Learning Portraiture

I’m hoping to become a portrait artist and am discovering just how hard it is! I think of the many talented portrait artists that I have known and studied, and now, yes now I understand what they must have put into every commission.

It has made me rethink my default painting mode which is: attack, correct, correct, correct. I’m learning a few things. I’m learning why artists favor soft media like oils and pastels for portraits: they enable an artist to render fine detail and fine gradations of color and value. Why would these be useful? Because when you are trying to make an image look like a person, just a slightly darker shadow, or a missing soft highlight can make a person look TOTALLY different! The tolerances are tiny, and if you make Dad’s smile just a millimeter too wide, he’s not Dad, he’s Creepy Dad! I burst out laughing all the time when I’m working on portraits of my family, and the usual reaction when I show a subject’s portrait-in-progress to them is an outburst of laughter. No, it’s not easy, and it’s quite comical.

So, I can’t believe it, but I’m back into oils again! I’ll probably drift back towards faster-drying alkyds again, but for now those water mixable oils are going to be my go-to.

I’ll try to post my hard-learned lessons, but it’s still tough! For now, just remember: soft media and close scrutiny of your subject!

Here’s an attempt to paint my mom. I’m happier with the skin than I usually am in my portraits, and it looks something like her, but still is a bit frozen.

I guess I need to read up some more!

Mom portrait 8 x 10.jpg