The hardest part of beginning a painting for me personally is
getting the initial layout placed on the canvas.
If I am working on a piece that doesn’t require much
forethought or precision, sketching my composition directly on
the canvas is the way I would go, but a portrait likeness with
very specific design requirements is another story.
This particular portrait will have not only the portrait subject
herself, but additional images that are near and dear to the
subject’s heart... monkeys.
Adrienne is a collector of monkeys in
many forms and she asked that I include them in this painting.
We discussed the self-portraits of Frida Kahlo where
Kahlo often used the lush jungle as a background and
included monkeys as design elements in her artwork.
So now not only will I be depicting a true likeness of Adrienne,
I will also need to incorporate additional monkey images, and
that will require some planning to get the composition right.
It requires a preliminary sketch or layout.
The first step was to ask Adrienne to choose the configuration
of the canvas that she preferred.
After reviewing some quick thumbnail sketches I had done
that showed the layout in vertical, horizontal and square formats,
Adrienne chose the traditional vertical portrait layout.
In preparation I also surfed the net for images of spider monkeys
in various poses until I found some that would work within the
layout and give me a working knowledge of the anatomy
of a spider monkey
Now I needed to think about what technique I would be
using to transfer the layout onto the canvas.
The following are transfer techniques artists can
use to go from paper to canvas:
• Transfer Paper – you would trace the design onto the canvas
using a carbon transfer paper available in most art stores.
Check out art suppliers like Dick Blick to find transfer paper.
• Projection – You would print your sketch out onto acetate and
project it onto your canvas via an overhead projector.
Remember those from grade school? These can
also be found at online art suppliers like Dick Blick.
• The Old Master's Technique –you would place tiny pinholes
along the lines of your sketch and then pounce over the pinholes
with loose charcoal to transfer the design.
• Reverse Pencil Tracing - The most basic image transfer
technique we all have used in school where you would trace
the backside of your drawing with a pencil over a light box or
sunny window and then rub the front side with blunt tool until
the image appears on your canvas. This doesn’t work too well
with canvas that has too much texture. You'll find many
online tutorials for other variations of this technique.
• The Grid Method - This is the transfer method I chose to use
for this piece. You create a grid over your original design with
a piece of acetate with the grid already drawn (or you can
draw the grid directly onto your layout.) Then draw a comparable
grid lightly on your canvas and use the grid as a guide to
redraw the design in exact proportion. Here's a detailed
online tutorial from Art Is Fun!
Being on a shoestring budget, I will draw the grids myself.
To get an accurate "map" of Adrienne's features, I printed
out a silhouetted version of Adrienne's photo and added
a grid of 1" X 1" squares to the print in blue pencil.
Allowing me to work square by square, the grid will guide my
drawing by isolating each area of the image into smaller,
more measure-able pieces.
I then added a grid pattern into 1 1/2" X 1 1/2" squares onto
the canvas so I could enlarge the image while capturing
the important points of the face to get an accurate likeness.
I used a yellow watercolor pencil for the grid so that it would
fade beneath the acrylic paint and a darker watercolor pencil
in a burnt umber tone to sketch in the portrait.
I did not transfer the monkey images at this point, only
indicated where they will be in the layout in relation to Adrienne
using simple round shapes. I also created an abstract sketch
of the jungle foliage, again, really just to get an idea of where I
want the foliage to end and the sky to begin in relation to
Adrienne and the canvas' edges.
Sorry for the poor quality of the canvas image.
The lighting wasn't very good inside when I took this photo.