previous portrait commissions) as a story about cherished loved ones who are being honored. And as the process begins one thing leads to another. Special memories are awakened that stir the viewer's heart and uplift the spirit. Emotions resurface that perhaps had laid dormant for a while. Loved ones are thought of and admired. A family heirloom is created.

There is power in a portrait.
Mrs. Dianne Rhodes and Her Mother, Mrs. Emma Mae Grimes
18 x 24", Oil on canvas
Rita Salazar Dickerson

Once the decision for the commission had been made the excitement and planning began. There were lots of reference photos to study and analyze. This is the main reference photo I chose to work from though I used several others as well. Many questions were asked from my clients. "What size should the canvas be? How long will the process take? What about the framing? Can we use a linen liner?" I enjoy this process; its exciting for me as well.

I love the freedom of making changes and using the photos for reference only. Adjustments were to be made with lighting, composition, clothing, jewelry...its all fun!
I started the painting with a thin mixture of burnt umber and mineral spirits which I used to paint in freehand the contour lines of their images. From there I worked on Mrs. Rhodes' (on the left) face first and then moved on to her mother's.
Half of the lovely large necklace was covered by Mrs. Grimes' dress and so I revealed the full piece for balance and design.

The black dresses were nice for continuity but I wasn't sure how I wanted to complete them. I then blocked in Mrs. Grimes' hair, preparing for the waves that would add contrast with light and shadow.
At this stage I focused on the details...completing the hair...softening edges...hi-lighting the jewelry...

...details that make a big difference. At my client's request I added Mrs. Rhodes' hidden right earring. I think it was a good suggestion.


With input from my clients, the final decision was made to complete the dresses to the edge of the canvas along with other minor adjustments throughout the entire painting.

Once the completed portrait is approved it is either picked up by the client or delivered to their home. But this story had a different ending.

The date was set. Every small detail was carefully planned. A surprise dinner party was to be held in honor of Mrs. Rhodes.

I had the extra special pleasure of being invited to the unveiling in Atlanta, Georgia and was asked to take part in the presentation.
                                                                                                                                                            Photo credit to Josef M. Courtney


To my right is Ms. Cherita Lewis, and to my left is Mr. and Mrs. C.R. Rhodes

It was a special blessing to be there and an evening I will never forget.