First Portrait – ever

At the age of 50 years, I have started my first portrait painting – ever. Recently I got the request to paint a portrait. My idea was to get to know the person. So, we spoke about the historical context, what he wanted to communicate with the painting. We spoke about the meaning behind the painting, including the esoteric meanings.

The reference for this commision was a painting of landgrave Philip von Hessen

I have studied Industrial Design at the Rietveld Academy and I left in my 3rd year. In the first year, the year we all do the same course, I must have had one or two live model drawing classes. That and aside one voluntary free painting course where we could just do whatever we wanted to paint. There was no lecturing nor instructing going on during that course.

So, here I am, about 30 years later. Never painted anything that should resemble a human face in a certain style. Better still, I only started to occasionally paint a few years ago.

I am halfway now with the painting. In this inserted image the Coat of Arms and some text still need to be painted in. I have started already with the Coat of Arms.

The final painting

The results are not too bad. I followed my teachings to get where I am now. All the “contemporary” paintings I have made and published online have been needed. I applied my formula, Jeroen’s First Law of Creativity:

IF : public life == private life == secret life
THEN : Authentic

I don’t feel fear, this is all fun and experience to me. I know I can produce totally shitty work, it is all out there! Some parts of my “secret life are in my public life now ✔️

How did I go about getting this far? There are three ingredients:

  • Overcome fear
  • Have a clear intent, then let go
  • Feel love and happiness whilst working

Fear

To overcome fear is a long, ever ongoing process. I image specific fear related topics such as:

  • Fear to be shamed
  • Fear to be left alone
  • The fear to die.

When such a fear comes into your awareness you shall have an emotional and bodily reaction, followed by an intellectual reaction. It is important to let the bodily reaction simmer down before to dive into the intellectual part. Hormones, chemicals and all that just need to run its course inside your body.

And then begins the process of unraveling the fear. What is its essence? Where does it come from? What happens if I ignore it. All those mental exercises you likely will go through one way or the other.

It took me years to get a grip on this. The time it takes for you might significantly differ. I used jokingly called “Jeroen’s First Law of Creativity” to check where I am with my fear. Does a certain aspect of me still only reside in my secret life? Then first work on getting it into my private life, later we deal with public life.

And so I went forward. I spoke to my wife about my wish to paint and not do any software related BS anymore. She was relieved and thus my secret to be a painter entered my private life. The same I did with not being good enough, that fear. I began to paint “abstract” paintings. Anything seems allowed anyhow, so I soon discovered that even my worst paintings found some audience. Maybe they were not bad after all, but I don’t like them.

Still, the act of putting them online, on Instagram, was a big thing. There was no way back now and people encouraged me to do more. There is more to overcoming fear but this is a blog post, not a book.

Intent

There I stand, in front of the white canvas. Barely any thoughts resembling fear in my conscious awareness. What next? The only thoughts I had were thoughts about what I wanted to see on this canvas. I did not spend time on what it should not be, only what it should be. I imagined the outcome and the happy customer.

The context of this painting has to do with the long history of the client’s family. It is about the medieval period and later. The client and I spoke a lot about the history, the implications of certain events, the meaning behind certain symbols and compositions. We also spoke at great lengths about the overall atmosphere. The portrait should show a healthy looking, sun tanned and proud person. Someone who is outdoors, on the land but also above the land.

These ingredients steered me towards certain music pieces that I listen to whilst painting. I paint, look, solve problems. Each time a choice needs to be made I focus on the best next step. Also, I only intend the best possible outcome. No room for doubts and uncertainty anymore.

Bear in mind, at this stage I still do not know how to paint a portrait. But, that won’t stop me as I know how to paint my portrait. I paint my way, my authentic way. Perhaps it is this or that according to others. It doesn’t matter. The only thought on my mind is how to get the best result so that the client is really happy.

Love

Love is an overused word and therefor I like the description of love equals low entropy, order. I feel great love when I paint. It is a form of ultimate happiness and not necessarily directed towards a specific person at all. Love I can feel when I listen to beautiful music or see a beautiful photo. The concept of Qualia makes sense in this context.

To kick start that bodily feeling, I even found a technique for it. In the end though, the feeling of gratitude, peacefulness or ultimate safety can come from anywhere perhaps. It is maybe something you can feel all the time, but I wouldn’t like that. I do like the diversity of emotions and to crawl my way back from feeling down to feeling great.

Each time I conquer my negative feelings I feel good. But maybe, maybe the goal is to be in an eternal bliss. Still sounds boring to me, though. Back to love then, this feeling is my energy. It keeps me going without any effort. All brushstrokes are good. If they do not add up to the desired result, I do more brushstrokes. All is fine, painting is fine, brushstrokes are fine, doing it again is fine…

Process

With these ingredients defined, how do I go about when I paint. Take the example of the above painting. I have gotten to know the client very well, his sincere interest in his family history is something he likes to preserve in this work of mine. There are also deep emotional and esoteric values attached to this project.

That aside, what are the steps? I envision that the outcome is a painting the client really adores, he is happy and proud. I still do not know how it will look like exactly. We have reference materials and photos to work with. Slowly a vague image forms in my mind. This is enough, I now focus on my next step. This brings me to my Second Law of Creativity, ask yourself::

What is your best next step

One thing leads to the other, go after that one thing, not the other

I am not encumbered by the result, or by whether the colors will be right. Nor does my total lack of experience find a place in my conscious awareness at this stage. Later it crosses my mind but by then I smile and let the thought go. My next step is to get sort of the face and torso onto the canvas. I omit technical steps like preparing the canvas, that is for another post maybe.

I only focus on that step: getting the face and torso onto the canvas. Nothing else. I play music that I love. Then with pencil I draw the lines. I do not expect them to be perfect, they do not need to be perfect. If all goes wrong I take the white paint and start allover again. The good things is that by then I must have learned something at least.

While I draw I might think nice thoughts, not even painting related. Or I concentrate on what the best sketch of face and torso would be. I don’t know what it would be! I have no image of what that should be. Ideally not too much work though as I do not fancy sketching that much at all. Thus, my intent is the best possible sketch: good enough to move on to the next step.

And so I keep on going. Only the best next step and don’t mind thinking about something that is not relevant to what I do now. I need a skin color? Then I intend to create the best possible skin color for my customer. He wanted a very summery look to his face: summery skin color is my intention.

Beautiful music, or silence, combined with the feeling of love and joy. No drama, no theater, no sitting on a pillow and meditate. Just paint, enjoy imagine my customer pleased and perhaps a bit beyond that moment. And when I feel it is enough, it is enough. I have had days that I did not paint. It was good and I needed to work on something else. What I did notice was this remnant fear concerning not being productive enough. I simply was being productive on other matters, and that is allowed too.

This is a relatively straightforward process. The key is to focus on the next task at hand, to keep the mind silent or empty from the nagging voices, and, to experience joy, love or bliss while you paint.