As I began to decide on the composition for this work, the question arose in my mind, (as it always does when staring at a white canvas), “How can I make this work unique”, or, “How can this portrait, not appear as just another stale, predictable depiction of a pretty girl.” Many different elements may have been used with to achieve this end, whether it is limiting the palette of colors, pushing the key or value range into something far more moody, the unusual cropping of the figure, or other various methods.
In this case as I was moving the lighting around the model trying to reposition things to get a fresh look, I noticed the striking abstract created by the models face against the lighter background. This technique is certainly not original with me, as I have seen the great illustrators of the past employ this effect beautifully. The works of Frank Brangwyn and Dean Cornwell stand out in particular. Notice how the figure or heads are not immediately visible but rather are part of the greater compositional whole.
The lights and darks follow the pre-established patterning and flow of connected values. The strong abstract pattern was most important to them. This, too, should be just as important to us. My take away from these masters has been to try to see the subject in the abstract more than just a literal portrait on canvas. My former teacher Bill Parks would fill dozens of sketchbooks with 2” x 3” designs just to explore the infinite variety within shape and size juxtaposition. He often mentioned that the painting should just as interesting at 50 yards away as it is upon close inspection. His voice is still ringing in my head… how grateful I am for his tutelage. I must mention that in addition to Bill’s voice, Jennifer’s parting words as I am heading for the studio are often, “Design, Design, Design”… for her reminders I am grateful as well.