If you’re in a creative rut and you can’t get out, you’re not alone! Here, oil painter Joshua LaRock walks us through different ways to work out problems you may face with a project.
by Joshua LaRock
Master drawing: Learn to put aside assumed ideas of what you are looking at, and educate your eyes enough to see what is actually in front of you. The maxim is “Draw what you know rather than what you think you see.”
To begin the drawing, think in two dimensions: Flatten the portrait as if looking at it through a window (the picture plane) and tracing on the surface of the glass.
1. Point relationships: Analyze where one landmark is relative to many others—the tear duct to the edge of the nostril, for instance. You may use two established points to locate a third in what is often known as “triangulation.”
2. Tilts: Think carefully about the angles of relationships. Are the eyes perfectly horizontal or tilted slightly one way? The nose and mouth should also be at the same tilt as the eyes.
3. Shapes: Attempt to see the shapes that make up the features, and, of extreme importance, do not ignore the shapes around the features that make up the cheek, forehead, chin, etc. Abstracting these shapes often helps you observe more acutely, and the portrait then becomes an interlocking puzzle. As examples, attempt to see “a bird” for the combined shadow shape of the nose and eye, or “a cartoon man in profile” for the light shape of the cheek.
4. Comparative measures: Use a pencil or paint brush, held at arm’s length, perpendicular to your line of sight, to measure various proportions and compare them to others. I always begin by judging that the distance from the chin to the tear duct is almost always the same as the distance from the tear duct to the top of the head. I establish this as an anchor point, calling it the vertical half.
Now think in the round: The flattened portrait, now in proper proportion, can be further understood and refined by imagining it in three dimensions. Try to re-create an imagined space behind the canvas or paper.
Work with values by working with form: This is perhaps the most vital method for analyzing value—and the most difficult to fully grasp. In short, consider only the fact that the planes, which are more perpendicular to the direction of your light source, are brighter in value than planes that are less perpendicular—and forget almost everything else you think you are seeing. Please don’t misunderstand me! The phenomenon of light on form is more complex than this (not least of which is understanding the “highlight”), but thinking about this physical truth will take you a long way in your ability to refrain from the improper practices of copying values one for one and copying what you perceive as local contrasts.
Meet Joshua LaRock
In 2012 the artist’s portrait submission of his wife, Laura, was celebrated as “deserving special attention” during the historic America China Oil Painting Artists League (ACOPAL) exhibition at the Beijing World Art Museum. Reproductions of Laura became the best selling souvenir throughout the Chinese tour, and the artist was commissioned to paint many other Chinese personalities, including Mrs. Wang Limei, director of the Beijing World Art Museum, and Mr. Brian Lu, vice president and general manager of Apple Inc. in greater China. This past June, another painting of the artist’s wife, Laura in Black won the 2016 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery London.
LaRock is represented by Collins Galleries, Cape Cod; Portraits, Inc., New York; Stephen Ling – Beijing. He has participated in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and China, has received a number of awards from the Art Renewal Center, and is a much sought after workshop instructor.