It was this cheerful Lady who made me want to try portrait painting again. She has such a wonderful smile. Her neck scarf is light and diaphanous, her head scarf is brightly coloured and patterned and the light on her face so attractive that she cried out for me to make the attempt.
I use pastels for portraits quite often. It’s something to do with the immediacy of pastel painting, no brush, no water, no oil, between you and the tone in your hand and on the paper. With that immediacy comes an intimacy between you and your subject unbroken by the need mix colour. If, as I do, you collect the pastels you use on a separate tray, then your tonal range is to hand. It makes life so much easier!
I began by lightly drawing the layout with a pastel pencil so that I knew I had the proportions correctly placed, then drifted in the darks. Her eyes are quite deep-set, as are the smile lines round her mouth. The shadow under her chin, the result of top lighting, defined the face beautifully. A quick splash of colour on the scarves set the colour balance. Even that much painting brought her face alive – to the extent that I was reluctant to proceed.
Fortunately, when I looked at her the next day, she drew me in, so I worked on the midtones of her face, softening the contours, trying to tease out the smile. The eyes have it, though, for if they don’t smile, no amount of “grin” will help. I have a tendency to overwork eyes in a concentrated effort to get them “right” so I made a conscious decision to do as little as necessary and am happy with the result. A mouth with teeth is another trap for the unwary, but this isn’t the first grin I have painted. The trick is to paint it in patches of colour and tone so that it appears, rather than drawing “a mouth” and “teeth” as if they were separate from the rest of the face.
The highlights on her cheeks, chin and brow were quickly completed. Then there was only the finishing off to do, the light on her bottom lip, the tip of her nose, and the bag strap, stronger colouring on the neck scarf, and patterning on the headscarf.
I hope Maria would show the same happy smile if she saw her portrait.