Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In-Flight Portrait

During the long flight from London to Cleveland yesterday, I drew a pencil portrait of a gentleman across the aisle.

He wasn’t aware I was sketching him. I observed him with occasional and sidelong glances. I didn’t want him to be self-conscious because his face would change. When I was finished, I showed it to him and he signed it. I did most of the sketch in HB and 4B graphite pencils, with the aid of a stomp and a kneaded eraser. (Click on the image below for a big enlargement)


My drawing shows him tapping the video screen to select a movie. He watched a film about young love. As I was drawing, I was thinking about identity and aging.

In the foundation of our hearts, none of us sees ourselves as old. Mentally we are all teenagers—teenagers who happen to be trapped in increasingly unreliable bodies.
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This picture appears in my book: Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

27 comments:

Johan Derycke said...

Nice portrait.

Yeah it's really strange sometimes...
Every now and then my partner and I stand still at the time when we just got together, no kids, no obligations, no worries.
Now, 10 years later, our lives have significantly changed in every small detail, different home, different goals in life, different body. Yet, we feel just like back in those early days. It's a bit like looking at ourselves from outside our body and seeing the same person saying and doing different things.

Pat said...

That's a really detailed sketch! I usually draw quick and loose when sketching outside.

ARMAND CABRERA said...

James,
Great post! That is such a powerful portrait.
What I find so compelling and beautiful about the portrait is the artistic fearlessness of how you’ve depicted him.
At first glance it seems almost cruel to show someone that old, as he is. But as I look, you have really captured that inner spirit struggling with what is left of the outer self; it is very powerful and poignant.

Only someone with your talent could accomplish it, and only someone with your keen sense of observation could see it in the first place.

Daniel.Z said...

Beautiful sketch, sir.

Personally, I don't see myself as a teenager. I'm actually quite glad I'm no longer an ignorant, careless and bratty fool (not saying that all teenagers are, however).

As they say, "youth is wasted on the young."

Sarah Lulu said...

What a marvelous portrait Jim. I'm a friend of your brother Dan's. Well a blogfriend anyway. Nice to meet you.

Steve said...

Wonderful portrait.

Don't know if it was your intention, but in my mind the title "In-Flight Portrait" connects with your final line, "trapped in increasingly unreliable bodies." It shifts the meaning of "flight" to "attempted escape."

It amazes me what you gather in "occasional and sidelong glances." I have a dim memory of reading some research suggesting humans really can -- at close quarters -- feel when they are being watched. Unfortunately, that memory has become a belief and it gets in the way of my sketching.

Love the phrase, "in the foundation of our hearts." Though I feel, at our deepest foundation, there is an agelessness.

Victor said...

I think this is one of your best portraits yet, even though you had to do it surreptitiously.

Do I detect a bit of Adolph Von Menzel's influence in your handling and recent inclination towards the use of the stomp? The aesthetic and effect is somewhat similar to his sketches.

Mary Bullock said...

Lovely portrait Jim! Sometimes, I too, feel like a teenager in my mind - but other times as I am quickly approaching the other end of life - I feel like I am not quite here anymore - the things of life that at one time seemed so important, no longer seem that way. Your priorities change. Oh, and by the way - each birthday is a victory really, because so many don't get the priviledge of aging.
Love your work and your blog.

Corporate Logic said...

I was curious and looked up the in-flight movies for Continental flight 67 online.

Poignantly, I think the film that Mr. Vine was watching is entitled "17 Again".

Erik Bongers said...

Wow, what skin tone and texture and light modeling!
A painting with a pencil.
I agree with Victor - indeed one of your best I've seen.

And for that reason...I'm not so fond of that quickly scribbled fingertip...

Larry said...

I see the gentleman was making use of the screen on the seat in front of him to play games, check the flight data, or watch a movie, in case some are thinking that you took artistic license to fit it on the page, I can attest that your drawing is an accurate depiction of how much room Continental gives you.

Great drawing as always!

Mario said...

so good, I guess the old gentleman was gladly surprised by the beauty of your portrait - however he may have noticed you were drawing, many old people are a bit "vain", you know... :)

Jeanie W said...

Gorgeous drawing! How do you keep that soft graphite from smearing all over the place?

Mark Heng said...

I was struck by the 3 dimensionality of this portrait and the texture of wrinkly skin over the cheekbone...Was the rim lighting carved out with an eraser, or carefully avoided with the pencil (or both)?

Maria said...

Wow, this head is great! Not too keen on the hand though. I think the head expresses everything and the hand seems a bit of an afterthought. Love the delicate handling and shadows!

Penumbra said...

Most things in the modern world seem to be constructed to distract humanity from its own mortallity. The beauty of some works of art is that they cut through these distractions and examine the face of humanity with excruciating, sometimes sorrowful clarity. I love these works, this work because at the heart of that honest exploration there is still wonder and joy.

jeff jordan said...

I guess you weren't wearing your Superman suit when it came time to do the hand. I have no personal knowledge, but I suspect that you put your pants on one leg at a time, Jim...........
Beautiful drawing, I hope I look that good if I make it that far.

Mike Puncekar said...

absolutely beautiful sketch. Love that stark, crisp highlight on the front of his face.

Stephen James. said...

These are usually interesting.

I bow to your crazy ninja skills for being able to pull of such a refined sketch without him noticing/

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody...you all are really nice.

Victor, yes, I've been looking at Adolf Menzel's graphite portraits, and that's why I'm trying the stomp. I'm enthralled with his drawings, and also those of Repin and Andrew Wyeth.

Maria, Erik, and others: I'm glad you all were honest about the hand. I didn't like it either. Needless to say he only put his hand in that position a few times for about ten seconds each or so. I did cheat the hand over to the right to fit on the page, but by doing so I put it in an impossible position. And I used my own hand as a model as I was drawing, but my hand doesn't have the wonderful character of the real model's.

Mark and Mike, I just drew around the rim light, and tried to pick up the smudges under my hand with the kneaded eraser. Once I had established a lot of darks in the lower right, I had to balance my hand on the barf bag to keep from smudging.

Jeanie, I didn't bring workable fixative on the trip because of FSA rules, so I'm hoping the sketch will survive till I get home.

Kelly Sullivan said...

Gorgeous portrait!

I'm about to embark on my first plane flight ever from the east coast all the way to San Francisco, CA. I hoping to get some sketching in during the flight. :0)

kev ferrara said...

Beautiful piece Jim. I love the texture that you worked into the face, modeling the structure at the same time as portraying the skin.

The hand is nicely drawn, I think. If I were to nitpick, seems there's a lighting switchup with the head. Maybe the head would be blocking the light that is hitting the back of the hand now? And if the hand were darker, the side light from the far window could be brighter, as on the head?

Its pretty cool that you jet all over the country. Important fellah, ain't cha? :)

kev

Roberta said...

Insightful and amazing work...

Charles said...

I suppose you don't need more accolades, but I really would like to add my own and say that is a wonderful sketch. Very well executed. Thank you for sharing this.

Peter Underhill said...

James, whilst I have to add my applause at you producing a deliciously handled in-flight portrait, I also have to take my hat off to Lady Luck who provided you with an interesting subject.
On the few occasions I stay awake long enough on a flight, the faces around me are far from worthy of committing to paper. Just out of interest, you didn't hang around at check-in studying the other passengers and say "I want to sit next to THAT guy", did you?
Damn fine work.

Jean Spitzer said...

I love the head; beautifully drawn. I also love the last bit of the comment immediately above: the image of you charming your way into the perfect seat for drawing is delightful.

Laura Zarrin said...

Such a beautiful drawing. My 8-yr-old son doesn't believe it's drawn. He swears it's a photo.