This week, the theme is painting imaginary people and how to find their soul. There’s plenty of examples in this blog post!
One of the wonders of painting and drawing is that we can give birth to an imaginary person – that we can create someone who breathes, talks, and has a life of her own. However, many times the doll that I have on paper hasn’t come alive. Or she has taken just a few breaths, and after the creative spark has gone, she just stares with empty eyes. So no wonder that I have had a love-hate relationship for painting imaginary people. I want to experience the miracle, but it can also be too much of a struggle.
References – Working with a Soul that Breathes Already
Using a reference may be the least innovative solution but if you find an image that really speaks to you, it can be a good one. Tiny changes in facial features lead to a whole new person so if you don’t follow the reference in the smallest detail, yours is like distant relative to the original – familiar features but still unique. For this oil painting called “Heaven and Earth“, I used a detail of Sandro Botticelli’s painting “Madonna of the Magnificat” (1483) as a reference.
Here’s a close-up of the faces. I changed the angle of the face, opened the eyes more, and made the mouth look more determined.
Sounds easy, but I often struggle with finding the soul when using references. With this painting, I tried to slowly work towards an individual personality, but creating a connection took a lot of time. Botticelli painted his soul, and it’s not the same as mine.
Here the work was in the early stage so that you can see how she has changed.
From the struggles of this painting and many others, I have learned this:
Working on the face alone never brings up the soul.
With the Madonna, as soon as I figured out the purpose and the style of the surroundings, I was able to finish the face.
The Soul Spreads Over the Painting
Even if a person is usually the focal point of the painting, the soul is not focused but spread.
The soul is in the setting, in the things, in the atmosphere. Even Botticelli’s Madonna can look just like a bored person without the crown, the light, the child, the book, etc.
So no matter if you paint intuitively without pre-defined ideas, sketches, or references, or more intentionally with a clear idea of how you want your imaginary people to look like, seek for the soul in everything you paint.
Flowers have soul.
Pots have soul.
Hair and hats have soul.
Inanimate and organic things also give the soul to the imaginary people.
In this watercolor painting called “Mirimer“, the fairy is the focal point, but her soul is spread all over the paper.
Imaginary People Exist in Shapes and Colors As Well
The painting doesn’t even need to have a face. Your imaginary people can be abstract, like in this small acrylic painting that I recently painted on a sketchbook.
Shapes and colors have soul.
Imaginary People – First or Last?
The idea for this post came from the question that I received a couple of days ago:
“I like your little people peeking out from within your art. I would like to learn more about that. Do you draw them first and paint around them or paint and then save a spot for them?”
I have many approaches.
In Innovative Portraits, we use references and make a sketch. The soul begins with the plan.
In Magical Forest, we lure fairies to appear intuitively from the watercolor background. The soul begins with the feeling.
In the new class, Decodashery, we start by building a visual world and then make the dollies to fit with it. So the soul is first just a small flower, then it expands to floral paintings, cakes, lace, and finally, the imaginary people are born. By gradually setting the style and the spirit is the best intentional way to add soul to your work.