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Andrew James at work
Andrew James at work

Paint expressive oil portraits


Andrew James - Posted on 17 Aug 2012

To attempt expressive portraits you need some expertise in working from life, and for this there’s nothing better than the two-hour sketch – a coherent and engaging sketch is the mark of a true artist.

Portrait of Anita


Drawing is literally key to all work, be it at the beginning or the end of the process. In the early explorative stages I look, and I assimilate the image. I collect marks, boundaries, edges, movements, weight and compositional relationships. Time spent on acquiring accuracy is important but must be achieved in relation to the time given. One hour spent measuring renders the exercise pointless. You must collect enough information to capture the feel of the sitter as well as the key co-ordinates in order to set up the subsequent stages. Continuous checking and measurement throughout is all-important to a successful outcome


The next stage is to add colour. Colour in this sense is more about getting a measure of temperature values. Here the shadows are a little cooler down the left-hand side than the lit side, which has a warmer colouring. I use the boundaries to lay out large blocks of colour to begin to find a general sense of the three-dimensional form. Guided by an awareness of directional force in the drawing I follow in a similar vein with loaded brushmarks of generalised but precise colours (pinks, reds, warm and cool neutrals, greens and blues). I fill in most of the face. Form should simply begin to appear. Preoccupation with details such as eyes at this stage will only waste time. Tone and temperature should be continuously checked to see that they avoid contradiction. From the broad-ish shapes should come refinements by degrees to a closer observation of form around eye sockets, the mouth, jaw, ears and nose. All these forms are captured by observations of how light falls on the object


Portrait of Anita, oil, (51x40.5cm)

It is important to retain a feel for your initial impressions while seeking the refinement that will show your sitter in a more compelling way. Form is literally fleshed out. The blues of the clothing enhance the flesh tones and add stability, while the pale yellow of the background adds dynamic thrust to the image. Once overall compositional values are established you can go back into the face and pay attention to the finer elements of the sitter’s features, giving equal attention to eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair.
As for my response to the work, I felt quite satisfied with the compositional balance and likeness that was beginning to emerge.
The left-hand side of the face was nicely captured with cool light but areas of the right-hand side – jaw and cheek – were left in a rather raw unrefined state, too green and too dark. Other than that I was beginning to really like its quality of concentrated thought. The brows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin all seemed even and well balanced

Andrew James’ new DVD Expressive Portraits In Oil is available from Town House Films. It costs £27.95 plus 90p postage and can be obtained from www.townhousefilms.co.uk or order on 01603 259441

See more of Andrew James’ work on his website www.andrewjamesartist.co.uk

The full article on painting expressive oil portraits acn be found in the September 2012 issue of The Artist

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