Character portrait has hit a brick wall

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  01 January 2009
Character portrait has hit a brick wall

Hey. I'm a long-time lurker of this forum, but I've never posted before, yet this particular attempt at painting has driven me to look for some outside advice.

Basically this is a repaint of an older character portrait for a Lord of the Rings-based Neverwinter Nights server I play on. As such I have broken dozens of rules in the making of it; ignored the background and palette until too late, used no anatomical or lighting reference, completely changed the setting (from textured dark background to light one), used a previous face and tried to adjust pose and expression about it (not wanting to lose the likeness), starting small and scaling up.

All of the above are probably the reasons I'm stuck now, but I like it enough to keep trying and to seek help, so I thought I'd ask a few questions.

- Do I have the anatomy correct? Body/head scale, cheekbones, eye direction and shape, skull structure, mouth width and positioning
- What do you think I should do about the background? I originally intended to have her in a verdant, temperate valley with maybe some birch trees, but I am awful at putting a character in context, and so all attempts so far have looked like a five-year-old's crayon drawings. I do want the focus to be on the character, but a suitably idyllic background would be ideal. And yes, I'm aware she's not precisely an idyllic-looking character; garbed in black and grey with a pale complexion etc., but the contrast indicates something about the character.
- How can I fix the lighting and palette? Given that this is all out of my head, and I am generally quite poor without reference, I have really made a botch of the lighting angles and hues. How would the cloth and ribbon fall? How would I imitate silk and taffeta?
- How can I add depth? I'm aware that it's looking fairly flat, and I would presume that getting the lighting sorted is probably the key to this...

Those questions answered, and/or whatever criticisms and advice you feel like giving, would be a great help. Sometimes there's no better eye to look at your work with than someone else's.

  01 January 2009
You're right about those... I never wanted her to be heavy-jawed, but it is a bit too minimal as is. I'll have a poke at it tongiht. Any other thoughts?
  01 January 2009
The background is ok.... maybe some random textures would break it up. Also some hollow in her cheeks, would be good. Check this pix of Liz Taylor
  01 January 2009
Ok, so I had a poke about with her jawline, cheek and skintone. I'm having to be careful not to take steps backward (losing a little of her expression).

Does anyone have any thoughts? And could anyone attempt to answer the questions I posted plz?

Edit: Just to be clear, I'm aware that the neck in particular is very fuzzy... just neglected to fix it before posting

Last edited by the-small-print : 01 January 2009 at 09:01 PM.
  01 January 2009
Quote: Basically this is a repaint of an older character portrait for a Lord of the Rings-based Neverwinter Nights server I play on. As such I have broken dozens of rules in the making of it; ignored the background and palette until too late, used no anatomical or lighting reference, completely changed the setting (from textured dark background to light one), used a previous face and tried to adjust pose and expression about it (not wanting to lose the likeness), starting small and scaling up.

You've pretty much answered your own queston. Background is basically the environment and without an environment it becomes difficult to achieve any sense of depth, or to establish a color palette, or to determine how light interacts with the model, etc.
Helzer's Sketches

HelzerSketch Blog
  01 January 2009
As for facial anatomy, the nose looks a little too long, and her ear should be tilted backwards a little more
  01 January 2009
Thanks, you're right about the ear, though it's pretty much just sketched in at the moment. I think I like the nose like that though... still

Danielh68, yes, I think I've pretty much limited myself with backgrounds to the tones I've put in, though I could always recolour it. What i was really looking for with my question about the backgrounds was some suggestions, since I seem to have some mental block about background composition, and can not for the life of me find a decent reference.

Any visual suggestions would be most appreciated, but verbal ones would also be welcome.
  01 January 2009
You can learn a lot from looking at a master.

Notice how Bouguereau introduces some of the cool greens from the background delicately in the the figures face (her left side) thus pushing it back and giving the face form. You can see this echoed in her neck and the side of her left arm. Background color = halftone.

There are probably over a thousand lessons in this painting. I look at it now and tell myself "wow, I like the subtle pinkish hues that travel from the earlobes across the cheeks and nose to the other side" or how he introduces flesh tone into the hair at the base of the forehead, or the rich transparency of the shadows or how the hair dissapears into the background and reappears again. All these qualities are not by chance, they're applied principles.

Have fun
Helzer's Sketches

HelzerSketch Blog
  01 January 2009
If you work better with references, by all means, use a reference. Pictures of pretty girls cosplaying in the forest are easy to find (sometimes it seems like Deviant Art caters to little else).

You seem to be really overthinking this background thing. Pick a horizon line, draw in a couple tree trunks, and start scribbling! Detailing all that foliage can take forever (although you can get away with a lot with foliage brushes and dreamy, soft-lit blurs <cough>), but just get it out so you have something to work with.

Here's what 15 minutes with a soft brush got me--

You also need to pick a direction and intensity for your light source and apply it consistently. Put a little post-it note up over your monitor if it helps. Look at it every few minutes and remind yourself of where the light is.

Hope this is helpful!

  01 January 2009
thanks for the post, Pyrrhic.

I think my trouble with backgrounds is I never seem to get the colours right. I have always drawn and then painted portraits, but I never really had much time for landscapes, though I am very much an outdoors type and know exactly what sort of environment I like.... I suppose i need to practice just going out and painting the landscape until it's no longer a problem.

As for your suggestion about the cosplaying references, this is where ALL of my problems come from; I have only one reference for this face (but a very strong idea of the character, who is far from a silly/posy cosplay girl), that being a previous, quite sketchy painting that I did almost entirely without reference. I did not want to lose any of the likeness, and since I am generally quite poor and keeping likenesses anyway, I was loth to try to change the pose much, or the expression etc. etc. and after fiddling about for hours trying to get some sort of 'likeness chart' (i.e. the same face from several perspectives) and failing, I decided to stick with that I already had.

Normally I will go straight against this, favouring to always start from scratch, block in boldly, get fludity, lighting, composition, all down form the beginning, and then run with it and don't be too precious about anything I produce. However, there was enough merit (I thought) in the face that I produced by fiddling around with my original picture ( which was looking at the camera and had hair covering more of her face), that I didn't want to simply discard it.

Anyway, thank you for your playing about with the painting and your words. I should just start again with the background, and keep trying until I have something workable, and something about that little spray of pine in the foreground is definitely going to stay
  01 January 2009
That brings up the question of do you want directional light outdoor type with definite shadows or soft scattered light like that used in a portrait studio.
  01 January 2009
Outdoor light, though I have decided to follow my own advice, and stop being precious; this is never going to be a good image with this pose, composition, background and lighting, so I think I will scrap it and start again. All the same, thanks for your comments
  01 January 2009
Don't "scrap it," as in delete, though.
It may never be a "perfect" work, but it is a lovely work in its own right, because you DID put a lot of effort into it, even if said effort was not fully thought through.

Keep this as an example of your skills at this "snapshot" in time. Then, in the future, when you are more "perfect," you will be able to look back and appreciate your skill level at this point in your development.

~ CybrGfx
Never settle for "good enough," until you can honestly say you tried your best.
  01 January 2009
I appreciate the point there, but I have done better paintings than this, and as an overall image this represents more of a step backwards, though there are elements of it I still like very much.

Still, it will go into room 101 with all my other well-meaning but definitely failed attempts
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