Monday, July 23, 2012

Seven Steps to Paint the Perfect Portrait

After a dozen classes regarding painting portraits, I've come to some conclusions.

If you've looked at some of my paintings from those classes, you've probably drawn some conclusions, as well.

Not to be dissuaded by any of those thoughts, know that I will not be stopped.

In fact, I am more determined than ever to conquer this topic and herein present my list of seven steps that will bring one success in the art of painting a picture so that it looks like the person whose painting you are trying to do, even if I'm tempted to poke out my eyes with my paint brush handle.

Here you see, from top to bottom, class #1, #2 and #3, as you study my guidelines.  One more class to go with this one!

1.  Determine whose picture you want to paint.  (It will help if they have just one eye,  a very small nose and can keep their mouth shut the whole time you're working on the painting so that you don't have to worry about all of those teeth!)  Being bald solves a lot of issues, too, or at least a band of cloth of some sort to wrap around their head that covers most of the hair, eyebrows, forehead and ears is a blessing!

2.  Determine just to paint their face.  The more you can stay away from clothing and arms and hands and feet, the less you have to fret about.  Also, if they can comb their hair over their ears, you won't have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out all of the ins and outs of ear canals and lobes and, heaven help us, those ornate earrings that belonged to a Victorian great-aunt or great-grandmother.

3.  Let the person who is sitting for their portrait know that they have to sit completely still for eight to ten hours.  Some studios and class settings allow for breaks for the sitter every twenty minutes or so, but I find that about the time the break is called is when I've just decided to finish a freckle or add an eyebrow.  Better they bulk up ahead of time and just sit for the whole thing.  I may take a break, but I don't want them to move from the preassigned spot...once they move, some tend to come back and face a completely different way.  Too confusing.

4.  Remember, you're not painting a face.  You're not painting a nose.  You're not painting and eye.  You're painting shapes and shadows and highlights and tone and value and color and texture, and you're capturing mood and expression and probably twisting your back and your arm and your neck into contortions that will lead to sore muscles and a headache, and an overwhelming thought that having taken a photo would have been less trouble and more satisfying!

5.  You are going to want to pose them in that antique chair, the one with all of the animal carvings and intricate shapes and designs.  Do yourself a favor...put a white sheet over the whole thing. If you have any thoughts of painting any part of it, don't.  Draping is so much more effective and you can cover that area in one or two brush strokes that way, rather than spending the remaining years of your life trying to get that darned antler armrest to look like what it should be instead of a piece of deer scat.

6.  Let the instructor, or other class member who paints better than you, take over your brush at any time they are available.  Just nod your head up and down a lot as they guide you through the finish.  If they look like they are going to stop and give you back the brush, ask questions quickly.  "What would you do with that eye?" Or, "Do you see any problem with the forehead?"  About twenty questions should do the trick.  The last question could be, "Do you know of a good place to buy a frame for this?"  They might have one in the trunk of their car!

7.  Once done, hide the painting for about seven years.  It'll give it time to dry and the sitter will appreciate the fact that, once they do see it, they look younger.

In the meantime, go back to landscapes and know, where trees and waves and rocks and weeds all look the same.              

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Poor-trait Painting

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I add, a portrait can be worth a novel...a never ending story of, "Who is that?"  And that's me asking the question, after I pulled the painting out to look at it again after a month!

Take model #3.  That was the one that I was working on when we last talked.  I missed the third class and tried to rush a finish during the fourth class with that model, but to no good avail.

I won't show it to you here so that you still think that I can paint.

Instead here to the right is a portrait of someone you may recognize.  If this is a true representation, I guess we know why he lopped off that ear!

I am going to work on portrait #3 at home and, perhaps, someday you'll get a look at it.

I had asked a friend,  a fellow artist who attends the same class, if she could take a photo of that model and send it to me.  That way, I would have her likeness for further study.

After she had emailed me the pictures, she asked if I had any success with the painting.  I told her, "Yes.  I enlarged the photo to canvas size, cut the image out and pasted it over the painting.  It looks great!"

Really didn't do that.  I will figure it out, I promise, and will try to secure the best representation of the model.  At least I have to be happy with it.  Perhaps the model will like it, too.

Of course, there's that adage of an art instructor of mine from years ago who said, "The sitter may not like the painting when you've finished it, but put it away for twenty years and then bring it out to show it to them and they'll love it!"

I don't struggle with trying to get the image of the sitter exactly right.

I think my paintings prove that.

You needn't comment.

During that last class with model #3, instructor, "Where are you looking?"

Me, "At the model."

Instructor, "Really?"

Me, "Is there a problem?"

Instructor, "Not at all...there are a hundred problems, give me that brush!"

At the moment, I thought I was being drummed out of art class.  Stripped of my tools!

She grabbed the brush with lightening speed and stepped back, I thought to toss the brush javelin style through my canvas.  Instead, she mixed a few globs of paint together on my palette, "You need some warm, and some cool, and some hot and some cold, and some gel and then do this," as she redrew the entire face.  The whole thing looked totally different...just like the model!

Guess I need some more lessons.

You see, the center of the issue is this.  Everyone expects a portrait to be a perfect picture of the person sitting for the portrait.  Dali didn't seem to care too much about that, neither did Picasso.

Okay, others did.  But most know that portrait painting is problematic.

It's hard enough to get someone to sit long enough and still enough to get a good likeness...let alone worry about the outcome.

You're not always going to get everything right.  John Singer Sargent, who completed his share of portraits, said, "A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth."

And what if you all ready have mouth issues...take our first leader, George we all know about his teeth issues, perhaps the mouth is the only thing right!

I've seen enough portraits of people I know and can hear them complaining about all sorts of issues.  "My nose isn't that big," "My eyes aren't that close together," or "This thing makes me look old."

Sargent also said, "Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend."

Fortunately, for me, I haven't known any of the models so far and hopefully they don't know anyone that I know so that stories won't be shared with friends about "this artist who tries to paint my picture, but makes me look like I've had really bad plastic surgery!"

Model #4, who we started last week, was pleased with my first rendition and I think I got close to his image.
He liked the painting.

He offered to take it off my hands.

I told him that there was more work to.  He would have taken it, as is.

This effort was only after one class and it was a value study (various shades of just one color).  

 "We have to add color this week," and I added, "I still have time to ruin it.  I paid for three more weeks of class." 

He looked surprised.  We'll see how this progresses.