Drawing and painting people – Emily Ball’s approach

I started reading Drawing and Painting People (Ball, 2014) whilst I started part 3 and found it relevant and offering practical exercises to get me approaching portraits in less conventional ways.

Looking at basic marks and following a conversation of marks I made some very different marks.   The interesting ones tend to be contrasting.   Knife edge against lighter broader strokes, scraping paint with different colours to get a mix, opposing direction in strokes.   This was good to do and I feel I maybe was too reserved and could have pushed further with maybe using more of my body to paint.


Drawing blind was also much more interesting to do because it gets you to draw from feeling and not sight.  This gave me more awareness of the thing I was drawing than just sight.   I found it hard at first and the objects didn’t look good or interesting.     Drawing the head looked like an exploded picture.   I did this on the floor and found it hard to draw with the one hand.   I often felt unsure about how to translate what I felt with what to do with my hand.  For example moving my hand down my nose I could feel the shape and and how rough it was and I wondered whether to change pressure or direction when moving down my nose.

Moving charcoal dust with my palm mostly came out with grey smudges which may mean I over worked the smudge.     For the marks on top of the smudge I ended up trying to translate the shape as I expect it to look but trying to change pressure on the feeling.  E.g. sharpe edges would mean more pressure and soft very little.  I felt there was some good things appearing like the emphasis on parts like the bone in the corner of my forehead above the eyes and the showing of the lips, simple eyes although always shut.

Painting with 3 brush sizes and coloured paint.   Using a large brush first to capture a sense of direction of the surface, mid size for more detail like bumps.  The small brush to capture key areas such as glasses and hairs.  Overall it felt a little flat, didn’t capture eyes because I felt I needed to see what I was painting.   Theres a hint of a skull because of the missing eyes and mouth.


Taking different perspectives (front and side) and layering these did create something I liked.  Its like the head has turned away quickly and you get this blurred view where you’ve seen it from the front but now focus on the side view.



Ball, Emily (2014) Drawing and Painting People. Marlborough: The Crowood Press Ltd.

Exploring more liquid flowing painting

Following feedback from my tutor I looked at different painting media to create liquid flowing qualities and also another look at Mimei Thompson’s work.  I started exploring sansador solvent with oils (couldn’t find Liquin locally so only used sansodor).    On canvas this just absorbed fast creating flat smooth strokes with streaks as the brush got drier or if used insufficient solvent.  The finish was matte and dull.    Tried removing oil with Sansodor on a rag shirt and found it only removed part of the paint leaving it a shade lighter.  On aluminium I got more of the brush work showing with greater fluidity with more a brighter glossy finish.  It also dried much slower.   However with more solvent I got small rivers where it collected and ran showing the aluminium.    On plexiglass I was able to create fluid strokes where the brush marks where clearly visible.   Interestingly the effect of painting a more solid part of the reverse of the plexiglass made it feel the fluid strokes were in focus and the solid strokes blurred.  None was able to mimic Mimei Thompsons technique.


I finally acquired some liquin (original) and tried this on aluminium and PVA primed canvas with more success.  The brush strokes maintained the marks with greater fluidity.   Using more (a lot) of liquin helped.   The result is much brighter where the brush is able to move the paint across the surface leaving the marks similar to Thompson.    The aluminium was better because of the smoother surface.  I understand that Thompson sanded her gesso coated canvas to a smooth finish and coated it with some sort of acrylic primer.

The flowing solvent inspired me to try using it to create rivers I’d seen whilst in the mountains.   This worked well at giving the right feel but took too much of the focus overall.   Perhaps a glaze over the mountain to reduce the contrast and sharpness might help.  I also painted a view of the island nearby.  There needed to be more variety in the brush marks e.g. sky could have been smoother/flatter.  Water could have more streaks with more paint/colour.

Exercise 3.2 Monotypes

I started practicing the monotypes using my ink portraits from the previous exercise.  I found the process fun to first paint on glass over the original and then make a print.   I used glass because I had a piece for a palette.   I started with yellow for highlights and a darker colour for shadows and painted the shadows first.   It reminded me of colouring in a kids colouring book.   The prints have a dry brushed quality and flat with little depth.   I feel unsure about what needs extra paint once the print is done because they are consistently painted leaving me to touch all of it.  This is partly down to there being very little differences in value in the ink painting.  I try adding more to the shadow where the original had more and this didn’t help in most cases.   I tried removing paint from the eyes (on the glass) which I found helped create instant focus on the eyes and made the face feel like it was looking harder at me.   I then felt the yellow was not adding to the print and removed it leaving no paint.  I found using more solvent helped bleed colours and to lesson the brush strokes creating a sponged effect.   The less solvent meant more of the brush strokes remained visible.  It seems that the type of paper used for printing affects the result.   I’ve used mostly silver printing paper at 250gsm which comes out lighter than using thiner drawing paper at 100gsm which absorbs more paint.

Then I decided to try using a photo of someone else.  This lead me to try applying more solvent to the background to create pattern and less focus on the brushwork.  Then to use less solvent on the face to get sharper brushwork showing the facial features.   I found too much paint on the face resulted in loosing the features, even though it looked ok on the glass the print came out too dark.  Like Eleanor Moreton I used a large brush for the background with a darker value and a smaller brush with lighter value for the face and body.  I love some of the unintended effects for example where the paint had more solvent mixed in the background resulted in a sponged effect.  With sufficient paint and solvent the effect had a wet look with lines joining the dots, with less the effect became drier and dotty.    The sharpe brushed lines on the jacket came out lighter than expected but the lines create an interesting delicate pattern that is flat and feels like clothing.

I considered simplifying the face to features like Annie Kevans however this is harder than it looks.   I felt I needed to paint more of the wrinkles and facial lines than just the eyes nose and mouth.   The result feels more a caricature.   I think I needed the blue to be a lower value so that the eyes and mouth stand out more and the background a touch lighter.   I tried again and this time kept the background blank and most of the face, then using a pale red paint the shadows on the face.  This came out much better with greater likeness than many of the others.



Whilst doing this exercise I tried to drawing the portrait using marks similar to how I’d paint it and found it useful to get a feel for how I might do more sketches like this.  Although it did have more detail than was necessary.


Exercise 3.3 Removing paint

I tried removing paint using a soft rag with a bit of solvent from the eyes and mouth like Yuko Nasu however being on glass there was little trace of what was.   I did try a light touch and managed to get a swirl effect distorting the eye.   Certainly leaving eyes and other areas blank helped make them standout in print.

I used rough rag on the clothes resulting in streaks like a dry brush.  I used tissue paper to remove highlight on nose, eyes, cheeks and ear.   I used cotton buds along wrinkles and in the background, I used paint moving stick for hair giving a sharper line.  On the last I painted the whole area one colour then removed highlights with various items, like a rag, cotton bud, brush with varying amounts of solvent.    The result is striking and reminds me of the earlier work in assignment 1 where white was painted on dark ground.   Using different things to remove paint creates contrasting marks.  The vertical blurred wavy background helps bring the portrait forward.  The sharper curved lines of the clothes helps frame the portrait.


The following are some of the prints I rejected mostly because they didn’t have enough contrast or detail.

Exercise 3.4 Adding paint

I selected the last print with removed highlights to try  adding a layer of warm darker paint to create more definition and contrast.  Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the original print.   I liked the way the brush marks flowed in the neck and onto the jacket and also the way it flows around the eye drawing attention to it.    It feels soft and more like a print with a second print on top.

I selected the simplified painting (based on Annie Kevans) and tried to create greater likeness by defining the eyes and mouth stronger leaving the  rest of the face untouched.  Also adding more definition to the clothes by crossing against the original brush marks.  This feels less like a print.

I found the first print with the sponge effect background more interesting and wanted to try creating more definition.   I maintained the dry brush work around the eyes and more to the hair to create the definition.   I also blended more paint into the neck.   The eyes draw the focus then the mouth which I left mostly untouched.   This is more intense with both a strong background and face.

Exercise 3.1 ink portraits

The first set of portraits were each painted within 10 minutes because I’d not correctly read the point about painting within a minute.  Hence the difference in detail with the subsequent set where I stopped after a minute.

With more time I was able to look at the whole head and consider details such as beard and background.  Often the face got messy with overlapping brush work that didn’t add to the painting.   The contrast of the dark dry brush for the beard and light wash for shadow created simple detail which balanced the glasses and hair (top left of most interesting).   The interesting shadows of the glasses around the eyes on the middle bottom portrait is also different in the way it was done and stands out as interesting.  I think it is because of the subtle varying strengths in value of overlapping circles which  relate/connect the form of the head with the form of the glasses.  I did this on the top right portrait however I think it was lost with the hair and glasses standing out more with messy heavy brush work.  The connection is assumed and not so noticeable in other portraits which maybe something to explore.

With less time I started to get less precise and more gestural often finding ink blurring with excessive water on the paper.  It was harder to switch between water, ink/water mix and just ink with the same brush and changing brushes during such short time didn’t seem a good use of time.

The ones which stood out showed greater facial expression or had interesting ink bleeds or interesting face shape or just effective simple brush work.  The top left had a very simple profile with the glasses giving a strong glare from the eyes.  Top right resulted in a haunting distorted face with the bleeding from the eyes and devoid of expression.  By focussing on blurring the eyes area with water perhaps distracted/conflicted wth providing focus on the eyes which naturally draw attention.  Bottom left the strong glasses start to bleed into the face down the side of the nose.  The sharper eyes and glasses again drawn the attention  (it seems better where I’ve applied water).     Middle bottom has interesting shape for the face down the left which feels more caricature but it draws attention to a face profile whilst being front facing.  The bottom right feels angry in expression from the eyes, right eye in particular.