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Over the past 6 months, I sold and painted 24 head studies.
I started selling custom head studies in late January to boost sales in my Etsy shop. Most people are not willing or are not able to spend hundreds of dollars on a portrait done by someone far away without seeing a finished piece in person. So this was a way to keep working in portraits at a price an etsy.com shopper could afford.
I began by asking for 3 or more photos to choose from. Some customers sent one, and sometimes that was good enough. I often would ask them for more and would then give recommendations on how to photograph the sitter (I think I will blog about photographing for portrait paintings sometime soon). There were other customers who would send me links to Shutterfly or Flickr accounts to look through dozens of photos for their head study. I would always consult with them on my favorites and together we would pick the best one for the painting.
Part of the reason I was able to offer these studies for a low price was the canvas. I had ordered canvas from an online art supply retailer who then accidently sent me a huge role of unprimed canvas. It must be hundreds of yards long. They made a major mistake on my order, so I overlooked what they missed and kept what they sent. I have been using the roll for years (I even made a cover for our sandbox with it one year) and will be using it for years to come. So I have to buy gesso/primer for it, and I like each canvas to be triple primed. The head studies sell unstretched and rolled up in a tube unless the buyer pays a bit more to have it stretched. Once the primer was dry, I used an HB pencil to sketch out the study.
I used Winsor and Newton Artisan oils and mediums. After setting my stop watch, I got started on the painting. In order to keep from losing too much color quality, I painted with the image on my laptop next to my easel. The first few studies I tried to do in a 2-3 hour time slot, but I found that 4 hours was necessary. So I increased the price slightly and increased the time invested in each study. In the last couple of head studies, I found I wanted to work for much longer: 5-6 hours or more. What had happened was that I went up to New York for a workshop at Grand Central Academy of Art, and with the new techniques I was learning, I needed more time to work.
Stretching and Shipping
If a customer paid to have the canvas stretched, I would do that after I sketched and before I painted. Some people waited until after the painting was finished to decide to have the canvas stretched, and others thought they would stretch the canvas themselves (many of my customers are artists). Packing up a canvas was time consuming. If anyone is considering working online, remember to calculate the price of the time and materials it takes to pack and ship into your selling price. I often underestimated and lost money and lots of time packing canvases and framed art.
Here are a few more examples of the studies that were sold:
I no longer will offer the head study in my shop. Shipping them was one reason I wanted to stop selling online. I also would prefer to work from life now, so if anyone in Tulsa or surrounding areas is interested in a head study, I would be happy to do this. Generally when I work from life, it only takes what time I have with the model. I don’t get caught in a quagmire and rework the same spot over and over like I was prone to do with a still photo. Other painters may know what I am referring to.
Here is a little tip for other painters:
One process that I used to work through a painting with problems was to photograph the painting and bring it into Photoshop. I would use the layers palette and put the photo of the person on a top layer and put the photo of my unfinished painting below it. When I would toggle back and forth between the layers, all sorts of drawing errors would pop out at me. I would make a list of changes to be made and get back to work. This is the same process I use when I work on my full-service portraits. The truth is that sometimes I cannot see what I am looking at. I cannot find the error. This use of Photoshop has saved many paintings. I highly recommend it.
These are two acrylic portraits done on wooden nesting dolls. They are real nesting dolls which fit together. After this photo I put on a final coat of Mod Podge to protect them.
This was one of many projects that I get through the custom listings on Etsy.com.
The buyer sent me about 2 dozen photos, and from those I made sketches so he could visualize the project and ask for changes where he thought they were needed.
These dolls were a real challenge for me. When I do another set, I will not do more than one quick sketch on paper because the image was distorted when I transferred it to the blank dolls. Instead I will do a sketch just for compositional purposes (to pick clothing and size relationships), but all the fine tuning of the faces will need to be done right on the wood. The smooth finish of the wood is very easy to draw on (and erase and redraw). Here is the sketch that I did in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet which I later transferred to the dolls and painted:
If you are interested in having your portrait painted on wooden Russian dolls, contact me for pricing.
Below is an 11×14 sketch on tracing paper. I have started doing more prep work on my oil portraits to make sure I get the drawing correct first. The extra time spend drawing here made the painting go so smoothly. I highly recommend trying this. I hope the buyer enjoyed having a pencil sketch along with the painting.
In the unfinished portraits you can see my yellow underpainting. I don’t know why I chose yellow, but it worked. I started the color down in the hands and fabric to ensure that I didn’t use all my energy on the face then rush through the fabric. This worked well for me.
Here is the finished painting:
18×24 oil painting. This was a collaborative effort between me, my husband Jonathan and Lea Hanna. We came up with the idea after looking at a book about the illustrator’s from the 1940′s and 50′s. Lea Hanna is an avid photographer and will be studying photojournalism for the next few years. Jonathan did some research on WW2 posters, and he came up with a list of taglines. Here are a few he wrote:
“There’s more than one way we can shoot!”
“Grab your Cannon, gals, and shoot for the Navy!”
“I WANT YOUR CAMERA for the U.S. Navy”
“Women, get out of the kitchen and take pictures!”
“It takes more than ONE MAN to do this job. IT TAKES A WOMAN!”
“Focus on a career in the NAVY”
“I flashed the boys in the NAVY”
“Needed: brave female photographers for the U.S. NAVY.”
“I can lick ‘em with my camera!”
This portrait is quite unique, and I cannot wait to do another poster-style painting.
One of the next pieces I am working on is an oil portrait combining feminism (little “f”), the US Navy, and photography in the style of a WWI/WWII war poster. This is one of the sketches:
Happy Birthday, Henry!
The latest Etsy Alchemy job:
Oval Acrylic painting on wood. The request was for a portrait of a baby girl as a mermaid with a seahorse’s tail rather than a fish tail. It was fun.