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Reading in Bed, a portrait and figure study

The idea for this painting came from a student of mine who wanted a painting done for her bedroom. She brought me a photo she had taken of a painting by another artist and asked if I could do something like it. Here is an admittedly poor reproduction of that photo. (My apologies to the artist.)


I liked the basic idea but didn't want to plagiarize. I suggested that I could do it in that style but that we base it on a photo of her reading. We did a photo session. The photo shown here has purposely blurred the face to protect her identity.


5/27/02 - I did a series of preliminary "thumbnails" (small quick sketches) to get a feel for the composition. Note that the composition is quite different from the original painting she liked. We had discussed the beauty of the expanse of sheets, and what I want to do is make the surroundings as lovely and important as the sitter, showing how the light leaking in through the window and across the sheets gives an ambiance that suggests lazy Sunday mornings.


7/27/02 - The first photo session didn't end up with a pose that was acceptable. The sitter objected to all the "leg" shown and the prominent position given to the feet. We did another photo session and settled on this photo. This is still different enough from the other artist's painting that I hope that I won't be seen to be plagiarizing. In any case, I checked with the sitter and got the go-ahead on it.



7/27/02 - I had prepared a 30 x 40 inch canvas with a scumble of paint to prevent my having to work into a white canvas and also to give a rich undercoat to the developing painting. Here you can see the first placement of the figure.

7/28/02 - I made preliminary adjustments, getting a feel for the large shapes and the linear elements.

7/28/02 - Further work on the painting. You'll see I later came back and adjusted the size of the head, the position of the hands and arms and the slant of the book on the bed. Sometimes it's necessary just to live with a painting for a while, kind of observing it out of the corner of your eye, to see what needs to change.

8/04/02 - Now I have another concentrated period during which I can work on the painting. At this point, I have put a simple background color on the header of the bed, sort of a medium muted red (looks a bit more purple in life than in the picture, one of the problems with taking photos in ambient light.)

8/4/02 - The book changes shape and the hands get more defined.

8/4/02 - Finally, I indicate the major shapes caused by the thrown-back sheets. (These probably won't be so linear in the final picture but I wanted to get the shapes blocked in in white to get a sense of the balance of light and dark in the picture.

One of the things that's not too evident in the photo of the painting is that the light was streaming in across the sitter from a window to the right, and I want that same directionality to be evident in the painting. (Where I was working, the light was actually coming in the window to my left, and that throws the photo off a bit.)

8/11/02 - The file to the right is an animated GIF file. I was trying to see where the painting was inconsistent with the original photo, so I superimposed the photo and animated it. It takes a little while to load, but it's fun to watch. You can see the differences are mainly in the placement of the lower legs (which are too far back in the painting) and the left arm (to right in the painting) (where the elbow needs to be moved in towards the body.)
8/11/02 - And here are some changes based on the differences in the above.
8/24/02 -- In this view, worked more on the figure. Haven't made major inroads on the drapery yet. (And it shows.)

8/25/02 -- Here I worked on the hands, the book, and some of the sheet in front of the book. The sheet itself is a complex landscape. The shadings have to be subtle, or it'll look stiff and unlike cloth. At the same time, I don't want it to be too placid. It should give the viewer the ability to participate in the "paint." For me, when a painting is good, I want to reach out and touch it. I see the surface as tactile, almost sculptural. (Note that the picture was taken in late afternoon and the lighting is a little different from the one above. I don't have "color management" on my monitor. Sorry.)

10/25/02 - At this point, I am working on the intricate folds of the sheet. I decided that the lower left really "needed" some strong color to anchor it, so have made it an edge of blanket. (The light on the upper left of the painting is not in the painting but is just the afternoon sun, hitting the canvas.)

11/02/02 - Now I am working mainly on the rumpled sheets. This may seem tedious, but, really, just capturing the "feel" of the sheets is fascinating. You don't have to be too literal about this. (That's what cameras are for.)

1/13/03 - Here is the final portrait. I put a final glaze of liquin with a little cadmium red in the red areas and yellow ochre in the yellow area to brighten and unify and a final varnish of liquin to unify the surface.