Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Real Paintings or Image Transfers?

After 16 months of painting people and doing a few portraits, people are starting to notice my work. This is a great thing, but I am finding that I keep getting the same question, and sometimes it's an assumption, about how I create my paintings. The commonly asked question, right after people ask why do I paint bars over the eyes of my subjects, is how do I get my photographs so large and transfer them on my panels. In other words, people assume that I am using photo transfers and not actually painting my images.

While in some ways I can see how this would be a compliment, after all, they are basically saying that my paintings look real enough that they look like actual photographs, but I can't help but get frustrated with people's misunderstanding of my work. I use only two colors, raw umber and white, which are similar to what the black and white photos I reference look like, and then cover the paintings in wax to add an antique and slightly blurriness finish. I am purposely trying to make my paintings look as real and as close to the photographs I am referencing as possible and still add my own touches, such as painting bars over the eyes, deleting the background, and using a lot of white space around the images. So when I get these questions I can't help but think is it really that hard to believe that I could hand paint these? Really??

I recently showed some fellow artists 3 paintings that I was entering into the encaustic juried show in June at Montserrat College of Art. I had painted some images of little girls and then used colored wax on the opposite side (the images are posted here under the entry "Getting Back to My Color Roots") Right away one of my friends commented that the juror (along with some viewers) may assume that the images were photo transfers and not paintings and therefore may not give me due credit for the quality and effort of my work. My other friend confirmed this belief. I understood their concerns and didn't want the juror to assume that. I listed my medium as "oil, graphite, and encaustic wax" as I always do but just to make sure, I actually wrote on the entry form "these are paintings not photo transfers" and then felt ridiculous that I had to write that.

I have had people ask me many times, even after I tell them that my images are actually painted, "how do you blow up the picture so big and transfer it to your panel?" My own dentist kept saying over and over "but it looks like a photograph" after I told him many times that the images were painted by me. It's starting to get a bit frustrating and I am at a loss as to how convey to people that these are not photo transfers.

I do twitter each step as I paint them. Those following me there can see how I start each piece and the steps I take to getting my work to look the way that it does but that doesn't seem like enough. I guess over all this is not such a horrible problem to have but it is a frustrating one. I never thought that I would have to justify my work because it looked TOO good. I hope people reading this rant don't find me to be egotistical and full of myself. I am just frustrated and want people to appreciate my work for what it actually is... oil paintings hand painted by me.
Images: These are the paintings steps I took to creating "Taking a Dip 2". I started with a drawing, did a quick under painting to block out shapes and tones, worked on each person individually to add details, and when the painting was completed, I added 6-8 layers of encaustic wax over the whole piece.


  1. I think it's a sign of no art education. People have a hard time understanding that okay, maybe there's an easy way to do it, but the merit in painting a realistic portrait is what makes your work unique. And I can tell they are hand painted, I think maybe people don't take the time to really look either?

    Any way you slice it, I think it's great that you are reinforcing that they are painted. You are helping to bridge the gap in their education, and maybe they will look closer the next time they see a piece of art.

  2. Everyday folk hold photo realism as the highest in artistic achievement. I think they don't want to believe it's possible because it makes them more lame for not being able to "draw a stick figure". Regardless, I can testify you are so real and so is your process. You're awesome.

  3. I'm enjoying your blog, Jhina.
    My only advice: Be careful whom you ask for advice!