I Wiped the Smile off of My Son’s Face – Painting dilemmas.

I quite literally wiped the smile off of my son’s face a couple of days ago – no boys were harmed in the process, however. Thankfully!

Portrait of My Son – Work in progress, by Maria Jones-Phillips, 2020.

I wasn’t especially happy with the way my painting of his face was evolving. I think what did it was being taken out of my painting rhythm by the gloomy weather over the past week and the run of power outages that prevented me from using my computer – I usually have a digital image up on the screen as reference for a painting. By the time I felt it was safe enough to return to the task at hand, my head wasn’t in it anymore, thus reinforcing the point to myself that it’s best to leave work alone if I’m not focused and willing. In fact, having known a lot of other creatives throughout my life, despite advice often given to the contrary, walking away from a project while you rediscover your enthusiasm and composure is sometimes the best thing you can possibly do, especially if you find yourself stuck or struggling in any way. The struggle is usually a sign that you don’t really know what you’re doing and that perhaps you need to simplify and rethink the task at hand. As was beginning to be true of my son’s smiley mouth.

Every painting presents new challenges even for the most experienced of artists. Every painting should be a learning process. At least, I think so.

Detailed painting, especially in portraiture takes a lot of concentration and a steady hand to faithfully translate what you see onto the painting’s surface, as well as a good knowledge of mixing colour. The whole thing is a fine balance of acquired knowledge and observation. I often hold my breath without even really being aware that I’m doing so, as I work on details such as mouth-lines and eyes. It’s in these features that the life of the subject is truly captured, and so, it pays to get them right. A couple of millimetres off and you have likely changed the entire expression, and something will seem off. With colour you don’t have to be quite as exact, as long as you capture the tonal variations correctly. I’ve been paying attention, for example, to the fact that one of my son’s eyes is slightly inverted, which has been the case since he was a baby. If I were to correct it, as another artist might due to their own aesthetics, he wouldn’t look right. Paying attention to the details and nuances of expression is what makes a face look real and believable.

For now, however, I’m going to leave the painting to dry a little more before I continue and re-attempt painting my son’s smile. I don’t doubt I can capture it well, I just need to be more focussed when I do. I may instead, try something different today, in an attempt to eradicate the cobwebs from my brain. I will let you know, what if anything, I produce. 🙂


Published by Maria a.k.a. Bess/Ishaiya

I am an artist, writer, photographer and social commentator. Mum, wife, Synaesthete, linguist, cook, ex-musician and philosopher. Not necessarily in that order.

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