I have loved to draw all my life. Even as a little girl, when my brothers and sister were away doing something else, I always chose to amuse myself with paper and pencil — drawing horses, dresses, people. All my life I had only used pencil and was comfortable with that. I was reticent about getting into color because pencil was so convenient, and color seemed daunting because of all the considerations that came with color that I never had to think about with pencil.
I’ve always loved drawing faces and realized it was time to go further than just pencil. There were things I could only go only so far in conveying with pencil alone. So I thought I’d take an oil portrait painting class at a local community college. After painting a portrait in that class, I remember the teacher asking several times if I had ever taken a portrait class before because my work was, I guess, fairly good. I felt like she didn’t believe me when I said I hadn’t. (Although I had two university degrees in art, those curricula hadn’t ever encompassed a portrait painting class.) The students would crowd around my easel to look at my progress, but when they started asking for my opinion on their work, that was a little uncomfortable for me because I didn’t feel like it was my place to take over the teacher’s. One model who sat for the class brought her mother the next week to see the portrait I did of her.
Looking back on that experience, I think I excelled so quickly at painting because I already had my drawing skills down. The other students were struggling because they were trying to learn two rather challenging discipline at once – drawing and painting — and their works were usually a mess. They got frustrated, thinking they didn’t have any talent, when really they just got the cart before the horse.
Through my years of drawing, I had developed a good grasp of what it took to get a good likeness in a portrait. It takes thorough study of the sitter, measuring proportions and distances with my eyes, and dropping imaginary plumb lines to line up the features. I learned that every detail in a face, the size and shape of every feature and every shadow, could not be overlooked or glossed over. I could not draw a shadow too dark or too light, too wide or too short, because then the face I drew would not resemble the sitter. These are all things you learn through concentrated focus.
So in that class, with that skill under my belt, I could give my whole attention to learning how to combine colors in oil (not an easy task). I learned that applying the paint in a certain way could give the face a luminous quality that only the medium of oil can give. I learned the eyes (my favorite part of painting a face) are the focal point of a portrait. The highlight of the eyes, the sheen of the hair, the glint of the teeth, the color changes in the skin – these are extremely important to get right when painting a portrait. It makes the face on the canvas seem to come alive.
There is much to learn and I still consider myself an avid learner and a student. But I have learned a great deal over the course of my life and my online video drawing series, “Drawing Secrets Revealed,” is a compilation of everything I have learned in an organized, easy-to-understand course that a teenager could follow and an experienced artist would glean a lot of knowledge from. My own work can be viewed at www.sarahparksartist.com.