In the summer of 2016, I had to drive every morning for a few weeks to care for my mother at a stroke rehabilitation center in a small town in New Jersey. It was the most difficult time of my life. The drive there was for 40 minutes on a most pleasant road with some beautiful landscapes; had I not been so scared and anxious, I might have enjoyed the ride. One day, the 8 AM morning light was particularly special, a hint of Autumn filled the air and I managed to stop on a small bridge over a river bed to take a few photos. It was so peaceful and beautiful, I thought one day, if I got out of this nightmare, I'd paint it. A year later, I managed to do so... it's a small oil on canvas, but I'm happy with it. I'm still not fully recovered from the trauma I went through, but painting this has managed to soften some of the memories from a time and place I wish I could forget.
These days it's so easy to chronicle anything. Before the advent of phone cameras, the idea of taking several photos of each stage of a painting was time consuming and cumbersome, let alone taking a video. But now, it's so easy, and well worth it for a number of reasons. Seeing the progression of a work is not only fascinating for viewers but also for the artist! We can quickly check our progress when away from the portrait, compare to previous stages and make decisions about how we want the painting to progress.
Below is my first attempt to chronicle the making of a portrait. You'll discover the process of my painting, how I sketched it out first, blocked in color and shade and how I changed the proportions of the face a couple of times, going so far as wiping out half the face only to repaint it again (it was too long!) At the end, I've revealed the main source photo from which I worked... It was a fun process. I discovered that viewing the painting in a photo on a smaller device (iPhone and then iPad) allowed me to take a "virtual step back" from the canvas that allowed me to make choices I may not have made otherwise.
I finished an oil portrait today of the daughter of a dear friend of mine from college days. My friend posted a picture of her daughter, Lara Nour, on occasion of her 14th birthday some weeks ago. I was drawn to the photo and asked if it would be okay to paint it.
Usually, I like to do portraits based on my own sketches and photos and usually of someone I can meet in person. But given that she lived half way across the globe, this single photo would have to do. I can't always explain why I am drawn to paint a particular image, but I think in this case, her pose and gaze were particularly engaging; possessing a sort of innocent wisdom of a teenage girl on the verge of womanhood.
I was tickled to see my dear college room mate Lani, revisit Wellesley with her son and husband to see her portrait that I painted for the Slater International house over 23 years ago!
The painting was commissioned by Sylvia Heistand, the director of Slater back in 1993. There was an empty panel above the fireplace that she thought needed some color. I thought long and hard about what to paint; I wanted something relevant to the place. I chose a series of portraits of my classmates who hailed from all over the world. I'm glad Wellesley chose to keep the painting this long :)
A summer trip to Mykonos, the famed Greek island not too far from home, showed me some spectacular views, especially from our hotel. The changing light on the rugged terrain, and a moment of stillness where the wind is usually blowing was an impossible task to capture, but I attempted anyway...
Portraits are tough, but I love doing them. I think that's because I like the challenge of trying to capture the likeness of a person. During a Spring Festival for charity in one of Zamalek's parks, I donated my time by offering 15 minute portraits for EGP 200. It was a very fun day and I had a few happy customers :)
I've always enjoyed painting portraits. I think it's what taught me how to paint... As a kid, I would spend hours drawing faces from magazines and in particular my favorite pop stars (i.e., John Taylor of Duran Duran). I moved to pastel and oil of course, and portraits became favorite subjects. I've also done a few posthumously from old photographs, sometimes black and white... those were particularly hard, especially when I didn't personally know the individual. I think we humans will continue to enjoy commissioning and looking at portraits as they are a reflection of ourselves through the eyes of others... or something like that!