The Piecemeal Portrait Tutorial That Wasn’t

October 28, 2019
I started this portrait using a Sailor Fude Fountain Pen and Platinum Carbon Black ink on Strathmore Toned Mixed Media Paper (tan). 6 x 8 inch piece added to a 11 x 14 inch piece.

To keep myself drawing while I’m working out what my post-cataract eyesight will be I’ve been videotaping my sketching sessions. I find that the resultant videos allow me to look again at my process and ask myself questions about the progress I’m making with my eyesight. 

It also takes the focus off of whether or not I “should just skip it.”

My whole life has been about doing a thing because it’s time to do that thing. This means exercise, sketching, and of course working (especially if you are a freelancer and like to eat).

For me it also means sketching when I have vertigo, the flu, injuries, etc. So it seemed to me that if I was going to continue sketching in a post-cataract life I needed to continue my habit of sketching. Duh.

This technological approach of videotaping the sessions has kept me thinking about the process of sketching itself, and not the headaches, pain, frustration, and exhaustion that sketching now causes.

Unfortunately technology comes with its own frustrations.

While sketching the image in today’s post the recording app I was using quit because of some conflict (the computer later died so I think it was more than just a conflict).  All I was able to salvage was a short portion at the end of the painting session which shows little progress (since it’s at the end).

In the meantime, I’ve started over with an alternate arrangement of equipment, and worked out a better audio approach—I have a tendency to talk down into my drawing while sketching so it doesn’t help if the mic is hanging above your head!

Process on This Sketch

Beginning with a fude fountain pen and sketching from a Sktchy photo reference I worked on a 6 x 8 inch sheet of Strathmore Toned Mixed Media Paper (Tan). As often happens I expand beyond my paper and I knew I’d be doing a piecemeal portrait. (You can find out more about these by using the blog’s search engine to find piecemeal portrait or piecemeal style.)

The next phase involved putting in an orange acrylic marker background. I like to to this to give a different surface to the tape so it will hold the watercolor without beading up.

I used Nichiban artist’s masking tape to attach the small sheet to a 11 x 14 inch piece of the same paper. Then I finished my sketch, ignoring the existence of the tape.

As you see in the second image today I then used a 15 mm wide tipped acrylic marker to make the background orange. This will allow me to apply watercolor to the taped areas without watercolor beading up on the surface of the tape.

Why use tape?

Look, Dick doesn’t understand why I love to do this either. And normally I use patterned washi tape!

I simply love not being confined to a small sheet if my drawing goes over. I also love texture. Nothing makes as fun a texture as various layers of paint on tape!

Sometimes as artists we also do things simply because they are FUN.

I enjoy challenging myself and my abilities to apply paint in different ways to achieve textures and finish which create a recognizable portrait (always a plus) and yet also set up a reverberation between surface texture and the illusion of likeness.

And frankly moving paint around this way is simply FUN.

We can spend all our time analyzing our every impulse, or we can get cracking, get something down on paper, and then think about the approach and how it might fit into our grand scheme of “things” later. 

I’m for doing the latter. I think it is useful to experiment with our media and methods to find the directions we want to explore.

Life changes us not only emotionally and intellectually, but also physically. I gave up photorealistic stipple illustration decades ago because I found that my eyes fatigued too quickly to make that approach to illustration an on-going money maker. And we do after all have to survive in the world.

The finished portrait. Watercolor, with a little bit of white gouache added to the background and some of the tints.

But moving into other media, leaving detailed color pencil drawings behind as well, wasn’t painful or difficult, it was exciting and fun. I was able to take existing skills and bring them forward into something new that was coming out of me.

Every time we sit down to sketch and paint, we have the opportunity to experiment. 

My energy and enthusiasm comes from this desire to explore and try to solve visual problems for myself. I want to see where the paint takes me.

Touching this now, when there are physical impediments to making art, is a way for me to stay connected to my creativity while I work out what is next for me.

What Is Coming?

Many of the videos I’ve recorded in the past few weeks have resulted in useable video that I think will be interesting to my students. They might be interested in how I’m trying to deal with my new eyesight issues, they may be interested in how I approach sketching in my old method or discover new approaches as I go along, or simply redefine my old methods. 

Because of that I’ll soon be starting a Patreon site. This site will allow me to share these videos with interested students as well as stay in touch through group chats about materials and methods. 

Detail from the finished piece.

The method of turning my many in-person classes into online courses has proved too time consuming. Hundreds of hours are spent video taping and then editing the tapes, just by myself. I have not found a large enough student base to justify that time commitment. Economically I can’t support that venture.

But one of my longtime students said she’d love to watch me sketch and simply chat, and hear not only my insights on art making and materials but also my many digressions. Because of that I thought the Patreon site might be a way for me to continue to teach a little while also sorting myself out.

I’ll post more information about this as it takes shape.

In the meantime I’m going back to my drawing board to videotape more sketching sessions so I can look at my own process and move forward. It’s a necessary part of working through setbacks.

    • Sharon Nolfi
    • October 28, 2019

    Your solutions to challenges (artistic or otherwise) are very creative. It’s always a treat to see and hear how your paintings evolve. I’m hoping you’ll share more about your cataract surgery and recovery, as I’m facing the same thing. My vision, especially in dim light, is deteriorating rapidly. It’s such a pain to have a body that changes with age!

    1. Reply

      It’s still too fresh and painful to write about the results Sharon. I see a neurologist in a couple weeks and then I’ll put something together.

      I think it’s easier if we focus on where we are now and what we can still do.

      Luck and percentages will probably be on your side and you’ll find life after cataract surgery better. 99 percent of my students have.

  1. Reply

    Your Patreon idea sounds like a good one. I value not only your teaching about art but seeing how you work out problems and challenges. As a beginner, I don’t have the artistic abilities to lose but have lost other things. I think the videos you are working on are just what some of us are looking for.

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much Maery for the vote of confidence. I appreciate it.

    • Kare
    • October 28, 2019

    I am always encouraged by your enthusiasm and energies, and appreciate the thoughts and experiences you share – especially working through these later years changes. Sometimes the bus of life T-bones us in some random intersection and sometimes it stops and takes you for a nice ride. I love the class webinars as it’s an opportunity for whole class to “be” together. Patreon sounds like a great & fun to experience real life demos by the artist/teacher in her studio! Can’t wait! As always, thank you for your generosity, strong spirit of adventure and the kick in the pants.

    1. Reply

      I think the bus analogy is a good one and what I’ve been working on is how the T-bone incident can actually be converted into a new adventure. What can it hurt? And it means I’ll be less grumpy around Dick right?! Thanks.

    • Corinne McNamara
    • October 28, 2019

    I’m so sorry you are having problems with your eyes and hope the problems subside to manageable soon! Looking forward to seeing your Patreon demos.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Corinne. I see a neurologist in a couple weeks. She may have some insights but because everything I’ve been told and read says what’s happening is permanent I’m focusing on what I can do going forward that will keep me out of trouble! Hence the Patreon. I need to be kept out of trouble!

    • deb mostert
    • October 28, 2019

    I’d be keen for this reiteration of Roz…. and would be interested in watching what that looks like for you.
    Looking after your eyes and your energy limits is wise and right, do what you can manage and we will be alongside for the journey

    1. Reply

      Thanks so much Deb. It’s always interesting to find where that management point is. Even starting to walk again after getting the cast off has proved interesting! I find I can walk in the house all day long, but if I go on one pesky little house tour and have to take off my boots to put on my “indoor” shoes for the tour (I’m not going stocking feet on someone’s carpet EVER again) my foot complains mightily! I’m still pushing to see where the productive spot is with the eyes. I have to push a little less and acclimatize before more pushing I think, just like my foot. But because in many ways it’s more important to me I think I push too much. (I know you get that.)

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