Bassist 2, Step-By-Step

Bassist--Rena Lovelis 2

Bassist 2—Rena Lovelis.

In following the path of painting images of musicians, I’ve sort of gone down a rabbit hole of female rock and metal guitarists. It’s an enjoyable rabbit hole, and I’ll probably see where the fall down it takes me. But rest assured, I’ll get back to painting nude Goddesses soon enough…

For the moment though, let’s look at my newest ‘sketch painting,’ of Cherri Bomb bassist Rena Lovelis. I painted a piece from a photo of Lovelis last week (you can see it on my DA) but I wasn’t completely happy with it (which is why this one is called Bassist 2). It did not have certain elements I wanted to capture (and my proportions kinda sucked). So I decided to try again.

When Lovelis was with Cherri Bomb she had this amazing multi-colored hair thing going on, and I wanted to capture that. I also wanted to capture that raw energy you see in rock and metal bands, an energy you don’t see as much in folk or alt bands (perhaps for very obvious reasons). So I chose a photo of Lovelis that expressed both (the credit for the photo appears on the pic):


Bassist 2—Rena Lovelis

Acrylic on reclaimed canvas, 16×20

Colors used: violet, ivory black, payne’s grey, titanium white, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, vermillion hue, crimson, cadmium red hue, perm. green light, various other colors for hair.

Brushes used: small edger, 8 filbert, 12 filbert for background.

To begin, I had a canvas that had been painted on (by someone else) that I covered with several coats of violet paint. Thus I mention “reclaimed canvas.” Because it had been painted over several times, it has lots of bumps and ridges, which I kind of like. It gives a texture to the overall piece that one can either work with or against… You can get mediums that give you that texture, but they’re really just imitating an overworked canvas, so I went to the source.

As always, I began by creating a sketch, this one in white pencil:


Not perfect, but enough to begin work with.

Next I used titanium white, payne’s grey, and vermillion hue to map out the highlights and lowlights, and begin to structure the face and hand. I’d work those features all the time I was painting, trying to get them just the way I wanted, but this was a start. Notice that I drew some bounding lines to the bottom, left and right. This is because the dimensions of my canvas are wider than the dimensions of the photo, so to start, I wanted to get the measurements of the photo down (I use a ruler to get basic measurement ratios down when I sketch). I’ll mention this again later.


I really like the intense look on the musician’s face in the photo. I also like that while she is not looking at the viewer, you get a sense of her gaze and focus. I worked to capture that.

More work on the highs and lows. I added ultramarine to the mix, gauging areas of highlight on the pants, t-shirt and hair. You can really see the bumps and crevices in the canvas here. The mouth is still not quite right, the nose needs work, and I still have not placed her eye precisely. I’ll work on all of those as I go.

I started to map out the hair and the t-shirt, and work more on the face. The eye is still not right, and the front of the hair is too light. Because I’m working dark to light, it’s hard to get the colors really bright. It’s good to remember that dark and light values only apply to a color when it’s in the presence of other colors. Payne’s grey might be the lightest color in a piece: yellow might be the darkest. We see light and dark values as comparisons, not as absolutes. When working with a dark canvas, making colors ‘pop’ is difficult, and often takes several layers of colors, as they have a tendency to disappear into the dark background.


…This is why all of these colors were applied impasto, meaning as a thick paste, the way they come out of the tube. As we go you might be able to see that many of the trails of color in the hair and clothing stand up out of the canvas, (or create bumps), as the paint was applied thickly. This was meant to get the colors of the hair to ‘pop.’ Acrylic paint is essentially plastic glue with color pigment in it, so it can be used to sculpt as well as tp paint. I’ve known artists who work sculpted strands into a piece, or make objects out of semi-dried acrylic paints. While I was in art school my teacher did a demo where he painted a thick impasto piece on glass, let it dry, then peeled it off the glass, rolled it up, and walked off with it.

Back to Rena Lovelis… Next the permanent green light in the hair and on the bass. Lovelis used these distinctive green bass strings, which I actually know several bass players to use (hi Susan). In the case of Lovelis, the strings are a really nice repetition of her hair colors, so they work well for a painting. I’ve also started making minute alterations to the face, especially the mouth. The nose is waiting its turn…


Working the bass, and more hair colors. For the bass, I used paynes grey to get the shading and a hint of the wood grain, waited for it to dry, and went over that with crimson and titanium white. Right now I’m having an issue with the left hand (the hand that fingers the bass); the hand was not shown in the photo, but since my canvas is wider than the photo, I need to place the hand on the bass neck. At the moment the angle of the hand is wrong, and it’s throwing all of the angles of the piece off. It’s pretty amateurish, really, but I think any painter will tell you that hands are tough to capture. Drawing hands (and feet) again and again in your sketch book is a really good idea, and also, I suck at taking my own advice. Anyway, I need to correct that hand…


…So I painted over the hand with several coats of violet and fuscia, and I’ll go back in with perm. green light, cadmium red hue, and tit. white. Still working the hair, face, and t-shirt. I jeep checking the overall piece and correcting little areas. Right now there is not enough dark in the area of the neck (the musician has a lot of jewelry on, and only bits of it are catching the lights). I’ll also work the right hand a bit more, and the face. I think I finally got the nose where I want it. The eye looks right too, but needs a tiny touch up. I’ll also go over that large patch of cerulean blue on the pants leg, and add the jacket’s tail that’s seen in the photo.


And done (as seen at the top of this blog). I got the angle of the left hand, worked the right hand just a bit more, worked the eye a bit more. I lightened the fuscia bangs so they pop a bit. I worked the hair a bit more (I could probably spend another week on the hair, but you have to stop some time) so that the lightest colors pop. I worked the necklaces and the shadow at her neck. I added hints of orange to her hair. And I worked the background a little to mimic the stage lighting in the photo.

Bassist--Rena Lovelis 2

Thanks for looking, and please ‘like’ and comment. I’ll get back to some mythic Goddesses here soon, though I really like the musicians I’ve been doing, so I’ll likely go back and forth. I think it’s good to vary subject and style, as it keeps you from getting bored or stuck in a rut. Doing a few different styles really helps with developing each style: one style informs the other, and as you paint each, you take something away from one that you can apply to the other. At least that’s how it works for me…

I’ll leave you with a video of Cherri Bomb, whose bassist was the inspiration for this painting (she is now the singer for Hey Violet, who are a bit less metal and a bit more pop-rock).












One comment

  1. TheTooginator · August 28, 2016

    Thanks for the great story of how you created this piece! It feels like a well-documented documentary of a successful painting I might make, except your work is MUCH more deliberate than mine (which has a lot of guesswork).

    I think you did a nice job with the left hand that wasn’t in the photo. It looks like a natural part of the painting.

    I’m impressed that you can do such nice work with a canvas that has imperfections in it!


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