Here is Mark’s 11-step painter’s breakdown to reflecting the essence of the Florida senator:
1. Thumbnail sketch
Ah, the humble thumbnail. Although in this case, it’s the size of a reporter’s notebook pad (6×9”). Just a quick scribble of an idea. I had been reading the Post’s coverage of Rubio, and the thing that stood out most to me was his inexperience. It isn’t much of a creative leap to imagine Rubio riding a bicycle with training wheels.
2. The basic sketch
I buy a canvas board, 18×24” (I like to paint big) and tone it grey before I start drawing it in with vine charcoal. The grey tone makes it easier to judge values when painting, and the charcoal is easier to change things around when you mess up. Which I do constantly.
I grab a bunch of images of Rubio off the Web and pick a few that work with the basic thumbnail. I want his head to tilt up and away, and I find a couple of reference shots that work well. I’m mostly referencing from one photo, but I use another one for his mouth that has that weird open/pouty expression. I tilt the viewpoint for a dramatic/off-kilter vibe that I feel is a nice foil to the innocence of the bike.
When I’m drawing a caricature, I try to make it look as much like a portrait of the subject as possible, so the distortions are rather slight compared to some other caricaturists. I play around with proportions until things look right to me. The eyes were a little too uneven – even for a caricature — so I level them off with white chalk.
This sketch of his head took 20 minutes. The bike, on the other hand…
3. The sketch developed
Usually, I’ll shoot my own background material, but as there aren’t many kids with bikes with training wheels in my neighborhood (it’s sort of awkward to ask a parent you know only vaguely, “Hey, can I borrow your kid’s bike for two seconds?!”). I opt for the Web. You’ll notice I took the swing set out in the background because it was extraneous. I’m trying to develop the bike as best I can, but it takes far longer than the head. Probably a good 30 more minutes to do the bike and it’s still not quite right, but I feel that it’s close enough so I can start painting.
4. The face commences
I fix the charcoal to the canvas so it doesn’t completely wipe away with the oil paint. As I paint, I’ll make slight adjustments to the drawing, often looking at it in a mirror for a fresh eye. I’m putting in half-tones and darks and trying to sculpt an image, not worrying about the details. I want his face to have weight and form. It doesn’t look pretty here, but I know where I’ll end up very soon. I start putting in the sky as well, as that will influence my color choices and reflected light. I paint rather thickly with big, flat brushes, like one of my heroes, Frank Duveneck. Go bold or go home.
5. The face finished
This is the face nearly finished after two hours. I’ll go back to it after it dries (two days) and do some slight tweaks to the ears and neck. But for now, it’s pretty close. I’m using a limited palette of white, black, light red, venetian red, and yellow ochre for the skin tones. Add a little permanent rose for the lips. Occasionally, I’ll put in some cerulean blue or viridian. I can’t remember if I used any of those here. Probably did as I like to put some of the sky color in the flesh tones. I’m not very conscious of what I’m doing while I’m doing it. I just go for it.
6. The background
I’ve made a lot of painted studies of clouds and sky from my studio that I use for reference and I am looking at the sky out my window this afternoon for this. Pretty basic: cerulean blue and white. Start working the grass as well.
7. The bike
I’ve never done a bike before, and as my drawing was rather clumsy, I need to really fine-tune it as I paint. All those damn ellipses! I’m starting to regret using a bike. Couldn’t I have done something with a tree or a horse?
8. The bike continues
This is war. I’m cursing the idiot who invented the bike. My thoughts go to every bad bike accident I’ve had. I think of Lance Armstrong, lousy paperboy routes, pants getting caught in the chain, etc. … I start painting his shirt, shorts and shoes as a distraction. I never try to get too bogged down. If it’s not working, do something else and come back to it with a fresh eye and a better attitude. Sometimes, I just drop the brushes, pick up my guitar and pretend I’m Jimmy Page for awhile. Then reality sets in and it’s back to work.
9. The bike…again
It’s almost there. This, after a long two hours (felt like five!). Who’d-a thunk? I start putting the grass in with a palette knife. Looks more real. I call it a day.
10. Almost there
After it dries for a day, I pick back up. I don’t like my clouds or how they fit in with the composition. Looking at my composition books doesn’t help so I go to one of the masters, Diego Velasquez. The baroque painters had a great way of using clouds to frame things. Finish the flag (I run to our parking garage and take a shot of a bike flag for a reference although it’s probably not necessary), touch up the sky, bike and background. I’m still looking out my balcony window to see how the hills fade in value and the colors of clouds look in real life. Photos are nice and convenient but they can be misleading.
Add some red to the ear (you thought I’d forget?). Deepen the shadows in his face, turn the form in his arms a bit more so they’re not so flat. I sign it. Twice. I think about how cool Picasso’s signature is, and how sad mine is in comparison. I’m sure many would think the whole painting sad in comparison to a Picasso, and they’re probably right, but a lot of his work exhibits a very cartoon-y sensibility. And at least the nose isn’t on the side of his face…
I then set up some lights, take a high-quality photograph of it and import it into Photoshop, where I do a very slight tweak, darkening the darks, and brightening the whites just a tad, and making sure the colors and values are as accurate as possible to the original. All told, the whole thing takes about five to six hours, from start to finish.
12. Detail shot
You can see the paint strokes on this. John Singer Sargent always advocated a loaded brush — it’s easier to paint fast, and you can’t second-guess yourself. Well, you can, but you have to scrape it back and hit it again.