After finishing up my still life, I had a little time left for painting, so I turned again to Frans Hal and portrait painting. My first sorry-looking attempt at copying a Dutch master was done on a 5 x 7 canvas panel. It was impossible to get any sort of detail. I’m learning, and I’m getting more proficient with fine lines, but I’ve got a ways to go yet.
The next portrait, I promised myself, would be a little bigger. So, eager and excited to try another portrait painting, I looked around to see what I had available. The 7 x 9 canvas panel I used for this portrait is one that I’d used before. It was a little practice piece, nothing worth saving, so I’d recently put a coat of acrylic gesso over it. Yes, right over the oil paint. Once that was dry, I used a garish green acrylic over it. It was quite bright, but for my purposes, it would be just fine.
My first thought was that I might paint Meneer van Verhout again. Maybe I should keep painting him until I can do a really good job at it. Or, maybe not. I decided on the maybe not.
Instead I painted the face from Portrait of a Gentleman in a Black Coat by Frans Hals. I was disappointed that I didn’t get much of a likeness, but even so, I really enjoyed painting this portrait.
Yes, using a slightly larger canvas made it slightly easier to work on facial features. I had problems with that wild-looking moustache, had to paint it completely out and start over with it, and somehow his ear has all but disappeared. I didn’t get the angle of his head quite right, but I don’t care about that right now. I got a face.
You know how I know? I uploaded the photo of the painting to Facebook. This is how I get them onto the blog. I upload them from my phone and then download them from Facebook and save them on the computer. And you know what? As soon as I uploaded it, Facebook recognized it as a face and asked if I wanted to tag someone! How about that?
So, as far as I’m concerned, if it’s good enough for Facebook to recognize, it’s good enough for me to be proud of. It really is a face. Maybe not quite the face I meant to paint, but it’s a face.
For comparison, here’s the original by Frans Hals.
He seems to be staring out at me, shaking his head, and sighing a bit. “Good try,” he might say, “but you can do better.”
Yes, I can and I will.
Meanwhile, painting this portrait gave me a lot of experience. First, I drew the face free-hand on the toned canvas. I bought a new white charcoal pencil last weekend, and yes, it worked perfectly.
Next, I painted over the garish green to create a background that would be somewhat similar to the Hals painting. If you look closely, you’ll see that I even darkened a small area on the right side (the subject’s left side) to suggest a shadow. This was excellent practice for me in learning how to paint around objects.
Next, I laid in the basic lights and darks in the face, not concerning myself much with details, just getting an idea of where the highlights were, where the shadows were, and how those elements combined to create a three-dimensional illusion.
It was interesting to try creating the hairline and the hair. Painting that beard and moustache was interesting, too, and as mentioned before, it didn’t go so well at first.
I experimented with colors, used a tiny brush to show the facial features, and then painted in the wide collar and the black coat with a larger brush. I tweaked a bit here and there, stepping back, trying to see how I might better “shape” the face.
In the end, I was pleased. I realize my copy bears little resemblance to the Frans Hals painting, but it’s not my intention to create an exact copy. I’d never be able to do that. My intention is simply to learn from Hals, to study the way he uses paint to create such expressive faces.
And Facebook recognized it! It must, therefore, truly be a face.