Monday, May 4, 2009

Pretty In Progress - Painting Milla Jovovich

Mike always gets me really great gifts for my birthday, so I had to come up with something good for him. But what do you get the guy who buys everything he wants when he wants it? Well, you either DO something or you MAKE something. Taking inspiration from a gift he gave me back when we were dating (I asked for Heath Ledger wrapped in a bow and he gave me "10 Things I Hate About You") I decided to give him Milla Jovovich - in an oil painting.

Now I could possibly do this all myself. I'm not that good of a painter. So I asked Sumo to help me. She agreed and we got to work. The entire process took about a month. I skipped Easter Dinner with his family, then talked my way out of weekend social events telling him I was going shopping with Sumo or helping Kara with wedding things. But he figured out what we were doing (hey - all my oil painting supplies were all over at Sumo's apartment).

Step 1: Inspiration
First Sumo did a search of styles of different artists. She found an artist who's style she thought matched my style already: Tamara De Lempicka. I tend to paint very smoothly anyway, I don't like brush strokes that much and I think it comes from painting my face. So theoretically Tamara De Lempicka's art should have worked well with mine. The problem - she's a lot better at it than me. So Sumo had to correct me all the time. So we stole the style, the background, partly the dress from Tamara. Here are the images we used for reference with her.

Image from

Image from

Next we needed a pose that would work with the canvas we had selected. The Bebe advertizement seemed perfect. I was looking through vogue while we were hunting Milla pictures on Sumo's computer and happened on it accidentally. I said "too bad we can't just paint this girl" and Sumo said "why not?" So we did.

By the way, I think I stared at this image way too much. The dress is pretty funky and while we took some folds from it eventually it became more of a hinderance. I ended up having Sumo get into her Jason Wu dress that we found at Saks Off Fifth and painted from that. Sadly I didn't take a picture. It would have helped later on when the folds started deviation from reality completely.

I hate hair advertisements in magazines. However, this was a case where one actually came in handy. The page before the Bebe ad there was this Nexus ad. When it came time to try to put some hair on poor Milla we chose to work with Tamara De Lempicka's style but the color palette found in the Nexus ad. We wanted the hair to be longer as well, so we chose to follow how the light worked on the curls rather than the curls themselves. Concerning the color, we know it doesn't match Milla's normal hair color but since Mike loves red heads we figured he wouldn't mind.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find the perfect picture of Milla Jovovich? Well there are a lot of them and usually you get good face, skanky pose, or great pose icky face. We've looked through more than I can count. We did not find one we liked in it's entirety so we took from several other locations so we had to take all these other images and smoosh it together with a picture of her face that we actually liked. We even had to switch face pictures several times during the process. This is the first image we used:

We later switched to the following image when Sumo realized the lighting was throwing her off when trying to paint the face:

No idea where we got this image, but isn't Italian Elle just gorgeous???

Sumo found it difficult to paint with the skin tone we had established once she started working with the Elle image for the face. It influenced our final skin tone and warmed it up, made it a bit more rosy. I'm glad too - the body didn't look dead.

The First Session
Four hours of our first session consisted of arguing about which images to use. But once we started going our goal was to vover the entire canvas with some type of paint. Mostly I did the outlines of the body, Sumo corrected me where needed. Then I outlined the background. Sumo mostly worked on the face and corrected me every time I needed it.

By the way, my paintings are usually "done" when they get to this point. Taking it further was totally new to me. But that's what happens when your only experience painting is in a 3 hour class on saturdays painting the nude figure.

Sumo also spent a lot of time teaching me about laying down a medium tone first, then adding in highs and lows. Honestly, this didn't work to well for the first session. I'm crap at mixing paints and Sumo was disappointed at how I couldn't keep the color vibrant.

The Second Session
Now we needed to make the color deeper on the dress and to do more work bringing out the highs and the lows all over the painting. We didn't really touch the background, however. Sumo also continued working on the face. It was at at his point we started having trouble with the mouth. We thought it might just look stupid open, and talked about closing it. But when Sumo decided to try to close the mouth we realized the face shape was totally off. Now the face was too long. "She looks like Tyra Banks!" Sumo exclaimed. Uh oh. Wrong Supermodel. Not good.

The Third Session
Background! We needed to work on the background in a big way. So I went in and started copying some of the background from the Tamara De Lempicka painting with the blue dress. Our figure wasn't taking up the same amount of space so in the end we sort of fudged it. Sumo also gave her some frakking awesome hair. I did some work on the dress, the biggest addition being I gave her some hints of some boobs. Believe it or not, at one point while creating the body I had to draw nipples on the figure just to get her body oriented in the correct direction. I'm happy I did because it also served as a guide for creating the seams in the bodice of the dress. It's hard to create "seams" without just drawing a line in white or black when you're smushing paint around.

By the way, I started to get a little worried at this point that this was looking less like Milla and more like "Milla as Jesus". But the halo at this time was necessary because of the depth of our darks around the edges and the darkness of the background.

The Fourth Session
I continued working on the dress...

After seeing the picture, I was not happy with the skirt and started working on that some more. I removed a lot of the folds I had created before. Sumo wasn't happy with the highs and the lows in the skirt, but at least the folds were better. Simplification - that's what it needed all along.

The Fifth Session
Sumo had done some work on the painting before I came over to work on it. She had found a new image of Milla (the one on the cover of Elle) and had taken her mouth from that painting and started working on the eyes. The tint to skin in the face was now more rosy, so I had work on making the body skin match a little better. I also changed the lighting on her legs (which you can't see in the picture) so it was a bit more realistic. Again the problem I kept running into was how to make body parts distinct from each other without using lines. Of course the answer is shading but it gets really hard to do that when you're working on hands.

Sumo went to town on the face. While she was working on the eyes I sat back and just watched. It was quite amazing - the eyes went from being lifeless looking eyes to being Milla eyes. Sumo worked for over an hour just on the eyes. Wow.

After that we just had some clean up on the background and we signed our names. I called Mike to pick me up. It was in the middle of a Red Wings game so I had to beg him to come up to the apartment to see the painting. He looked at it and knew it was Milla - that's probably the best reward. At least he thought it looked like her!

Now we just have to let it dry, varnish it, and then take it in to be framed. We have a couple of candidate locations for this large painting. I will certainly take pictures when that's done. I suggested hanging it on a space between windows in our bedroom. Mike said "Are you sure you want the competition hanging in the bedroom?" I told him Milla's not competition. She's in a whole different league. Angie Everhart, well maybe.

Sumo's final words about the painting were that it was one of the more creative paintings she has worked on. She said it's not worth doing the painting of you're not going to enjoy it and that your frustration shows when you paint. She was talking about me, of course. There were times I was so frustrated with what was happening with my brushes and the paint I could only make it worse. But she kept a calm demeanor through out the whole process and for that I am grateful. Thank you so much for your skill, direction, and time, Sumo!

Check out more of Sumo's art!