Portrait Studio tips

One of the highlights of my week is painting at the Portrait Studio at Mountain Artist Guild. Every Friday morning a group of artists is arranging their easels, oil paints, watercolors, or charcoal pads around a live model, who will sit on the lighted pedestal for some hours. There’s some classical music in the background, coffee brewing in the kitchen, some jokes and chuckles, and concentrated silence. What could be more beautiful? I always feel like a young art student, and everyday worries are blended out while the timer is ticking down the twenty minute intervals we have to capture the likeliness.

Some artists are a bit hesitant to join a live model painting group – partly because it’s a challenge to transfer a 3D Model into a 2D medium (as opposed tp painting from an already 2-dimensional photograph). And then there’s the ten minutes coffee breaks in between, where everybody talks and looks at all the different interpretations at various stages.
When I first walked into the portrait studio I was quite nervous, knowing there would be several established and very gifted artists present. I had actually never tried painting a face from a live person, and had just started taking portrait lessons a few months ago – what if the poor model turned out like shrek on my panel?!!

The reality turned out so much more relaxed than I had feared. Not only were all the artists exceedingly friendly and graceful to everyone, regardless of their skill level. But they were there to do the same things as me – face a new challenge, gage proportions and light, train, experiment, learn. It’s an atmosphere of a shared passion, not of competition or even judging.

If you’ve never been at a portrait studio, I would highly recommend it. Local artist guilds are a good address, and I know there’s ‘Dr. Sketchy’s’ in many cities.
I wanted to share two little tips in case you decide to give it a try. The first time I was standing at my easel staring at the model on the brightly lit pedestal I was a bit confused trying to find the right colors in the dim light of the room. I’m all for expressionist colors, so I didnt mind the slightly exuberant result in daylight :D But I have since learned to come with my usual base skin tones already pre-mixed on my palette (I have a range from naples yellow to several flesh tone shades using green and umber,  alizarin or even purple additions). This allows me to find or adjust the right tones more quickly and get more done as well.
The other adjustment that really helped me in a setting where time is limited was to start using pre-toned canvas panels. You might be doing this already. I had until recently mainly painted with watercolors most of my life – traveling with the military to several states and two new continents (from my home Germany), the wrong type of paint tended to get thrown out of the household good shipments. So the practice to use paint thinner and a little bit of umber or sienna to get rid of the shining white cotton was news to me! But during the time sensitive model sessions it proved to be a big help to start on a mid-toned ground with less distractions to the eye. I always have a couple prepared and dried cotton panels at home, to grab them on the way out to portrait studio!

I hope you have become curious about painting from a live model in a group of like minded Peeps! Give me your thoughts about your experiences if you have tried it :)

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