Here is a picture I painted, originally inspired by a story Tim Akers wrote. You can find the story at the Dead Channel. Don't blame him for this though. The fault is entirely mine.
In the end, I have to admit, it didn't come out as well as I wanted. I spent too much time on it and never really managed to capture the feeling that I had originally envisioned. The eyes, particularly, didn't work out well. I'd repaint it entirely from scratch, but I don't think I'd be able to do better a second time around at this point. Maybe in a few years.
This was my first attempt to do a painting without an exact reference. I've done lots of (mostly horrible) doodles in the past with no references at all, but recently I've been trying to do something more like traditional painting in Photoshop, using a limited set of hard brushes and mixing colors. My first two reasonably successful attempts were portraits of my daughters, done directly from photographs. Anyway, enough excuses.
So I had an idea for this character firing her gun, and the sunlight that it fires shining offstage, giving a little dramatic lighting. I went looking for references and found a picture of a blond with almost the right pose and lighting, but not quite the right face or hair. That gave me a basic plan for the face. I also found four or five pictures of people firing guns, which gave me some idea of how the hands and gun should look. I set out to get the colors down with a big, big brush.
So far, so good. I suspect that the composition is one problem. Too static. Too heavy. Too flat. Lessons to take to the next picture.
I didn't like the front hand. In fact, I'd be reworking that hand over and over until the end, as it turned out.
Well, now her lips and entire 'muzzle' make her look like a gorilla. Not good. I'm also unsure of where to take the eyes.
Well, I worked up the nose a bit, and redid the shotgun shell. The shell by itself worked out fairly well, but I'm not sure if it ever worked in the composition. It always seemed too distracting.
I kept trying to get those eyes and lips right. I convinced myself that the space between the bottom of her nose and her lips was too large. I ended up tweaking her nose larger and her lips up a bit. Again, the eyes: She looks crosseyed, probably because of the premature highlighting.
At this point I was almost satisfied with the face. Almost. The eyes were still bothering me, and her jaw seemed too high and long. So I pushed on trying to make it better.
At this point I had figured out that the hands were far too light, and started to add definition to them. I had, of course, broken the rule of working from dark to light, and eventually ended up resorting to Photoshop manipulation to help fix that, but not before trying to fix her weird cheek.
Fixed? Maybe, maybe not. Her eyes continued to bother me. I really think the only way I could have fixed those eyes now is to go back to the beginning and redo them. However, at this point I just wanted to finish the picture, so I pushed on. Another lesson, I guess, that you should be willing to start over (or give up entirely) if something isn't working right.
The hair was pretty much done at this point, too, although it the shading seemed a little off.
I finally gave up and used levels to darken the hands, because I did have basically the shapes I wanted but too light. Unfortunately they ended up too dark and too high constrast compared to the face. Too dark, I thought, was OK, since I would be lightening up the illuminated areas as I finished. The front hand still wasn't right, so I went back to the references and redid it pretty much entirely for what ended up being the final session.
Finally I darkened the gun too, painted her jacket (dark, to match everything else), moved that shell because she seemed to be staring at it instead of her target, and redid the eyes again. Added some floating debris to keep the background from being too boring.
It's weird. I like the picture in some ways, and in other ways not so much. Probably I just spent too much time with it. Anyway, hopefully I have learnt something. (For some wonderful examples of portraiture which is not crap, look at this recent post on the Illustration Art blog about Winold Reiss. That man could paint.)