The Trouble with Portraits

Ray250In some ways, painting a portrait is the ultimate painting challenge. Even when painting in a more free style, the artist is hoping for a recognizable likeness. That means accuracy in lines and shapes. Move that nose over a quarter of an inch – and it’s someone else.

There are some common errors that those learning to do portraits struggle with. Here are a few of them:

1. Shrinking areas of the face where nothing is happening – for example the forehead or cheek space is too small.

2. Making the eyes too large. In some ways, this error is the opposite of number 1. We know that eyes are important, and we tend to make them larger because of this.

3. Putting lines in to complete a shape, when there are no lines on the model. This happens often with the mouth, which usually does not have a solid outline unless the model is wearing lipstick. The rule here is – if you don’t see it don’t draw or paint it.

Some of my favourite quotes about painting portraits are from John Singer Sargeant who said, “A portrait is a painting of someone, but the mouth is not quite right.” and “Everytime I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”

It takes a lot of concentration to do a good portrait. Hats off to those students in the current portrait class – but don’t make the forehead too small after the hat is off!