Adventures in Baby Painting

Painting: Giotto, Madonna and Child, 1320 or so

My brother’s birthday was last month, and being a painter, I decided he needed a painting by: You guessed it, me! The best part is that he has a new baby, Ava, and he is completely in love with her. His new favorite hobby is staring at his daughter. Great news for me, because I know exactly what to paint. The wrinkle in my plan: I’ve never painted a baby before.

I’ve drawn and painted people in figure drawing and fashion illustration classes, and in Monday night life drawing group. I painted watercolor sketches of my sister’s kids when they were little. But, Ava was going to be my first baby subject. 

I worked from photos collected from family so I could retain the element of surprise. I planned to use a smallish 11” square panel, so I thought I would just zoom in on Ava, and leave out everything else. My first attempt included her whole head, the top of her dress, and her left arm, silhouetted against a dark background. I wanted to try to paint her Renaissance style, using oil glazes, chiaroscuro, and detailing all the lace on the collar of her dress. The result was awful! The composition didn’t work, she looked angry, and her arm looked like a purple sausage. The more I worked on it, the worse it got. 

I should have remembered, Renaissance baby paintings don’t look like babies! At best, they look like small adults. Some are even weirder. Letting go of the Renaissance idea and having some fun with color solved my ugly painting problem.

Liz Ewings Ava 1.5, 2017

I decided to start over and zoom in on Ava’s face. I kept the same color palette of Prussian Blue, Napthol Scarlet, and Hansa Yellow Deep blended with white. I painted an outline sketch of her face using Prussian Blue, and blocked in the background in a soft orangish color that I mixed. Then, I painted in the planes of her face, mixing colors as I worked. Once the large scale pieces of her face looked right, I added the details of her eyes, nose, and mouth.

Ava has been growing like a weed. She’ll be two in July, and she doesn’t look like a baby any more! Pretty weird considering I look EXACTLY the same as I did ten years ago.