“Everytime I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.” — John Singer Sargent
If the guy who is considered one of the best portrait painters of all time said this, what chance do I have when painting a portrait. I’ve never painted a portrait before. I’m also not very good at painting anything (grin).
These days I always find myself doing something I’ve never done before so why should this be any different? Some call it getting “out of your comfort zone.” Have you noticed, though, people who say that are always talking about what someone ELSE should do (grin). Anyway, I got it into my head that I wanted to paint a portrait of my daughter. Initially I was going to do it in oils but at the last minute decided to do a watercolor portrait.
There’s another piece of advice people give to wanna-be portrait painters. Get a good photo, with high contrast and with lighting that creates a distinct light and shade division of the face. Called Rembrandt lighting (named after the paints no doubt) this is supposed to make it easier to define the face on a two-dimensional surface.
So, what do I do? Well, when I was having a conversation with my daughter, using Google DUO, I did a bunch of screen grabs of her. Most were fuzzy because she was moving or blah because she just staring at her own phone. But one screenshot caught her with a smile. Unfortunately, most of the hair on the right side of her face was out of frame and my face, appearing in a little window, covered up the top left of her hair/forehead. The DUO symbol rested squarely on top of her right eye. So….as I did the underdrawing I had to reconstruct a bunch of my rather poor photo reference.
Undaunted by these facts and lack of artistic skill, I went to work, quickly learning that I still have a lot of problems mixing watercolors when the desired result is subtle value changes when working with light tones. I also learned that I have no idea how to paint hair that actually looks like hair. Oh well, here is the result. My daughter is so nice. In spite of it all, she’s still talking to me.
I found out too: always use a very good photo for reference if you want to paint (or draw) a portrait. Or paint the portrait but never show it to anyone, especially not the person you painted!
Certainly true, but it’s really hard to find photos of someone who is not famous (they have lots of professional photos) of someone you want to draw. Amateur photography doesn’t think of lighting and always take the photo with the subject facing directly into the camera.