I am back for more!  I was quite pleased with my portrait of Barak Obama, which you will find in an earlier article here.  My next subject is legendary actress of the golden age of Hollywood, Bette Davis.  What greater icon of the silver screen, perhaps, than this incredible actress who could cause men to fall in love with her or who would strike fear into any heart with one look from those eyes!  Yes, those Bette Davis eyes.  I will have to get those exactly and absolutely right, before the portrait will ever be classed as complete.  I will strive at that, no matter how long it takes.  This portrait will, ultimately, be about those Bette Davis eyes.

As with my Barak Obama portrait, I am simply copying a photo from the cover of a book.  Here it is:

At the most recent meeting of the little art group that some friends and I have formed, I continued to focus on portraiture.  I need the practice, after all!  My friend, talented artist Tina Hannay, spent time encouraging us to draw shade to form the image.  We did this in short, timed exercises and it helped a great deal but then I went off into the shapes that formed the face.  I began forming a head from a series of triangles and geometric shapes and then gave thought to which of those would be which colour or shade.  Again, that was helpful in terms of getting me to consider a face.

As someone who has a condition that causes face blindness, I enjoyed this, for I recognise people by looking for the key components that make up sections of their faces, among other things.  I’m enjoying putting my sight and recognition method onto paper in order to form a portrait.

Day 1.

Unlike my portrait of Barak Obama, which I painted without any pre-drawing, with Bette Davis, I began with the use of a water colour pencil; dry.  These are superb sketching tools and immediately I felt able to express what I needed to, using this equipment.  The proportions are still slightly off, but I started to see the likeness developing.

I then expanded further. I can see that body angles and proportions were not too good at this point, already.

Day 2.

Then, I decided to add acrylic paint.  This time, I wanted to build in the sense of white light that can be seen on the face of Bette Davis.  Her whole image is actually grey, but there are lightest parts which stand out slightly and I felt that these needed to go in next.  I have no technical expertise on which order to paint aspects of a face, so I just go with my own instinct.

I painted in the background which, also like the background in my portrait of Barak Obama, was black.  I guess I’m going to run out of black and white acrylic very soon.

One of the challenging, daunting and even difficult aspects of this process is that adding the acrylic paint starts to obliterate the likeness that I felt I had started to achieve in that very first water colour pencil sketched stage of this portrait.  Losing that fills me with a little anxiety about whether or not I will be able to recapture a real sense of those Bette Davis eyes.  Not doing so will render the portrait into a failure, I feel.  I know, each painting is useful learning and so nothing is a failure, but to me, it simply has to be achieved.  I will just keep at it!

The latest stage has been to add in grey.  Darker than we see on the cover of the book, but somehow this feels to me like the right shade to be using at this stage.  I will have to add lighter levels as I progress.

You will note that as I have attempted to re-form her hair, I decided to lay down very thick lines of acrylic to indicate movement and direction of the hairstyle.  It felt slightly two dimensional and adding this depth of paint leaves a three dimensional texture that I hope will make the final piece come alive more.  To me, Bette Davis was incredibly vibrant and alive and so any portrait of her must almost come out of the canvas; just as her eyes used to reach out their iconic look into the audience.

Do come back to this post, for as I progress, I will continue to add in my written updates on my progress and the latest photos of the portrait.

Do please feel free to leave comments on any aspect of this post, and your own experiences, below.

Day 3.

Today, day three of working on my portrait of Bette Davis, she is starting to emerge. I’m getting a sense of her now. Here’s my latest progress:

I am loving painting ‘black and white’. What is tricky, is trying to find and form her trademark smirk/sneer/contempt/sarcasm/humour/power look, which she managed all at once with a look in the eyes and a curve in her upper lip. This may be a long process! I’m enjoying it, though.

My workspace is becoming a mess!

Day 4.

Goodness, this really is tricky. I recognised that her face was too wide. I’m pleased I’m getting the proportions in better shape. The nose is improving, as is the mouth but the look is all sneer and needs softening.

I lost something feminine about her since the last photo, she seems to have morphed into Rowan Atkinson in a wig! There’s something masculine about Bette Davis and so you can easily find the portrait loses her femininity at the stroke of a brush.

Still, this is all layer upon layer. I’ll put this right but, I feel there’s something of her eyes starting to take shape.

Onwards, but at 2am….enough for tonight!

Day 5.

Today has been about feminising her and about capturing a likeness in her eyes.

I think that I’ve exorcised Rowan Atkinson but there is still slightly too much sneer and not enough humour. That said, I’m very pleased with how the eyes are developing.

I’m struggling with her nose and capturing it in the grey tones. I’ve started to sketch her nose on top of the paint, as a guide.

Admittedly, her face is as think in paint as her make up was in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.’ I will just keep adding layers until I get there.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Thanks for checking in on my progress. More tomorrow.

Day 6.

I had a little time, this afternoon, before heading to work to see a client. It’s technically not a therapy day, but if I can see someone who asks for extra support, I will do my best.

I had about 45 minutes free and so worked more on Bette’s face. I spent time on the face shape and the eyes. I’ve also made a tiny bit of progress on the lips. You know what? I do believe that her likeness is now truly emerging.

What do you think?

I’m not too far from finishing. The nose and mouth are my next focus but my series of portraits is all about achieving a likeness; not an exact copy. If people look and say ‘That’s Bette Davis’, then my job is done.


I think I have to admit defeat. I am so overworking this portrait that the layers of paint are making it impossible to continue. I just cannot do any more to her nose and mouth, which both need more work.

I’ll chalk this one up to experience and will try to paint the legendary Miss. Bette Davis, again.

Day 7.

I thought I’d make an effort to see if I could achieve a better likeness. Not sure.

I rather like this, too. The paper upon which I mixed my shades, used to paint my Bette Davis portrait:

Day 8.

The finished piece:

Thank you for following my efforts. Apologies for not ending on a better outcome. I’ve enjoyed doing this, though and I have learnt a lot from the experience.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.


No responses yet

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: