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Painting 101: Tackling a Large Canvas

One of my goals for this year was to practice my painting skills. Six months in, let’s just say I have a whole new respect for painters! Thankfully, my husband is a professional painter, and I have friends who are as well. Every time I get stuck, I cry out for help and they guide me through the correction process. I’m going to share one of my recent projects! I call this one “Dressing Frida.” It’s a younger version of Ms. Kahlo wearing a curvy Mexican embroidered gown. It’s my way of blending tradition and contemporary style.
Here is my finished face above. The color is pretty flat because I haven’t dabbled in shading yet. First, I’m trying to get down the proportions and such. One of my challenges with this piece was that the canvas was the biggest I’ve ever used – 2’x4′. I had a really hard time getting situated – plus I’m lefthanded. But I made it work to the best of my ability!
When it comes to draw/sketching or painting a face, here are some general guidelines (but feel free to play and experiment):
1. Eyes: They should be far enough apart to fit another eye in the center.
2. Nose: The bridge of the nose should line up with the eyes. The actual nose should line up with the ears.
3. Mouth: The tips of the upper lip should line up with the nostrils. The edges of the lips should line up with the colored area of the eyeballs. Add two small dots to finish the eyes.
4. The longer you draw a face, the older it will look. The rounder, younger.

I started the canvas with a purple background. Then I used chalk to outline my shape, and then I filled in with white paint and flesh-colored paint. TIP: If you can, buy the flesh-colored paint. I didn’t and had to keep remixing it, and never was able to have two batches identical. If you do make your own, get a small sealed container to hold it.

I used apencil to draw the designs on her dress. Wonky arms here, I had to shave them down and give her hands. Aye – hands! What to do?

Hair fail, chin fail!

I painted her dress halfway and figured I better to work on her face. I HATED the jaw line and chin. I worried about messing up her face beyond recognition and then have wasted all the time on the dress. I worked for a couple hours redoing the color, nose, shape and mouth. My husband and my friend Emily kept reassuring me “It’s just paint, you can fix any mistake!”
I wanted her to have flowy hair, but I was so uptight and nervous, the hair came out stiff. I was almost ready to give up, but my husband calmed me down. “You have to show you love to paint. Relax and make it fun, otherwise it won’t turn out right. Respect the time it takes to do it right.”
Respectful rlaxing was key. I’m always so busy, thinking about moving fast and accomplishing as many tasks as I can in a short amount of time. That doesn’t work with painting. You have to clear your mind and let the colors and design speak to you. Once I got in the groove, I loved it! Next thing I knew, it was almost two in the morning!

Here is my finished canvas. Eh, it still could use a bit of work on balance in some areas, but I really enjoyed the process and that’s what counts! Next time I’ll know what not to do, and what worked for me. This canvas will be in an upcoming Frida exhibit for my craft group, The Phoenix Fridas. You can see more about it here!


New works in progress

Writing tips and more from Marcela Landres


3 thoughts on “Painting 101: Tackling a Large Canvas”

  1. Kathy:

    Your painting is just beautiful. I love the way the hair turned out, the highlights are just right. On a side note. I had a Oaxacan dress just like that years ago, although in this area they are not form fitted, they are of a dual use,clothing and pup-tents.

  2. Your painting came out wonderfully. A trick I learned for matching paint is paint a quarter size dot of the color you like, on white paper. When you need to mix more grad a piece of glass (from a frame) put it on top of the dot and start mixing your second batch of paint on top. It will help you get the closest match.

  3. Kathy, I love love love everything you do. You are such an inspiration. I have creative A.D.D. so I dabble in just about every art medium, however my true love is painting portraits. At first tackling a LARGE white canvas was a bit intimidating and my skin tones were washed out, but a painting instructor taught me to fill in the entire canvas with bold colors after sketching out my subject. I wasn’t staring at an all white canvas and it gave life to my skin tones after painting over the bold colors with the “correct” colors. I have pictures of my progress from beginning to end to share with you and those who are interested.

    Stephanie, I love your tip! I’ll be using that on my next project.


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