You are currently viewing Blue Steel: Anatomy Of A Portrait

Blue Steel: Anatomy Of A Portrait

In my article, Show Your Work, I talk about how showing your creative process increases your value to clients. If you are selling your creations to customers and collectors, sharing your “creation” stories will increase your value in their eyes.

When I begin any illustration, I have a good idea of how I want it to turn out. During my creative process, that idea usually changes to some degree. You see, the process itself will suggest other options. Consider these suggestions in light of what you want to accomplish with the work, and accept, table or reject as appropriate.

In the case of Blue Steel, my original quest was to design an illustrated portrait of the actor, Clint Eastwood. Since I like Westerns, I chose to represent one of his outlaw/cowboy characters rather than his police characters. My original idea was to include a realist background in a light (low value) color palette so that the silhouette of the figure would be the first read. That idea was scrapped fairly early in my process as I began laying in the background underpainting — a wash of neutralized reds. I made the decision to create the areas of greatest contrast not between the figure and the background but between the face and the hat. So when viewing the final work, we look past the gun to his eyes and the steely expression on his face. The first-read focus was shifted.

These photos are presented in order as the painting was developed. You should note that it requires a deliberate decision to pause at strategic points during your process in order to document and evaluate your work with a few photographs. This deliberateness is necessary to do if you want to show your work and tell the backstory of your approach, creative vision and technique. Shooting video as you work adds additional authority and credibility.


Technical notes: WinsorNewton transparent watercolor, WinsorNewton gouache, Prismacolor pencils and Derwent Inktense pencils on Fabriano Artistico 100lb paper. 

All images are © by Alvalyn Lundgren. To order giclée fine art prints or purchase a license, please contact Alvalyn Lundgren.

Related Reading:

Light and Shadow In Skin Tones

Using Color Zones In Portraits


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.