All of these portraits are painted on the same kind of paper, Canson Mi-Teintes (19x25 inches). This paper is interesting because it has two sides and textures, which results in a different feel to the finished picture. The portraits on the left of my wife are on the textured side of the paper, which lends itself to build up of color in layers and an ethereal feel to fabrics like the one in her veil. My self portrait on the right is on the smooth side of the paper, which meant there was less tooth to layer colors.
Additionally the self portrait doesn't capitalize on the local color of the paper like the portrait of my wife does. The large texture of the paper shows through and can be used like an under-painting on a canvas. Painting my wife on blue paper would have created a very different effect than the burgundy I used.
The second key difference among the portraits is the background, which is included in the self portrait and not in the one on the far left (I also included the updated version, which does have a background of sorts and a smoother overall appearance. I wasn't settled with the version I initially posted). Exclusion of a background results in the figure "floating" a bit more, and tends to make me concentrate on the surface itself more than I would if I covered it up with marks like in my self portrait. I find it easier to enter into (experientially) a portrait that has utilized the whole surface. I'm much more likely to treat it as a world-in-itself when this is the case.
Finally, the portrait of my wife is from a photograph, which is not my preference when it comes to portraiture (that is photographs). My self portrait was made using a large mirror to see myself. The advantage of this over the photo is that I am able to see a greater amount of detail in my face than I can in the face of a picture on a computer screen. The subtleties of a face are many and they are obscured and lost in a digital image, especially if the file is small and you try to zoom in, resulting in pixelation. I don't mind using photos for landscapes, but with the human face it is easier to notice incongruities, as we find our faces and those of others very familiar.
Technical Note: Overall the Canson paper is ok for pastel, but my next portrait will definitely be on Sennelier pastel card, which has a more aggressive tooth, but smoother visual appearance, which I think will lend itself to communicating the texture of human skin more effectively.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.