Thursday, 11 September 2014

 Layla & Zoe 

Layla and Zoe
120 x 90 cm
Acrylic on Canvas

I met Thea and Tiaan yeeaaars ago through a friend, and we've been facebook friends since, commenting and liking posts being the extent of our contact. When I started posting portraits on fb - for my solo exhibition, so we're talking 2008? (I think) Thea told me that she HAD to have a portrait of her daughter, we just had to wait for her to get a little bigger, since she was still a baby. And finally the day came, a couple of years and another daughter later!

The idea was to capture their personalities in the painting, and for the painting to have personality as well, in other words it shouldn't look like a photo.
Layla is a little princess - while she hunts for worms along with Zoe, as Thea put it, she just plays with them, Zoe cuddles them and takes them along when it's bedtime! Needless to say, Zoe is a bit more of a tomboy, loves everything reptilian. So we played around with ideas of tiaras and flower-crowns, editing a little alligator into Zoe's hand, etc. I suggested that T&T take photos of the kids at home, since they don't know me, and I wanted them super relaxed and happy, and then take it from there. And T&T show up at my house with 105 photos, and all of them awesome! It took me most of a weekend to work through them, and try to find two that complemented each other, but also showed a little personality - there were beautiful smiley pics of both, Layla blowing bubbles, Zoe sticking her favourite Alligator toy up her nose etc.. Eventually it was narrowed down to 3 or 4 options, and we added this gorgeous bullfrog (Ernest) and more roses and butterflies, and I got started!

I was a little rusty with portraits, so it took me a while to into it. I nailed the faces quite fast, and then realised they were about 18 shades too dark, and had to lighten them without making the contrast too high, and keeping them recognizable nearly killed me. The slightest little brush stroke can alter the whole expression, and its sooo hard to know when to keep something, and when to keep pushing. I tend to fix one thing, and then get carried away while I have that colour on the palette, and when I take a step back both faces are pink, and I end up creating much more work for myself!

But I'm super happy with the end result. I tried to balance the colours and I think that worked out nicely, Zoe's leopard spots echo the background, the frogs green is in the flowers, the top darker pink roses are picked up in Zoe's cuffs and zip, and in the girls' cheeks and fingers, Layla's pinky purple top echoed in the flowers, and the yellow tones in the hair repeated in the butterflies. So in a way the palette of the painting comes down to five colours. 
But of course it isn't that simple ;) 

MY main challenge was keeping the faces 'painterly' but recognizable. In the first week or so I took a step back and realised they both looked middle-aged - I had over-emphasized the lines and shadows, all things that are there, but not things you associate with kids. So I had to work backwards, removing little by little, trying to keep the things that show character and make them recognizable. 

Close-up on angle
Close-up on angle

Some pointless trivia: 
- The pink line of Zoe's zipper is the only part of the painting that I never touched up, it's still the original line I drew on day one.
- Ernest the frog was the first part of the painting that was done

And of course Cat Stevens, not giving a damn.

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