Portraiture- “Reality” Glen Zhang

 (Final Photo)

 (progress photo #1)

 (progress photo #2)

 (progress photo #3)

 (progress photo #4)

 (final plan photo)


what were you asked to do for this studio project?

In this project, we were asked to do a portrait painting with oil or acrylic paint (given that we did a few media testing in advance). We had different sized canvases and were asked to paint using the techniques we learned and be creative with our work! We had three guiding questions, and the two I chose was “how can a portrait make a broader social statement?” and “How can we represent the intangible in portraits?” I was asked to answer these two guiding questions in my portrait painting, and I’ll get more in depth later on in this blog.

What media were you working with? 

There was the choice of using acrylic and/or oil paint, I used acrylic for both my background and my brother. I also did an underpainting in advance so I have a “shade blueprint” to follow and have a underpainting to guide what my different shades are in different sections of the painting.

Formal analysis/Message:

What is the meaning of the title of your painting?

My title “Reality” is showing my view of the reality of this world. What I am trying to show here is that when we were kids we were taught how the world was all beautiful and lovely. However, all of us has a turning point in life, and realize the true darkness and chaos in the society that we live in.  That’s something you can’t see in my artwork, some may not be able to see that I am showing the truth of reality, as not all people view society as I do. The color scheme, facial expression, bad news, etc. all point towards the darkness of society, and all in all links back to my title. This relates back to my guiding questions because I’m creating a broader social statement by showing the darkest sides of society, and representing the intangible because not everyone can see the reality that I see it in, and I am just expressing from my point of view.

Who is the subject of your painting and why did you choose this person?

This is a really interesting question, and it actually took me a lot of time to decide who I wanted to paint to express my viewpoint on reality the most. The subject I chose was my brother, and this was for two reasons. The first reason is that I know him. I wanted to express the sadness and darkness of society, and the first thing I thought to myself was: “What darkness do I SEE in my life?” I thought and thought about it until I turned to my little brother. Every day I see him getting emotionally attacked by all the real-life problems that he is exposed to, and this turned him from a free, joyful, playful, brother into what I now know him as, self-cautious, stressed, non-talkative brother, and in a depressing way it seems like he’s just not the same person that I once knew him as. He is exposed to all these bad news about drug dealing, death, suicide etc. which is what I feel sadly defines him the most. The second reason is the character he possesses. He’s a middle school sixth grader, and at this stage is when you start to change, you learn the bad side of life, and it just gives off this feeling of helplessness and innocents. If I were to use my father, for example, the same feeling wouldn’t be given off, since my father already learned the darkness of society, and wouldn’t be emotionally phased at all, so overall I think my brother is the best fit for this project.

Which guiding question(s) are you addressing and how are you addressing them in this work? 

The two guiding questions I am addressing is “how can a portrait make a broader social statement?” and “How can we represent the intangible in portraits?” For “how can a portrait make a broader social statement?” I addressed this question using all the different parts of my artwork. As I mentioned before my brother has been affected by all the terrible news that the world has to offer, and the statement I am trying to make is that a lot of this tragic news is caused by us humans! What people in this society is doing like terrorism and suicide is negatively affected the youth! My brother was one of the victims in the darkness of society, constantly hearing about this bad news and horrible things are not something happy that a child should be living under. What I am trying to express about our society is we need to stop the madness and have our next generation should cherish their youth, instead of living under this horrible society image. The second question (“How can we represent the intangible in portraits?”) was addressed through the meaning behind why I chose my brother and why I used newspapers. I chose my brother because I know him well, and I know how the darkness of society affected him, which is something a lot of people cannot see. Also, what is written in the newspapers in intangible, until you walk closer to it and see all the words written on it like “attacked” or “Broken”.

Explain how the visual elements support your intended message about the person or what they represent.

The visual elements were expressed through the color scheme, newspapers and facial expression. For the color scheme, I chose to use blue (which is a cool color) for my brother, purple ( which is also a cool color) for my background, and red, orange and yellow (all warm colors) for my flaming newspapers. what is intangible in the cool colors is that I’m trying to Express the cold reality of society. The background and my brother’s cool colors give off a sense of isolation, coldness, and depression, and a dark feeling of helplessness. The warm colors from the newspapers completely make them stand out from the cool colors. The warm colors were meant to give a sense of danger, as they are painted as fire. For the facial expression, what cannot be seen is how plain the face is but is combined with tears. What I am trying to express using the tears is a realization, because if I were to give my brother a frown it would seem as he was in complete shock about the bad news and is the first time that he is hearing about all this. That is not the case, because  Justin (my brother’s name) has been hearing about this all his life, which is why the tears express the huge amount of depression that is within him, and the plain expression is saying that this is nothing new, and living in this dark society is every day to him. Lastly, the meaning newspapers are unseen. How this relates to the main question is what the newspapers are what it says on them. Two examples are “Suicide note” and “Chemical factory kills 7” This is tragic news and it is flying down on my brother, making it emotionally threatening along with the fire complementing how dangerous it is.

What, if any, symbolic imagery did you include and how does it support your artistic intentions? 

The only thing symbolic in this portrait painting would probably be my brother, as he symbolizes the youth and how the darkness is affecting our youth in the exact same way.

What is the mood of your painting and how did you use a specific color palette to create this mood? 

I talked about this earlier, but the mood I am trying to express is isolation and depression, and also a sense of danger. the cold colors of my brother and the background show how cold and isolated and depressed he is, while the warm colors making up the fire gives a sense of danger in this cold environment.

Who inspired you in this project?  What have you “borrowed” from studying their work/style/technique?

There were two artists that really kind of inspired my artwork. The first one is Francoise Nielly. All of his artworks have this wide variety of colors, like when there is a light area he would overlayer that area with literally all the light colors, or even non-light colors! Not only did he influence me with his wild color scheme, he also influenced me with his media. Francoise Nielly uses acrylic and I personally really liked the way you can overlay your paint, which is what I did for basically my whole work. (I overlayed my entire painting about three times!”

The second person is Alex Katz. Alex Katz used a series of color on his portraits with only really one main color and white to make different shades, this inspired me with my artwork, as all I used to paint my brother was dark blue and the color white, all it was was the color blue, just in different shades.


Did your actual studio piece end up looking differently than you had envisioned in your final plan?

My plan and my final product overall were not that different. The things I changed was having text on the newspaper that was meaningful, the blue color scheme on my brother was not my original idea, I thought of it later to better fit the mood. Finally, The color of the background didn’t turn out how I imagined it to be. I originally wanted the background to be green and purple and brown, to give a gross feeling and an environment you don’t want to be in, but then I later rethought this idea because it will just ruin the color scheme and won’t be pleasing to the eye, so I changed it to purple to better fit the message and to pair well with my brother along with contrast really well with the burning newspapers.

Did you take advantage of class time? 

I feel like during this project I made the most of my time count than any other of my projects. I not only spent every second painting my project, I also make sure I get opinions and how to make my portrait painting unique and outstanding. Not only did I take advantage of class time, but I also took advantage of after-school opportunities, because I came many times to the art studio when I don’t have other activities. So, all in all, I think I put some pretty good work in.

Looking at your completed work, do you think you’ve grown. stretched creatively and matured as an artist?  Explain how and be specific.

Throughout this project, I feel like I have grown so much. It was my first time using acrylic, and I feel like that I have just learned so much, from creating different tones to overlaying paint to give my artwork a more natural feeling. I have grown as an artist because I have learned how to become more stretched out to what to sue, for example, I would have never painted my brother only using shades of blue because I wasn’t open to doing loose and crazy ideas, but that is just what you have to be to be an artist. I also stretched my creativity, as I used the newspapers to compliment my social statement…in a portrait painting!

3 artists habit of mind

Stretch and Explore

Stretch and explore means exploring playful ways to perfect your piece, and I did exactly that. I used newspapers in order to better express my social statement, which was not part of the material we were exposed to, which shows how I used a little bit of creativity. Also, the color scheme inside my piece was also played around with. since I only used one color and a shade to paint my brother, it was definitely a risk, and my painting might not have looked as good. But I took the risk, played around with it, and it turned out better and more suitable to express my mood.


Envision is seeing your artwork before it actually is painted, and seeing how it would better look. In the middle of painting my brother, I realized that a lot of features of him was not to my liking like the eyes were too wide, or the mouth was not aligning with the pupil of the eyes. I had to take a step back, envision what I wanted it to look like, and then pieced it one at a time to better fit what I want it to look like.

 (eyes aren’t right shape, tears tilted, shoulders too small, not enough contrast etc.) (this was before I changed everything)


Reflect is where being able to judge your own work to make it better and take other peoples criticism. my original idea was to have my brother looking straight at the viewer, but a lot of people told me that this would make the mood less bold and it would make the painting look boring. I personally reflected on my own work by taking a step back and look at my backgrounds color, the color of it was not eye-pleasing and had a rough texture, which is not what I was going for, so by reflecting my myself I made my portrait painting better fit the mood and social statement. Also, the color originally was only going to be yellow and orange, with layers and no natural look. I changed that by self-reflecting and made it now with layers on layers for more a more natural feeling, also with the color red inside.

 (paint pallet for fire)



Overall this has made me into a better artist, and I also found my favorite type of media, acrylic! I was able to stretch out my ability to paint and also was able to take more judgment not only from other people but also myself. This project has made me more open to ideas, and more playful and creative. This project has made me grow as a artist, and I hope to be able to do another painting project!