Most of my Fans are animal-lovers, but this new portrait I’m starting for Joe Policastro is something very different…it’s a car portrait!
Joe's 1960 Triumph TR3.
I coached Joe on how to take good reference photos of the Triumph for me. As we were deciding which of Joe’s photos to use and the best way to portray the car, Joe asked me,
“Do cars have the detail of a dog's coat, eyes, souls and personality to you? Is this what you are trying to get me to capture?
Never thought of cars as being anything but inanimate objects.”
They do have the same visual detail as a human or pet to me. Headlights instead of eyes, a grill instead of the intricacies of an ear… As for souls and personality, I’m surprised you being a car buff would ask that. I have definitely found my own cars to have personalities. Especially my older cars that I owned for a long time. I wonder if new cars are just blank slates, all alike as if they were cut with a cookie-cutter, and it’s only with age and the partnership with their human driver that makes cars develop an individual personality. I got emotionally attached to some of my cars, and not others. Why? Their individual personalities? I have been extremely blessed to have had THE BEST personalities in my cars as well as dogs and cats.
What I’m trying to get you (or any client) to capture: an image that moves you emotionally, makes you feel something when you look at it. Love, admiration, pride, satisfaction, whatever. The purpose of art is to make us feel.
I got a kick out of Joe’s reply. He wrote:
“Thanks for the reply. Yes each of my older cars have a unique personality. Sometimes they can be sweet and other times I hate them because they are such a pain and always demanding attention.”
This is where I ended my first day's work on the front bumper and headlight.
Triumph portrait in progress 2
I sent this “in progress” pic to Joe, and he asked, “Well what a great start. I was wondering what magic you had in your box of pencils to make the chrome shine.”
Read on to find out how I do it...
My previous car portrait client asked something similar. He wondered if I had a shiny silver pencil to make the shiny chrome. No I don’t. I am using the same Prismacolor pencils that I use to do a dog portrait. Or a cat, or a human. Here are the swatches that show the colors I’m using for this car portrait. A lot of different greys and some blues, plus a few golds and olive green.
On the left is the reference photo of the car. On the right is my artwork. I just copy the shapes and colors I see in the photo. Chrome is not made shiny by using a shiny pencil. It is made to look shiny because there is bright white and pale blue next to dark blue and black. Those are colors just like any other colors. What makes the headlight housing look shiny are those shapes and colors…the reflections of what is around the car, in the curve of the chrome or the black car body.
Those reflections are just made up of shapes and colors on a flat piece of artwork. Black shapes, sky-blue shapes, dashes or dots of white and yellow. That’s all it is. There’s nothing magic about making chrome look shiny.
After starting with the left headlight, I want to do the hood next. But there are complex reflections of overhead branches all across the hood. So first I needed to “outline” the areas that the hood colors will butt up against. “Cordoning off the hood” I guess you could say. As I put in the many complex shapes and colors on the hood, I need to know the light and dark edges it will be meeting up against. So I’ve outlined the chrome hood emblem, the chrome letters “TRIUMPH”, the headlight housing, and the edge of the right front fender and mirror. The hood shapes and colors will be surrounded by those elements. Or, to be more precise, the shapes and colors of the intricate reflections…on the hood.
In reality, when you look at a shiny car, you don’t see the car. You see the reflections in it’s shiny paint and chrome. Take a look at the right headlight (our right, the car’s left) in this pic, to see what I mean. You don’t see a black headlight housing and a chrome ring (what color is “chrome”, anyway?)… You see the reflections of the sky, Joe’s house, and the trees behind where Joe was standing when he took the photo. When I paint a car, I am mostly painting reflections.
Triumph portrait in progress 3
Putting in the reflections of tree branches on the front piece (the part of the car body just in front of the hood). It always fascinates me the way reflections curve and distort as they follow the curves of a car body, or on flowing water. Look what the tree branches did on that downward swoop of the body just above the letters R, I, and U in "TRIUMPH".
Triumph portrait in progress 4
I’ve worked my way up the hood, putting in the reflections....working from left to right, as I always do. Lots of complex reflections of sky and trees that were surrounding the car. That dark area at the top of the hood (just under the windshield) is the dark windshield reflected in the shiny hood.
Then I added the windshield pillars and the car’s soft top. Now I'm adding reflections in the glass of the windshield.
Here’s a close-up so you can see how those abstract shapes of trees and blue sky on the windshield give the appearance of reflections on the glass.
I paused my work in the studio to make this jpg as I was working on that part. Working across the top of the windshield, just under the soft top, going from left to right.
Triumph portrait in progress 5
There is a whole lot of detail in the front of the car. I did the grille, grille emblems, and most of the bumper yesterday. Now working on the right end of the bumper. You know what’s reflected in that end? (Keep scrolling down to find out...)
It’s Joe’s house!
That little blue and black dot in front of the house is Joe taking the picture, wearing blue pants and a black shirt.
The details in this tiny bumper reflection are smaller than my sharpest pencil point. (Compare to the thin pencil lines in the tire.) “How does Kevin do it?” you ask? I sharpen the pencil as sharp as it gets, then barely dot the paper with one “corner” of the sharp point. Just enough to rub a tiny jot of pigment onto the rough “tooth” (surface) of the paper. Then I hit it again if I need to.
Years of practice.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I did the red interior a few days ago. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. And that gives some color to a portrait that is mostly greys, blues, black and white.
Now I’m putting in the shape of the house stretched over the curve of the fender.
When you look at a shiny black car, what you are mostly seeing are reflections. There’s actually very little black in this fender. There are blues (from light to dark), browns, and a lot of different greys.
Triumph TR3 portrait finished!
Triumph TR3 portrait for Joe Policastro. This is the second car portrait I’ve done. I enjoy doing cars. It’s a nice break from what I usually do.
In a way, a car portrait is easier than a human or pet portrait, because I don’t have to worry about capturing emotion and expression. In a way it’s much harder, because there is so much detail that has to be captured with absolutely accurate precision. In a human or pet portrait, the face has to be done with accurate precision, but the rest of the body not so much. With a car every part of it has to be pin-point accurate. If a tire was a bit lopsided, or the grille was a little bit slanted, it would jump out at you like a flashing neon sign.
After receiving the shipped portrait on Nov 8, Joe wrote: