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Becoming a Portrait Artist.

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

My first portrait painting: overcoming the fear of imperfection.

I've always loved drawing with coloured pencils. When I was young, I used to write poems to accompany the tigers and dragons I drew for fun, matching my love for creative writing to the joy I took in drawing human and animal portraits.

Painting, however, was never something I enjoyed.

Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself - not only that I didn’t like painting, but that I couldn’t paint. Now I think about it, I’m not sure I ever really tried to paint anything in acrylics, but somehow I knew that painting wasn’t for me. For me, painting represented a lack of control, a messy endeavour which required a perfectly steady-hand and plenty of knowledge and practice. As a serial perfectionist, I have always had trouble with imperfection. The idea of someone seeing unfinished base layers of paint upon a canvas horrified me.

A fear of rejection and quite probably nothing less than a phobia of imperfection have always prevented me from taking up the paintbrush. These days, I have begun to make my peace with imperfection and the freedom that comes with acceptance. I took to abstract acrylic painting a few months ago as an antidote to the precision and careful mark-making which coloured pencil drawings require. What I love about paint is the freedom to make mistakes, the ability to paint over something you’re not happy with (or even something you are happy with) in order to move the piece in a new unknown direction. Painting provides me with a platform for liberated self-expression which transcends self-doubt, fear and criticism.

Now that I’ve had a few months to experiment with some more abstract pieces such as “Hypervigilance” and “Illumination” (these can be found on my Gallery), I feel empowered to attempt something a little more technical and precise. I have always loved drawing faces, yet I have always lacked the courage to paint one. Since I started watching ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’ on Sky Arts a few weeks ago, I have felt inspired to attempt this challenge. I am currently working on a portrait of my boyfriend, based upon a photograph I took on the beach in Cornwall a few weeks back. I started the painting by drawing out a grid on the canvas, 2.5x larger than the A4 gridded photograph I am working from. I think it is important to try and capture a likeness with a portrait painting, which is why I began my first attempt with a measured sketch from which I could build upon.

Somewhat to my surprise, I have really enjoyed the process, and will continue to keep updates of the painting alive on my Instagram stories. It has been really interesting working with layers of colour on the skin, giving the face a multi-tonal and multi-dimensional feel. I am currently working on building up the blue tones on the wetsuit and adding in a bodyboard under the right arm. I’m hoping to get a smoothness and lightness on the wetsuit which suggests something of water. The hair might pose something of a challenge, but I’m hoping that hair will prove easier to paint than draw strand by strand with pencils. I plan to have the painting finished by next Friday. Until then, you can find below a picture of the progress so far, or keep up to date with my portrait on my Instagram account @rlgstudio.

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