A Beginner's Guide to Adding Portraits to Faith Journaling Entry

Posted by Jennifer Lasik on

This is REALLY a beginner's guide, because it's a guide written by me, a total beginner. In fact, the project I am outlining is only the second person I have painted. So.. if I can do it, I know you can, too.

Here's my reference scripture: John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. (NIV)
About six weeks ago I took a class on abstract portraiture with Dana Bloede at The Collage Cafe in Evanston. It was, without overexaggerating at ALL, a gamechanger.

I have never even been able to dabble in portraiture (abstract or otherwise) ... nothing I drew or painted ever looked remotely realistic or proportioned, nor did it have any depth to it.

Dana really broke down the painting into steps I could understand, and most importantly, taught us about light and shadows in paintings, and how to use both. In the three hour class, I first painted a black and white image, and then, under her guidance, added color. Here's the work product from that first class (first the gray tone and then with color added):

I definitely didn't want to let too much time pass before trying out the techniques again, so I decided to try out the things I had learned in my Bible journaling. I have been obsessed with the concepts of what it means to be salt and light, so I chose John 1:5 for journaling. I did an internet search (person looking up at light) and found this image for inspiration:

Girl looking up at light (google search product)

First I sketched the shape of a face, and then I drew a cross through the middle of it for placement of eyes, nose and mouth. I forgot to take a quick photo, but here's an instructional sheet that gives the basic idea:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is face-front.jpg

Once I had a guide created (like image 2.) I sketched in super, super, super basic eyes, nose and mouth. Then I added black paint wherever the shadows were, and white paint where the light hit the image the hardest. Dana kept reiterating that our work would not "look pretty" for a long time, and told us to trust the process. It took a bit of faith, for sure. This time was no different. Here's the first draft (yikesies):

Only worried about light and darkness here -- very primitive!

Egad, poor thing. I felt so sorry for her. So bothered was I with how I did the eyes -- I had ignored Dana's instructions and my "cross" and put them up way too high-- that I soon whited them out so I could try again.

So now she can't see. Probably for the best, especially if she has access to a mirror.

At any rate, a quick aside here is that I know many journalers who are afraid of acrylics. I actually find them to be really, really forgiving. Hate what you did? No problem. Let it dry and paint over it. Easy peasy. This girl is dozens of layers, several of which were to obliterate what I had done and take a second (or third or fourth) stab at it. At any rate, I finally ended up with my first gray tone draft.

First draft of gray tone.

And I mean, she's okay, but I hated the "anime-ish" eyes and also felt like she looked concerned or skeptical -- definitely not emotions I wanted on the face of someone who is looking up at the light of Jesus, know what I mean? I was irritated with her. I decided to leave her alone for a while and come back to it later.

Later ended up, not intentionally, being 10 days or so. Once again, I whited out her eyes so I could rework them.

I studied my inspriration photo, went back to the basics of what Dana had taught us - -to think in terms of simple shapes in the midst of process and not to get ahead of ourselves with the results. My girl's eyes really were half-moons, and so I used a smaller brush to make as simple of a half-moon shape as I could. Then I studied the photo again, dipped the handle of my brush into the white paint and tried to place the lights in her pupils as accurately as I could. As you can see below, it already looks WAY more realistic, and the newly shaped eyes give her a happier look of anticipation rather than skepticism or concern:

From here, I let her new eyes dry and started playing with the shadows and lights I had created on her face, refining them and nuacing with different shades of gray. I added shadowing to her eyelids and also placed the whites of the eyes to delineate the irises.

Second gray tone draft.

At this point, I felt ready to move on and add color. Until now, the only two paint colors I had used were black and white, mixing them for different shades of gray. Dana really emphasized that artists do not need lots of different pigments (colors) because they can easily be mixed by combining primary colors and then lightened and darkened with black or white paint. So I started with just three colors (in the end I ended up using just six) to figure out my skin tones:

I started with yellow, orange and a brownish hue to create skin tones.

In reverse of my gray tone draft, I started by first adding the color to the lightest parts of the portrait.

I know, she looks a little jaundiced. Don't worry -- that can be fixed later. I'm still using the same process I used in the gray tone drafts -- just filling in light and dark areas, only this time with some color. One of the things Dana told us is that doing the gray tones first has the benefit of keeping some of those shadow tones under the color, which adds interest and texture as well as depth.

Light spots and shadows painted in -- desperately needs blending!

Once I had the light and dark plotted, I started mixing different version of the skin tones (using white, black and different grays to give a variety and add those shadowing nuances, as well as to blend some of the light and dark shades together more subtlely). I decided I wanted to add more vibrant color to her lips as it showed in the inspiration photo, and then on a whim also gave her blue eyes, just because why not?

I played with the shading a bit here and there, but overall was happy with the simplicity -- after all, I am still REALLY REALLY REALLY a beginner -- this is only my second attempt at a portrait piece EVER. (Which is kind of the point of this blog -- if I can do it, anyone can, trust me!)

Finally, I left my girl alone and turned my attention back to John 1:5 -- adding in the verse and using font color and style to emphasize the message.

Lord, let me walk in your glorious light, so the darkness cannot overcome your Spirit in me.

With art, to keep practicing consistently is really the key, so I will be working more and more on portrait painting. Here are a couple final (non)pro-tips I want to throw out there for you:

  1. Faith journaling is process-oriented, not results oriented. By this I mean that it's about sitting with the Word, reflecting on it, and putting a word picture together to create personal meaning for you within the passage. I wouldn't even consider my girl here IG or FB-worthy if it weren't for the instructional/sharing part. But she IS meaningful to me, and I love her, and she reminds me to keep looking to the light of God every day. It's the doing -- not the showing or the end result-- that matters. And part of the fun is seeing the range of journal entries you come up with.
  2. Taking an art class is a great investment in your journaling. I know we all have limited resources. But whether a free youtube lesson or an actual afternoon class like one I took, art instruction can really help improve your techniques and ability. You may very well surprise yourself. I never realized that I could learn a step-by-step process that would help me create much more realistic people than I had ever made before. And here I am in my 40s... learning never stops!
  3. Don't be afraid to take a break from your work or journal in stages. I tend to want to do everything in one sitting -- it's my impatient nature-- but sometimes there is some real value in letting your work sit (marinate?) for a while and then coming back to it. I remember being in Evanston at the Cultural Arts Center and stopping into the studio of a sculptor I knew and liked. I admired a figure of a woman she was sculpting and was surprised to hear her say, "I'm mad at her right now, so I am ignoring her for a while." It made me laugh, but there's truth to what she said. In this project, I learned the value of walking away for a while. Well, okay, a week and a half, but you get the idea.
  4. I know it's really hard for some of us to paint ON the words in a Bible or sacred text. It's a decision only you can make for yourself. It took me a while to jump off that cliff, and part of the reason I could do it is because I have a Bible that is just for art journaling, and others that are for reading and studying. If you are someone who just can't do it, I highly recommend getting a sketchbook or notebook for journaling and using that in conjunction with your sacred text.

Hope this was helpful for your own journaling. Feel free to comment OR to share your work in the comments or via email to jennifer@starfishliving.com.

Thanks for stopping by the blog!


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