Friday, July 15, 2011


Recently I stumbled across a portrait technique that was new to me:  mudheads.  The technique began with the painter, Charles Hawthorne, in the early 1900's.  He instructed his students to paint the shapes and colors of models posed in direct sunlight, often wearing large hats, rather than focusing on details.  The resulting paintings became known as mudheads because of the lack of features in the face of the models.  Since I've always struggled with portraiture, I thought it would be a good place to start--focusing on shape, value, and ignoring detail.  It was a fun approach and resulted in the following portraits:

Although the features are obscured, my husband immediately recognized these two figures.  Those who know my family personally may  recognize them as well. It was exciting to capture their character even though the portraits lacked detail.  I'll keep practicing this technique and see if I can figure out what the next step was in Hawthorne's process.  Maybe one of these days I'll get to fully recognizable portraits.

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Anonymous said...

You did a great job and you are an excellent painter. The problem most people have with portraits is thinking of a nose as a nose and an eye as an eye. Just think of them as you would anything else (I know, easier said than done). When you paint a pear or a landscape you focus on value and hue, it's the same, exactly the same. If your working from a photo try turning your canvas and the photo upside down. Portraits are so hard because we are determined to draw them as we did when we were children...all of us, it's in our making. You just have to train your mind to think of them as purely light and dark and little shapes, push your paintbrush into the canvas to paint the eye and nose to get the correct shape. Your probably thinking who the heck does this chic think she is! Well,I am just someone that has had the very same problem and also I follow your blog because I think you are an excellent artist. My avatar is a closeup of my self-portrait done 25 years ago. You can do it!

Nancy Merkle said...

Thanks so much for the advice and the kind words! I know with practice every day, improvement will follow. I've painted upside down before, but never thought about attempting it with a portrait. It will go on my to do list. : )