About the Painting – Burgundy Boy

30×40, oil on canvas

I wasn’t able to post last week and typically the first week of the month is when I update the Logo Rundown series, so a new one of those will be coming in the next couple of days! But, without further ado –

Around October last year I bought a 30×40 canvas and didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I considered doing a big Wizard of Oz scene but I couldn’t decide so it sat there and about a month later, I had an idea. I wanted to do something slightly different.

I’d always been a fan of The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough. My grandparents had a print of the painting in their house and there was always something about it. I didn’t know it was a print, I was a small kid myself so I assumed it was a real painting of perhaps some ancestor of the family…I imagined perhaps a prince. The background looked like a battlefield to me, ablaze and smoky from canon fire. The dress of the boy was clearly some far back time and the brilliant and shiny, flowing blue looked soft, silky and very regal – royalty.

I also started appreciating Eduard Manet’s work a bit more and the way he approached portraiture, but also I do appreciate the shadow, chiaroscuro paintings.

In doing this, I wanted to do an oil painting and where I usually employ a pointillist style of painting, I wanted to use a more solid and painterly style. I did this a while back when I did the portraits of a house of cats.

I’ve seen painting portraits, be they people or pets and while I do have a respect for other artists, if someone wants a portrait that’s an uninspired direct copy of a photograph – usually traced that’s often going to come out stiff and basic, then I’m not the person you want to do your portraits. I’m going to try to understand the animal or person and their personality to try to have a vibrant gesture that captures the subject – or I’m going to put them in a character in which I imagine – such as with this painting.

So I decided to do something similar with all of these things in mind and put them into a portrait of my own – so I got my kid and had him do a few poses similar to the Blue Boy for me and I sketched it out on the canvas.

He wore basic black slacks and held a black jacket with white shirt when he posed for me. I didn’t want him to be wearing black – or blue for that matter, so I like burgundy, I think it’s an interesting color, so I decided he would be wearing burgundy and the complementary color I decided would be orange, simply because I know it works well with the Virginia Tech layout and the somewhat yellow tone used with the Washington Redskins.

With my basic outline I threw down a basic color layer.

This part of any painting is the best and the worst. You’re no longer staring at a blank canvas – you can generally see what you’re doing and the ideas start coming. But also, where other artists sort of do the same thing over and over and sort of get the formula down, I do not. In fact, I do the opposite. I’ll do stipple drawings and pointillist paintings, but when I do one and it feels like “I do it this particular way because that’s what I did on the last 4 paintings” then I see it as time to switch gears and do something different like this and somewhat “lose” the formulaic aspect I was developing.

Like for example, The Smashing Pumpkins – check out their albums going from Siamese Dream to Machina…even go to Zwan Mary Star of the Sea and The Future Embrace – all of these are new explorations in themselves…where as if you picked up a Foo Fighters album for example, you know what you’re getting because they’ve basically done the exact same thing for 25 years, I digress…

From this point, I need to start expanding around my subject so I can see better what colors I need to be using and how what I’m doing in details will work with what I’m doing for the background – plus this gives me time to think about what I can do that isn’t obvious with the painting and I’m also procrastinating until I feel like I’ve got a good idea.

The Blue Boy originally had a dog below the hat, so I decided I would add Chili, one of our cats. Chili and my kid have basically the same hair color so I think this combination matched together very well and they make a great team in this painting.

In this initial laydown, I made his face look very young. He is 10, but I definitely gave him too much of a baby face here and I won’t lie, it pained me to age him in the painting because he’s my little kid.

So by this time it was mid December and the basement where I paint had begun getting pretty cold – I hate the cold. I can’t exercise, it makes me depressed, I find it totally uninspiring, so I worked on it about one more day and this is where I got when I realized I was incredibly unhappy with where it was going, so I just put it in the corner for 8 months until I came back to it earlier this week. I didn’t think it looked like him anymore and it really just irritated me. I had no deadline with it.

The idea like the Blue Boy was that he would be wearing a burgundy and modern version of the flamboyant clothes the boy wore in Gainsborough’s painting.

I came back to it fresh and confident that I would be able to fix everything in a day or two. So I worked on him and then it happened – I worked on his eyes a bit and gave him his freckles and rolled back in my chair and smiled and said to my cat sitting there “That’s him!” I knew I had captured him. Then I went and finished Chili.

To contrast with the burgundy, I added a bit of blue and green in the background.

I’m excited to have complete this one – I’ve got other kids and now they all want me to do their portraits too. Manet looked to previous work when he would pose and set his subjects so I will probably look at other great works to pose them in as well. I think it makes for a much more interesting piece than just copying from a photo. This is something hopefully he will have and his kids and so forth will have passed down…You see in movies and such with large houses, they have paintings of family members, I’d like to see that continued and this sort of thing could be like an heirloom.

So that was the process here. If you like my work and would like a portrait done by me like this, or pointillist, please feel free to reach out to me through email – jnhilldesign@gmail.com and I would be happy to discuss your project and how to ship it to you as well. Typically I do like to meet who I’m making a portrait of – even pets – if that’s not possible (like if you’re far away) then candid videos and photos, letting me see them walking, talking, get a sense of their personality.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you’d like me to do commission work for you, just send me an email. I’ve also got work in my Etsy shop, where I’m running a 10% OFF sale on all wooden paintings (skateboard decks, skimboards, plywood paintings): https://www.etsy.com/shop/BumpkinPatchGallery?ref=seller-platform-mcnav. That’s it, have a great day and I’ll be back with another post.

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