Project 2 – Exercise 2: Head and Shoulder Portrait


The last exercise brought me closer to using flesh colors and color pads application to depict believable forms. For this exercise I would like to look at a different approach that I studies partly already in my personal project ‘Daily Self-Portraits’: looser brushworks and bolder color use with at times thicker and thinner application. Overall to achieve a ‘lighter’ painting with joy.

I was looking at the following artists who inspired me by their unique approach:
Elizabeth Peyton (b. 1965) : for her of bold colors and loose brushwork (see my Pinterest board: and at Sadie Coles HQ UK

=> Peyton’s panting are rather small scale, around A4. She works in oil like watercolour and reminds me of gouache paintings. Wide visible brushstrokes alongside rather pure color use are making her unique style. Some see her work in the context of David Hockney. Peyton’s approach is a drawing in paint with enforcing linear and textural qualities of especially surrounding objects (as in ‘Ken and Nick’, 2005).

Kaye Donachie (b. 1970): for her atmospheric paintings (see my Pinterest board:
=> Donachie uses a limited palette with one or two strong color accents. Overall there is a mystic appeal, dreamlike to all her paintings.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b.1977): for her expressive and vivid brushwork (see my Pinterest board:

=> Yiadom-Boakye doesn’t work from model, depicting rather fictious people. Though their pose and expression is strongly believable. Painted with broken and mostly dark colors with one or more full figures in the center of the image.

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) for his rich use of blackness

=> John Ruskin took Velasquez as his reference for how to use black by avoiding black front the tube. Through layering an impressive darkness can be achieved.
My model will wear a either a black or a blue shirt. Considering my tutor’s feedback on using black in part 2 I would like to study more the richness of dark/black without actually using black color. To bring up the

Final painting #1: Acrylic paint on board (40x30cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - #1

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – #1

Final painting #2: Acrylic paint on board (70x50cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - #2

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – #2



Preparatory works

I have done only a few color studies in gouache directly from model in my sketchbook to understand better my working approach.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 1

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 1


to find composition – especially left and right space:

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 2

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 2

Considering my context – and especially Elizabeth Peyton’s approach – I will work in acrylic and at times rather liquid.

Rich blackness:

As I decided that my model will wear a black shirt I wanted to explore more the richness of ‘blackness’. In a similar approach as I did for my assignment 1 painting.  Here with layering of just three primary colors.

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 3

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 3

Here the three alternatives as time-elapse sequence:

For the background I can either use the actually domestic background or rather an abstract color pattern that supports the intended vivid expression of my model (like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye)


Overall I find that my sketchbook studies in gouache are fresher and looser although the likeness is less accurate. While scaling up and working with my model I found myself more concerned with scrutiny of proportions and shapes loosing a bit my fresh approach. At later stage I worked more from a distant and with wider brushes for a more loose approach. As this exercise was more about likeness I am less concerned about the scaling up issue.

Work in progress

Model: sitting with a close up viewpoint. Background lighter to contrast with the black shirt. Light from the left.  The rich blackness of the shirt will reflect the richness of the face and the light.

Looking at the right support (paper, board, canvas) I was looking once again at Elizabeth Peyton and noticed that she worked mostly in oil on board. I found two different boards in my stock, one with a smooth surface and one with a canvas glued to it with more surface texture. Referring to my own sketchbook studies in gouache I decided to go first for the smooth 40×30 board. Than I found it interesting to work in parallel on two boards and understanding the same time scaling up topics. So I will do two paintings form my model: #1 40x30cm and #2 70x50cm.

I decided to work in acrylic and not gouache for my layering intention knowing well that there will be drawback on expressiveness when working with transparent layers. Main reason for me not to use oil paint was the question of time and quickness to apply multiple layers.

For mixing down the colors with white I decided for Zinc White and not Titan White to avoid  – especially in acrylic – an overall chalky effect for the skin tones.

Painting #1 (40x30cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - #1 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – #1 – work in progress

Painting #2 (70x50cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 2 - Exercise 2 - #2 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 2 – Exercise 2 – #2 – work in progress


My sitter’s opinion:

She liked the overall impression of painting #1. She found the depiction of the eyes in painting #2 very well represented – nearly as photographic. However she found the skin in #2 a bit unrealistic- mask like. But more accurate details. In general she thought the mouth in both paintings too wide/big.

The overall accuracy in painting #2 is indeed higher than in #1. Especially eye – nose area are a bit off: too narrow nose bridge and too large eyes. Nevertheless this painting conveys better my perception while painting.

I was thinking about modifying those elements as well as too change the overall image towards more expressiveness  with additional colors and broader color applications / strokes. But than I decided to leave it as it is as more exercises will come and these paintings are not assignment work.

All together my initial sketchbook freshness got lost a bit – more in painting #2. Also I feel acrylic paint a bit flat in perception compared to gouache or oil, but I think this is linked to the way I applied the paint.


    • Considering freshness and expressiveness: I tend to lend toward accuracy when working at larger scale with a model looking more at accurate proportions. To overcome this I should keep more distant to the easel, support.
    • A few simple strokes can largely change the facial expression.
    • Working in acrylic with layering technique restricted me in the expressiveness and freshness of my approach.
    • Big difference on the smooth versus the textured support that I noticed more as I worked in parallel on both. The smoother surface supported y more fluent paint application as the textured one acted at times as a ‘blocker’ to the brush. On the smoother surface felt closer to working in gouache => Considering for future painting what kind of support can support my painting approach.

Next time:

  • Be attentive to my painting attitude on accuracy and expressiveness – stay clear from the support.


  • Ambrozy. L (2011) ‘Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting’, London: Phaidon Press (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye pp. 324-327)
  • Mullins. C. (2006) ‘Painting People: The State of the Art’, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd (Elizabeth Peyton: pp.74-75)
  • Sadie Coles HQ UK. ‘Elizabeth Peyton‘ Available from:

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