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December 4, 2013

Thomas Gainsborough was one of England’s greatest painters. In addition to painting the famous Blue Boy, he painted countless portraits of English notables and aristocrats. When asked how he dealt with flattering his subjects he once revealed the secret of his success.


“When painting a portrait of a duchess or famous actress,” he explained, “I position my canvas so the model can’t see what I’m doing. I barely look at my subject while I paint the most beautiful woman imaginable, a porcelain-skinned goddess, an angel. When I’m nearly done I position a mirror so the model can now see the picture and follow my progress. I slowly alter the features to resemble the model until she tells me to stop.”


This might explain why so many of Gainsborough’s subjects look beautiful yet similar—what woman wouldn’t want to look like an angel? When I decided to become a painter I knew I wanted to paint people but after several commissions I realized I didn’t want to spend my time shamelessly flattering my subjects. Instead, I hunted for people who I thought would make interesting paintings, such as the jeweler in the store I managed.


Dave was my jeweler for six years. I spent hours watching him at his workbench as he set stones and made molds for custom rings and pendants. Dave didn’t talk much although he had a wicked sense of humor and a sideways glance that made it seem like he was privy to your darkest secrets.


Had I asked him to pose for me he’d have said no, so I secretly made pencil sketches and created an oil painting I wasn’t happy with. Eventually, I turned to acrylics which dry quickly and allow for more control. Since this wasn’t a commission, I experimented with different types of brushes. Dave’s shirt is painted with thick brushstrokes to mimic the effects of oil while his red apron is sketched in with dark strokes left untouched. Dave didn’t wear a gold chain around his neck but it seemed appropriate since he was a jeweler. (I spent as much time on that chain as I did the rest of the painting.) The dirt and smudges on his face were typical of a guy with a slight hygiene problem. The tattoo was glazed with diluted paint to make the imagery conform to the shape of Dave’s arm.


The original painting measures 24x36 inches and hangs in my studio/study. Shortly after signing this piece my attention turned to illustration. My style became much more painterly, but there are many passages in this painting that still please me.      



I do like the sideways glance. He does know something doesn't he.
By: David Walston on December 4, 2013
He seems kind of shady. I don't think I'd want to take my jewelry to him.
By: PT Dilloway on December 4, 2013
I'd like to talk to this guy! Did you ever show it to him?
By: The Bug on December 4, 2013
I've never been able to fathom how artists can see something and then transfer it to canvas so realistically. When I try, apples look like grapes, and horses look like really grotesque unicorns. Your talent amazes!
By: Scott Cody Park on December 4, 2013
You have captured the personality which is the highlight of a good portrait artist...not just making them look good.
By: Tabor on December 4, 2013
really nice - i like his sneaky sideways glance. :) yes, i do believe i'd like to be an angel, however. :)
By: TexWisGirl on December 4, 2013
He looks like he knows some secret aboput me! LOL! I love the background treatment!
By: laurel on December 4, 2013
He's got a certain mischievious glint in his eye and I bet he's got a great sense of humor! Nice glow in this painting!
By: Kathe W. on December 4, 2013
He has the smile my brother and my #2 Son have -- the one that says he could have been a con artist if he had wanted to.
By: mimi on December 4, 2013
There's knowledge--& FUN--in those eyes!!
By: fishducky on December 4, 2013
That's a knowing look, if ever I saw one.
By: Bryan Jones on December 4, 2013
I see a fun character in this face. You put a lot of work and love into this piece. Did he never learn about its existence?
By: Hilary on December 4, 2013
The sideways glance is great and says so much about the person. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 4, 2013
I've never met a tattooed jeweler before. Plus he has shifty looking eyes... no less a mischievous jeweler he probably deals in stolen diamonds! Just kidding... lol
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 4, 2013
I'm not sure if I quite like this one. I'll have to think about it a while.
By: Michael Offutt on December 4, 2013
I like this one. It looks like he's got something going on. And thanks for the comment over at the retirement blog- appreciate it!
By: Shelly on December 4, 2013
You really did catch the sense of humor in this guy. The side ways glance probably says to be careful with this guy even though he looks friendly.
By: red on December 4, 2013
That chain really jumps off the canvas! Nice capture of the light reflection on it.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 4, 2013
I'm truly in awe of your artwork and artistic talents. This guy looks like he could walk off the canvas.
By: Bouncin Barb on December 4, 2013
I must say, my eye was drawn to the chain. The glance makes me feel defensive.
By: Val on December 4, 2013
Stephen: This is an amazing story, as I had no idea how much creative problem-solving can be involved in the process of creating an accurate painting. Very cool!
By: Michael Manning on December 4, 2013
You did a great job with his expression. It's devilish but so cute!
By: Lexa Cain on December 4, 2013
I like his eyes, too. They're sneaky, yet alluring. Did he see this? I imagine he was thrilled and flattered if he did. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on December 4, 2013
What a great piece, filled with character. What a great artistic talent you have.
By: John on December 5, 2013
I always thought the Blue Boy looked kinda girly. Now I know why.
By: Al Penwasser on December 5, 2013
Stephen, that glance in his eyes is the crowning achievement of this painting. It is exemplary, as are you.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on December 5, 2013
No one can teach your "eye" but I wish you lived close enough to teach me painting technique. You are masterful. In all my art studies, I never did much painting.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 6, 2013
Your words and your painting describe exactly the same personality! Did he ever see this?
By: Pixel Peeper on December 7, 2013
It's really interesting to hear an artist's thought processes that have gone into a painting. And by the way, I knew a guy in seventh grade who could be this man!!
By: jenny_o on December 7, 2013
I am in awe of your talent. I, too, am curious if Dave ever saw the painting and if so, what did he think of it?
By: Cheryl P. on December 11, 2013

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