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I am practicing portraiture because I will soon be teaching a class in watercolor portraits this fall. This is a portrait of my son, a tattoo artist. I snapped the photo I used as my reference for this last summer. I was intrigued by the challenge of capturing the look on his face as well as trying to render the tattoos on his arms. The look because it seemed to say so much about a tattoo artist’s life. They wait for the customers to come in, sometimes for hours. Then? Everyone comes at once, usually in the evenings and late at night, so the artist waits. I had an instructor a few years back that spoke of the occupation because there were two young men in our drawing class who were planning to become tattoo artists. He described the occupation as grueling and commended anyone who stuck with it. The artist rarely has an opportunity to create freely and often has to duplicate images that are selected due to the popularity at that time. Β I thought this image portrayed the “waiting” part of the artists’ job rather well. It also reminds me that there are many facets to the art field that we never think of as we sit and enjoyΒ  creating paintings we choose. I have a great deal of respect for the artist who makes a living by using his/her art skills.




  1. Very nice, Leslie. You are going to have fun teaching this class. I particularly like all the colors you used here. Sure would like to see that tattoo peeking out from under his shirt!

    • Thank you for pointing out the tattoo under the shirt. I didn’t even notice that it did have an allure because it is only partially visible. Now, you have me wondering, also, Kate. Good eye! ..and thank you!

  2. He has a great face, Leslie! I feel like I know him. Isn’t that a great compliment to your portraiture? Yes, I think it is. Beautiful job. πŸ™‚

    • That is a super great compliment and I take it to mean that I captured a look known to all of us. Hope it made you wonder what he was thinking about, Beth. Thank you! πŸ™‚

  3. i love this portrait of your son. He really does express “waiting” in his face. I like the tattoos, particularly the one peeking out from his shirt. I also really like the shirt details.

    Thanks for sharing your insight into your son’s profession. Many things you said I would have never thought of.

    Wish I could take your portraiture class.

    • It took Bigsurkate to point that tattoo out under his shirt before I realised it had a bit of allure to it due to it only being partially seen, Carol. You have the “eye” as we say in art! I had not noticed it before the two of you made mention of it.
      I had some squeamish hesitancy of him becoming a tattoo artist and had a preconceived notion of it as a visit to the dark side. After reading about the history of tattoos and learning that it was body art in many cultures and learning that many cultures look upon it as adornment my thoughts about what he chose to become trained in were not the same. I live and learn and hope people want body art forever since he needs to make a living. Thank you! I wish we lived closer so we could paint and decoupage together. I’m sure you would have me doing decoupage “spit-spot”! πŸ™‚

  4. Very expressive, like he can turn his head any moment. Love the details in his shirt and tattoos too. Such a warm portrait, Leslie.

    • Oh thank you, Hannekekoop. I selected warm colors for the background for just that reason of wanting to warm this up a bit.

  5. I think your son is cute, Leslie. And you did a wonderful job of capturing him at this moment in time. I find myself wondering what he is thinking about…? Great job on the tattoos too. I think tattoo artists are wonderful artists, mostly.

    • You are so kind. I hope my son takes the time to read some of your blog to find out you are a SUPER family Grandma and Mom after you called him cute. I am not allowed to use that word and call him cute. …and I agree with you. Tattoo artists have to be good. Thank you!

  6. Brilliantly captured, the face says so much! The details on his tattoos are remarkable!

    • Thank you Padmaja. The face was something I wanted to get right. The tattoos were, actually, hard to capture so I thank you for that, also.

  7. I can definitely see the “waiting” in this. My favorite bits are the shirt and those pretty colors in the hair! The tattoos are really cool but maybe a little bit bright? I’m no expert on tattoos so they may look just like this, but I guess I think of them as somewhat more muted on skin. Lovely portrait overall!

    • The tattoos are brighter in the painting than the photo. I washed through some of them but did not want to disturb it too much. I chalk it up to doing better the next time I try them. Thank you, Cindy!

  8. This is fabulous and such an amazing departure from the paintings of yours that I’ve seen before. I am a little addicted to tattoos (now have 8 but all small ones!) and wish I’d been braver and freer when I was young as I think I would have liked to have had ‘sleeves’. I admire tattoo artists hugely as they don’t get to erase and try again if they make a mistake – I think it’s a huge deal to apply art with a needle directly to someone’s skin! And I can imagine it must be frustrating to have to use designs the customer wants (I designed two of my tattoos myself as I wanted them to be totally personal to me) but for the artist wanting free reign to do their own designs it must be frustrating. Huge admiration for your son!

  9. Wow Les, did you ever capture Glen’s face! Great job and fun use of color.

    • Thank you, Nan. This looks like him leaning on the counter, I think. I had fun deciding the colors. Can you tell, I had fun with trying to decide how to paint that hair? πŸ™‚

  10. Leslie, I love the colors in his hair. I think human portraiture is one of the hardest things ever and this is quite nice. Did he know you were going to do it?

    • Hi Ruth,
      Thank you about the hair. I had so much fun with that. Portraiture is hard but I love trying them. I told him I was working on it but I don’t think he visits my blog. Maybe he will surprise me and let me know he’s seen it. He has liked the ones I’ve done of his daughters in the past. Thank you so much for this comment.

  11. Hi Leslie, I’d never considered how the duplication aspect of a tattoo artist’s job can stifle their creativity. I imagine that artists commissioned in other fields may have the freedom to take a concept and put their own spin on the work. Interesting.

    I like your painting, but I’m curious about some of the tattoos. I don’t have any myself, so I don’t know much about them. The ducky and the pumpkin look a bit out of place. I’m sure that there’s a story behind your son making those choices.

    Found my way here via your comment on Val’s blog.

    • Hi Ray,
      Great question! I may have the pumpkin head placed a little off and larger than he really is. I know I goofed on the stem. That aside, I know my son could answer your question better. I will take a stab, though. He did not design his arm as a sleeve, I think it occurred over time. Each tattoo has a reason for being but they do not relate to one another as a whole other than they are choices made by my son at different times. Many of his tattoos were done by apprentices training in his shop that he had tattoo him so they are varying degrees of skill, also, and by different hands, so to speak. He had a rubber ducky when he was little and his girls had rubber duckies galore, also. I would hazard a guess that there is a bit of an individual story signifying different things at different stages of his life. Sort of like reading an autobiography of someone. I hope that helps. If one wants a fully designed sleeve, that can be done, also. The planning for the entire sleeve must be done, usually, before the work begins. The work can then take place in stages.
      Thank you for your comment!

  12. How nice to see this, Leslie. πŸ™‚ A peek into more of your skills, and a peek into a tiny bit of your life.

  13. Hi Leslie! For me, the last two lines of this post say so much. Even if a particular artist’s work doesn’t conform with our particular tastes…you should still respect how hard it is to make any kind of living doing art. This is a realization that doesn’t get articulated enough. It’s cool to see that both mom and son share a creative link!

    • Thank you, Al. I think my view of the art world gets broader and broader over time. I so admire your skills with creating from what washes up on a river bank, too.

  14. Making a portrait of your own kids is sooo hard. You know them so well, it is difficult to be satisfied, it never “quite” resemble the true person you know. But in this case, you must be so thrilled. You did such a fabulous job in capturing his expression. Yes, we all wonder what is in his mind??? The eyes are perfect; and so is the beard, and the cheeks… and the hair ! Well done ! Wish I could attend your class ! πŸ™‚

    • So many times I feel that way, that the image can’t say it all. What I like is viewing each of them over the years. Where one falls short, another portrait picks up the slack. Often I think that it is the whole collection that really says it and that I care enough to try, perhaps? Thank you for this wonderful comment. You made my day. πŸ™‚

  15. You have painted him before. But here your story brings out all your caring. I never thought about the life of a tattoo artist. It sounds tough. This painting is full of love.

    • Thank you for remembering, Stephen. Yes. I did paint him before and he had very short cropped hair. I have such a difficult time finding good portrait material that does speak and then I am such a poor photographer with lighting and such. Thank you for that comment on full of love. Our children bring that out in us from time to time.

  16. I love the portrait of your son, Leslie…especially his wistful expression and the Yellow Ducky! See you Thursday: We will have fun and I promise to be still (?) and learn…Sheryl/sassy

    • Thank you, Sheryl. I am looking forward to all of us starting in again. I love portraiture!

  17. I love the combinations of colors that you use in the hair and skin… so cool. I wish I was in the area so I could take your classes, but the travel time is a little to much. LOL Have a great time

    • Thank you Ryan. I can only share what works for me. I try to find the highlights on the skin and leave them white and just soften edges of the color surrounding them while the wash is still wet and drag them into the highlights a little with a damp brush to eliminate hard edges where I want them soft. The active brushwork this takes to do makes me feel like I am sculpting the face rather than just flat washing it. On caucasians, I use combinations of yellows and reds and try to tone down my red, usually permanent rose, to just pinkish ranges as I tend to get carried away with it. Around the hairline where there are shadows I touch the edge of the hair color that I’ve applied and allow it to run into the skin color with a little addition of the watered down blue I use, usually cerulean or manganese. Men have that beard tone or shadowed look to their jaw which I use manganese blue or cerulean for, sometimes a mixture of both. If the hair is dark I like to use combinations of prussian blue, copper kettle;and in this case, the man had highlights of a blonde nature so I brought in naples yellow and new gamboge for the stronger swirl on the right. For black skin tones I use copper kettle, yellows and a stronger blue, usually prusisian. Their skin tones are more fun to paint and I watch for where I can also use permanent rose and a yellow like around the mouth and highlights on the cheeks, etc. Hope that helps. Anywhere I can get rid of that β€œblah” flat tone look to the skin, I try to introduce colors I have used somewhere else in the portrait. Hope that helps a little if you should try this. Otherwise I get these boring flat faces that say so little. You have painted remarkable portraits, in my opinion, so I feel honored you compliment my use of color.

  18. Hey lady! I love this post because it’s a nice follow-up to the ever-so-personal one before it! It is true, I didn’t know any of those things about you but it’s great that you shared. I like this portrait not only because it’s well done but the post is unique. He looks deep in thought and it strikes a chord with me. You also did a nice job with the colors. I hate doing portraits so I will be back for some inspiration and advice. Good luck!

    • Hi Roni!
      I do think portraits are one of the most difficult things to draw and paint. We, oftentimes put too much emphasis on the likenesses of people and family pets. Sometimes we just have to let go of our hangups and paint people and animals we don’t know to get the feel for rendering them and get rid of our judgement on likeness so we can learn. The likeness comes but not until after many attempts to study what makes a likeness. Thank you for your comment. πŸ™‚

  19. I’m sitting here saying “OMIGOD” over and over again, Leslie. First impression? I immediately wanted to know what was going on in that active mind? If there’s such a thing a diligent quietness, that’s what I saw. What is he anticipating, I wondered. Who is this man? (Don’t let him see this next comment: If there’s such a thing as a tattooed teddy bear, he comes close.)

    Then the hair. It’s marvelous. I want to touch those falling curls.
    The tattoos – what made this man choose the figures, I wondered? They seem so unrelated that each must have a story.
    The shirt detail – not only that you captured the design, but that this cuddly looking man chooses a shirt of this design.
    A partial glimpse of one tattoo lays promise of many more.
    Then I find out this man is your son!
    Next, I am made aware of how difficult it can be to paint someone so familiar. I had not considered that. But then you, Leslie, in your usual quiet way, show us all how to have courage and just do it. Let it happen. The lesson we all need.
    On top of all this, you share an entire painting lesson like a little gem embedded amongst the ore.

    You know I love your work, Leslie, but this one is just grand.

    Forgive the length of this, but … When I was doing a school district budget for very progressive First Nations people in our northern climes, I was in their fabulous territory for three weeks. They taught me much about their culture, but I was intrigued about the individual creatures on totem poles. Each one is a spiritual experience that a member of the band has experienced. The person comes and tells the artist carver all the details – usually visions seen while alone in the bush or somewhere in nature. The carver then recreates it. The carver never tells the story. Only the person experiencing that spiritual event can tell the story.

    You may have known this but I was awed. Your son’s tattoos make me think of totem poles.

    • You are defintiely intuitive, Amy. Each tattoo represents something different to my son. I suppose they could be a little autobiographical for the reasons they were chosen. Thank you for sharing about the totems because you have caused this painting of my son to be even more special to me than the feeling that went into it. If you would have asked me 30 years ago why I was trying to learn to draw people, I would probably have told you so I could some day paint my family with some degree of likeness. Thank you for that, Amy.

  20. Indeed, it would appear that this brand of artistry and others as well demand a different sort of patience and commitment. Certianly a thought well communicated in the painting. I love it. I love the way you captured your son’s express and the color and vitality of the art. Together they delight … and the detail of his tatoos and the colors of his hair … I find it charming. Well done, Leslie. πŸ˜‰ Thank you for posting.

    • Tattooing is a different brand of artistry, for sure. The patience to do the tattoo as well as the patience to wait for the client to walk through the door. Thank you for the comments to the expression, color and vitality of this painting. Brought a big smile to my face!

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