Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Self-Portrait in Oils, day 12

This was the day I blocked in eyes and hair, and found out what the portrait would look like. The shock of white that was where the hair would be, while interesting, was not helpful. However, I started with the eyes because I have something definite in mind. The original transfer of features had the pupils slightly wrong, which would be shocking in any painting, and in one where I am trying to a high level of realism would throw people off for bad painting as well as a lack of true representation.

Eyes with coloured pupils and moulding on sclera, still in a face with contour lines showing

This seems a little strange still, but it lacks a large area of tone, and also lacks eyelashes. I am having to manage the shadow of the lashes on white, without having painted over them, and will then put them on afterwards, as they are the closest thing to the viewer. This means getting in very close, and that makes me grateful I asked someone with a good camera to help.

At this stage the pupils are still chunky shapes, and I had to stop and think about what they should be. They are lenses that sit on spheres, which means that they bulge up and over the surface, and so they arc out more in profile than the rest of the eye, and occlude what is behind.

Later version of details of eyes. Pupils are shaped and looking away.

The pupils later on have direction, and I have built up the surrounding flesh a little. I have a couple of reasons for this. It stops me from painting the flesh over the eye, which was a problem in the last portrait, and it means I am closer to the final surface, which in this case is not skin but hair, and so will be one layer thicker here than elsewhere.

A problem I have now is that my eye ridges have soft skin that bulges a little, and so the eyes have very slightly different amounts of pupil visible. This is the case with everyone, if they look in the mirror, but it may need to be suppressed in a painting. Looking at a moving face lets people understand what it is and use their mental shortcuts, but a painted face is a single representation, and it does not get the mental charity we bestow upon flesh and blood.

The bulging eyes currently remind me of Girl with a Pearl Earring, but they will end up backgrounded more when I fill in the rest of the flesh tones properly. My copy of GwaPE is currently in a half-finished state, and needs to be put back onto the easel. It is starting to look three-dimensional, but the method is difficult, and I am enjoying this painting far more.

After the eyes, I did the hair.

Detail of head with hair and eyes mostly coloured, and lips slightly filled out.

This was oddly like the towel or the T-shirt. At this level there is very little detail, and I want to get the big shapes in first before the individual highlighting. It is various browns and greys, mostly Cassian earth and Ochres for a bit or warmth. My hair has a touch of chestnut in what is an ordinary dark brown, and it is slightly bleached at the ends by the sun. In general, it is enough to indicate locks, but here I have made life difficult and I am drying wet hair. I have indicated masses, and will go over them with displaced locks later.

As you can see, zoomed out the eyes sit better in the head, as the brain has more context for them. The place they are looking now makes sense, and they no longer look badly placed on the y axis. The heaviness of the ridges is more appropriate, and the flesh tones work better without a high level of zoom.

Finally, I filled out the lips more. So far everyone who has looked at it has said ‘those are not your lips’. Well spotted, they were not! I was concentrating on areas of tone and changes of colour, and not on outlining. The pale upper part of my upper lip is only slightly different from the pale lower part of my philtrum. There are far more major differences elsewhere, and I indicated those instead.

Self-Portrait with at least one colour layer in all major places. Hair straggly, lips half-formed, eyes pensive.

Here, I have painted half of the lips, and left the others for further definition later, as they have a slightly different tone surrounding them. The hair is done, and looks like clumps of something dragged this way and that, with a few tendrilly bits that I should probably have left until later. The eyes now suit the mouth, although the details are unsupported by the rest of the face. The ear has had its tones altered so that it looks to be in the right position – it was already, but the representation of it was so hard to make out that it looked like it was not.

The finished first layer looks like me. I do not have to go back and do things again. From here on in, I work with finer and finer details.