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Called out by the Model

January 23, 2015

[Long pose session, these were half hour warmups. Watercolor, 12×16″]

I was at the daytime long pose session at George Vanier Cultural Centre, which is always a nice opportunity. It’s one hour longer than a standard life drawing workshop. Which is just fine by me. I like to get at least two watercolors out of a long pose – so that extra hour to warm up feels like a luxury.

I was happily sketching way – trying to to focus on a few things:

  • Draw directly with the brush (dropping my pencil drawing safety net),
  • Establish a silhouette with the first few strokes,
  • Work color variation into the shapes while wet, (charging in).
  • Don’t neglect the background tone. I’m often making figures on blank whiteness.

That was going well enough. But in the break our model called me out.

“I look like a 9 year old girl!” she says.

Rightly so. That was a weird mistake. Not sure how it happened. Her head had definitely gotten large and child like.

In the second half, I pushed to get a real likeness. I’ve been giving myself a free pass on likeness for so long (I mean, you have to start somewhere, and getting a nice figure is hard enough, I just say “Don’t worry if it doesn’t even look like them.  After the model is gone, who’s going to know?’). But the time has come that I have to be able to get both a painting and a portrait, hey? If I’m going to do this work professionally :)

I’ve only done a few commissioned portraits – and each and every one of them has been sweating bullets. Until this year. Magically – that practice stuff is starting to pay off.


I’m pretty happy with this one. In particular, the shape of her hair and cast shadows on the forehead. At the time her hair was throwing me off my stride – I only realized it after the fact – it’s because Afro-textured hair doesn’t reveal the shape of the skull like I’m used to in a Caucasian. Funny – It’s one of my own bon mots that a portrait is just a ‘Head Shape / Hair Shape’. Yet it took me a few tries to get it right on her.

I’m glad Sarah called me out. I needed that push. That right there is a hidden reason to work from life. You don’t get that collaboration from photo reference.

Brush-wise: In the future I have to focus on a few more things:

  • Make the shadow shapes melt a bit more into the light,
  • Same with the background – more lost edges – less cut out shapes,
  • Wet-on-dry gives you plenty of control – but it errs on the side of sharp edges,
  • I’m going to experiment with painting the figure in reverse silhouette next time – to allow better melting into the background.
18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2015 8:01 PM

    Hi Marc
    These are nice. May I ask how big you are working?

    • January 23, 2015 8:12 PM

      These happen to be 12×16″ – an old Canson Montval bloc I’m trying to get to the end of.

  2. anne permalink
    January 23, 2015 8:07 PM

    Funny, isn’t it, when our model goes around the room? AND comments? Love it, and how helpful for you.

    • January 24, 2015 12:55 PM

      Yes! They see a lot of art of themselves :) A unique perspective to hear.

  3. Dominique Gaillard permalink
    January 23, 2015 8:33 PM

    Great job Mark !

    Always an honour to have you join us at Georges-Vanier. One of the things I try to do at times is paint just as if I was only sketching. I’m not thinking that it’s a face I’m working on, just a few shapes joined together, with a few lines helping to place things forward or pushing them behind. That works in oils and acrylics. Then you step back a few paces and after a while the picture begins to appear by itself. This method may take more time than working over a basis of line drawing but it makes you develop your spacial skills. But then I’m a line person and also enjoy the precision and speed of this method.

    BTW we have no atelier for the next 2 weeks, the next session is on Febuary 11th with a male model.

    • January 24, 2015 12:54 PM

      Hey Dominique! I hope to make it out more often. Great situation there. Nice atmosphere – calm and studious, just how I like it :) I hope to get to know the regulars a bit more.

  4. January 23, 2015 8:47 PM

    Fabulous work. Wow! I worked in charcoal or ink when life drawing and cannot imagine working up something as great as you have produced in monochrome let alone in colour.

  5. January 23, 2015 11:28 PM

    I was psyched to see your posts on the figure. Also loved the courtroom portraits! I’ve been attending life sketching sessions for the past few weeks, and am trying it in watercolor. This is tough since I’m new to watercolor. Day one is quick sketch, while day two is the long pose. It was great to see how you approach both.. I hope you will post more!

    • January 24, 2015 12:52 PM

      Thanks! – I’ll probably be weaving in the occasional life drawing – when it’s more of a portrait. All my nekkid people are on a different blog – to keep this one safe for work. Check out more of my life drawing here:

  6. January 24, 2015 6:22 AM

    Must try to sign up to some life sessions somewhere! These are really inspiring, and I like the guff – really interesting.

  7. January 24, 2015 7:35 AM

    I love your work. I need to get back to my artwork and you inspire me.

    • January 24, 2015 12:51 PM

      Hey, thanks for saying! That’s the motivation engine behind the blog – getting people back to drawing :) Just stick a pen and a small book in your bag and use sketching to kill time waiting. That’s the best way. Make every subway ride or doctors office wait a win-win :)

  8. Gina B. permalink
    January 24, 2015 7:52 AM

    This one may look more like Sarah, but she undeniably looks like you, like a Marc Taro Holmes painting I mean, interpreted in your unique style. Bravo!

    • January 24, 2015 12:50 PM

      Hah. Yes it’s true – no matter how we try, I think our own handwriting is always visible :)

  9. January 24, 2015 10:08 AM

    Superb work ethic. Great job on the bottom version!

  10. January 30, 2015 3:31 PM

    Wow, I love how you did her hair on the bottom painting! Looks great (actually, the whole painting)!!!


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