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Step 4, 5 and 6

readers-step-4readers-step-5readers-step-6Yesterday I worked on this young lady.  She’s one of the two children that are on the right side of the painting.

In step 4, I laid in the major blocks of color.  Even though I’ve painted studies of this girl, this time I struggled a little.  Maybe I was making it harder than I needed to, but I was trying to pay close attention to the shadows.  In previous attempts, I seem to have just been lucky.  I had to work at it this time.

For this post, I feel I should write about some points in my work where I felt like I was losing control.  Perhaps you’ve encountered such moments.  When I had painted in the areas of light and dark, I was confident.  The process was familiar and I knew it would successfully lead me to the next step – smoothing out the hard edges to soften the face.

I stopped work for several hours in between each of these three steps.  I would feel I’d reached a point where I wouldn’t be wasting paint if it dried out.  It also looked like I was finished enough with the stage I was working on.

When I returned several hours later, I noticed some shadows and highlights needed attention.  In past sessions, when I needed to change an area of paint, I simply jumped in and started.  The paint was still moist enough to allow some alterations.  Not this time.  This time the paint was too dry.  It forced me to remix my colors.  Think about a time when you’ve cooked something using a recipe and decided to add your own personal touch?  It can become complicated enough that you may not be able to duplicate the steps again.  That’s how it is with painting portraits.  I’ve already done enough of the painting that the colors I use need to be consistent with what I’ve already done.  My palette is pretty simple so I may have been overconfident.  As you can see by all the tiny little places on the palette, I did a lot of mixing.


This collection of spots is simply from the time between step 5 and step 6.  As you can see, there are spots on top of spots.  The little fold of cloth in the lower left corner is my dabber.  I clean my detail brush and then gently wipe it on the cloth to make sure no color remains on the brush.  I have bigger cloths for bigger jobs and bigger brushes.

Each time I felt a shadow was not the right size, shape or color, I had to remix the color of both the shadow and of the area adjacent to the shadow, so that I would be able to blend them a bit and soften the look.  I’m probably scaring you off with the complexity.  Basically my problem was that the paint was drying extra fast and I needed to make more changes than usual.

By the time evening arrived, I was weary.  I felt my confidence faltering.  I didn’t give up though.  I kept at it, not wanting to stop until I felt satisfied that I’d accomplished enough to make a difference.


Along the way, I broke my favorite detail brush.  I tried to use the brush portion that was left, but it was just too difficult.  I wrapped a piece of linen tape around the break and it held together enough for me to continue on.  When I’m cleaning it or dabbing at the palette, it wobbles a wee bit,  but it is holding up just fine.

As for the lovely young lady in the painting, I’m currently at step 6.  I’m satisfied with much of my work.  She has very dramatic shadows on her face.  I want to step down from the harsh yellows above the eyes.  In fact, I have work to do on the eyes, nose and mouth.  The mouth itself is not far from finished, but I don’t like the shadows above her mouth.  Her hair will be last and may even wait until after I paint the fourth child.

At this point, I’m beginning to feel a little anxious to finish.  I began work on the first studies for this painting ten months ago.  I’m very pleased with how it’s going and anxious to finish and see what will become of it.  For now, it consumes me.  I don’t want to stop in order to do chores or run errands.  I want to see it through to completion.

Alas, life calls.  Until step 7 …

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