Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Painting takes time.

2009 . 09 . 21 - Comments / Commentaires (1)

Painting is a process of applying paint and then responding to it, and sometimes it takes many months of doing absolutely nothing to the painting in order to get it right.

painting a portrait

31 August 2008

This is a portrait of Bill. Ten days before I took this photo of the painting, the subject had turned 100 years old.

painting a portrait

8 September 2008

I was hoping to get Bill’s portrait done sooner rather than later.

painting a portrait

10 September 2008

The painting was a gift to Bill from my father to celebrate his special birthday…

painting a portrait

28 September 2008

...and I wanted to finish it within the year.

painting a portrait

29 September 2008

But, as I worked on it, I began to realize what a challenge the portrait was going to be.

painting a portrait

4 October 2008

Profiles are good for capturing precise features…

painting a portrait

6 October 2008

...but they make capturing mood and expression—breath and movement—very difficult.

painting a portrait

7 October 2008

What’s more, the quality of light that I was looking for was a subtle effect…

painting a portrait

15 October 2008

...and Bill’s lovely white hair was almost too contrasty for it.

painting a portrait

26 May 2009

So the painting sat in my studio for over 7 months, from the October 2008 with the previous process image until May 2009 with this one.

painting a portrait

27 May 2009

Sometimes I hid the work behind stacks of bigger paintings.

painting a portrait

28 May 2009

Other times I had it in plain view so that I could stare at it and try to figure out what to do next.

painting a portrait

29 May 2009

When I finally put paint to the canvas again in May, the background started to look interesting…

painting a portrait

30 May 2009

...but I was still having a lot of trouble with Bill’s face.

painting a portrait

1 June 2009

I blamed my troubles on the brightness of his hair…

painting a portrait

2 June 2009

...so I washed it over in gray.

painting a portrait

2 June 2009

That inspired me to go over his whole face in swathes of translucent color.

painting a portrait

4 June 2009

I was working with the canvas flat on the floor, pushing around puddles of watered down paint—something I usually do more of earlier in the process.

painting a portrait

7 June 2009

The painting looked like this when my dear friend Megh came over in mid-June. She is one of a handful of people who watches my work carefully and often sees what’s going on in my process better than I do. She said of Bill’s painting: “it’s so soft!” Though she said it nicely, I remember behaving apologetically about it; I was embarassed by the piece as it was. I put it behind another work and steered our conversation elsewhere.

painting a portrait

8 July 2009

When I did take the painting out a month later, the first thing I did was try to impose structure on the portrait with hard white lines.

painting a portrait

17 July 2009

But it was only by modulating the softness that Megh had pointed out that I finally found Bill.

a portrait of a centenarian

Gwenn Seemel
The Centenarian
acrylic on canvas
26 x 22 inches
(detail below)

a portrait of a centenarian

The best paintings don’t start out the way they finish: they’re layers upon layers of discovery.

- Art should appear effortless.
- Learning to harness a rainbow
- Starting from the very…middle?

CATEGORIES: - English - Practice - Process images -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(1) Comments / Commentaires: Painting takes time.

-- marilyn grad -- 2009 . 10 . 03 --

You have become one of my favorite process artists and blogs. I am in awe and admiration of your art and process. Is it possible to subscribe to your blog? Did I check correctly?

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