by Saga Erickson
I love to do portrait work and I recently got a commission from a repeat customer (always a good thing). Several years ago, she had me do a pastel portrait of her granddaughter, Ariel. Now she has a grandson, Tyler, and wanted me to capture his character in pastels as well. I thought it might be a cool idea to show folks how I do a portrait. So, I'm including step by step pictures of the process. I'm hoping to do a video of the next commission, which I'll be starting next week.
When I start any portrait type of work, whether is people, animals or a combination. I do work from photos. When I am doing illustration work, I am less likely to use a source. But, portrait work is more precise. I use a technique that is hundreds of years old and was used by the great masters throughout the ages. I use a grid. I take advantage of modern technology when I do a layout of more than one image and will do my layout for a new portrait in Adobe photo-shop, that way I can manipulate the composition until it looks right and will work as a painting.
Once I have a layout I'm happy with, I print it and grid the surface that I'll be working on to scale. Then I number the grids to correspond with each image. Then I do a rough sketch from the gridded layout, square by square.
When I'm happy with my rough sketch, I erase the grid-lines and begin to fill in the background. Then I start building layers of shadow and light. It doesn't matter what medium I am using, I begin blending and sculpting the pigments with my fingers as well as my brushes. It can get pretty messy.
This particular portrait was meant to be in grey scale, but I started getting a bit carried away and added color accents as well as some pop culture imagery in the background. I sometimes get a bit carried away when it comes to "artistic license."
I love seeing a portrait come to life beneath my fingertips. A swipe of a pastel here, a brush stroke there and both hands into the piece, molding, shaping contouring. Sometimes it feels that I am sculpting a symphony of colors, where every shade and nuance gives the piece greater depth.
I like to finish a piece with some fine line work to enhance certain features such as the eyes, a lock of hair or maybe the curve of the nose. I also put in additional highlights to bring out the subjects personality and character.
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