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The complexity of proportion - "Lazy Days" WIP3-7

Ever realized part-way through a painting that the proportions are all wrong? The eyes are too small, the face is too long, the angle is off? How do you go about fixing it?

I was happily mulling along, part-way through my pastel painting of a semi-napping spotted quoll for the painting "Lazy Days" when I stepped back and took a good look at the quoll's head (after all, it is the focal point). When I did, I realized it was completely out of proportion! Instead of looking like the cute little cat-like creature I had seen when I took the photo - waking drowsily from a nap before drifting off again in the heat of the day - she looked all wrong (see WIP 3)!

WIP 3.jpg

This is a bit of a new problem for me, mostly because I'm used to drawing and painting on a smaller scale. Proportion is a lot easier to get right with small pieces, because you don't need to continuously step back to judge it, you can gauge the proportion with every stroke. I had used the classic technique of drawing a grid on my pastel paper to transfer the image, but somewhere in the translation between the photo and painting, my hands had re-interpreted the shapes. The eyes were too small relative to the face, the nose was too long and the ears were too far back.

So I had to set about fixing the shape of the head. While pastels can tolerate a degree of mistakes and overlain corrections, there is a limit to how much can be altered after the pastel has filled up all the little holes in the paper grit (I'm using Mi-Teintes Tex paper which has a surface a bit like fine sand-paper and holds multiple layers of pastel pigment pretty well). Because of this (and the dramatic changes in the shape of the face that I needed to make), I used a layer of spray fixative over the area I needed to change. Fixative renders the surface workable again, but has the disadvantage of making the colours more dull (so try not to use it on the final layer of your pastel painting).

You can see with WIP 4 that I've simply covered over the previously long nose area with a dark colour, considerably shortening the face, and moved the position of the hand slightly upwards. In order to fix the proportions (without too much further fiddling) I used 'pouncing' to transfer a sketch of the head (of the correct proportions this time) to the painting with charcoal.

WIP 4.jpg

Pouncing for image transferral: Pouncing involves making tiny pin-holes (or 'pricks') in a sheet of paper in the outline of the desired image (either traced or sketched free-hand), and then moving the sheet to the drawing or painting surface. The image is transferred to the painting surface by covering the pricked paper above it with powdered charcoal or graphite. The powder falls through the holes and lands on the underneath surface in the pattern of the desired shape. This can then be enhanced by sketching around the marks in a similar fashion to a 'dot-to-dot' drawing. Pouncing may have been surpassed by many fancier techniques for image transferral these days (including light tables and projectors), but for pastel work it remains useful because charcoal is a better medium to use on a pastel surface than graphite (which doesn't stick on multiple layers of pastel already laid down).

In the work in progress image (WIP 4) I have already begun to work on re-shaping and detailing the eyes (making them larger and giving them definition). After resizing the head, I once again needed a base layer of pastel colour to create the illusion of form, and this is where I start blending a layer of pastel over the fixative on the previous layer (see WIP 5).

WIP 5.jpg

After I've changed the shape of the head, it's then time to bring a bit of life to the quoll by adding details, and in WIP 6 you can see that in particular I've focused on the eyes and the area around the nose.

WIP 6.jpg

Standing back from the painting once again, however, I noticed that the quoll's left eye (the one that is to our right) seemed too small and disproportionate with the rest of the face. This was a very subtle effect, and may not be entirely obvious. I realized that although the quoll's head was correct with respect to the photo I had taken, the proportions still looked incorrect because the photo had been taken with a telephoto (zoom) lens at relatively close range (a few metres). This means that the lens combination foreshortened the image, making the right hand side eye shorter and fatter than it should appear were it not seen through a lens. I fixed this by lengthening this eye upwards (see WIP 7).

It's now time to work on the background!

WIP 7.jpg

#pastel #quoll #proportions #apr14 #blending #mistakes #fixative

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Laura is a visual artist, veterinarian, conservationist and disease ecology Research Fellow trying to juggle a multitude of passions - and she's too stubborn to drop any of them! She is particularly fond of bush walking, rogaining, camping (especially with her mother, Jenny), bird watching and photography. She lives with her partner Pete in sunny Brisbane, Australia, and dreams of having an art studio in the rainforest!

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