Portrait of Tess

oil sketch of Tess, oil on panel, 16x12in, Jean Wilkey
oil sketch of Tess, oil on panel, 16x12in, Jean Wilkey
Tess, oil on panel, 16×12 in, © Jean Wilkey

Tess took painting classes from me. She was already quite talented and drew well. I shared the basics of painting in oils with her. Then she became a teen ager and I lost her to boys.

This is an oil sketch I did of her using a less limited palette. It’s basically the Zorn palette, along with a second yellow, a blue and a brown. I began by putting in a wash in the background with burnt umber to provide some contrast with her light skin tones. I did the rest using primarily Titanium white, Cadmium Yellow Lemon (Rembrandt), Yellow Ochre, Cadmium red light, and a very light convenience color I have from Vasari that’s a mix of Ultramarine blue and white. I also used a bit of the umber and black for her hair and eyes, and I could have mixed a color close to that with the Zorn palette but I was being lazy.

Tess didn’t sit for me for this portrait. Instead I worked from a photo. It can be helpful to work from photos when learning to paint portraits, but the challenge is to not overly tighten up. Working from life forces you to work fast and can also help you to engage with the sitter in a way that helps you to convey something about them – their personality or emotions. Because I know Tess, I feel I was able to capture something about her quiet, thoughtful personality even though I used a photo reference.

People are my favorite subjects although I do more still life’s because the models are easier to get!

Which do you prefer  – working from photos or from life?