Applying “Perfect Practice” To Painting Portraits

When you love to do something, it’s worth the effort to do it in multiple ways, to experiment and see how it can be improved. A universal example would be cooking. When you have a favorite dish, it’s fun to throw in a new ingredient or even change the heating method (I recently heard of making chili in a crockpot instead of on the stove, for example. Rest assured, this will happen in my kitchen–I love the idea of coming home to a dinner that practically made itself).

Making art is no different. Experimenting and practicing are elements that can’t be ignored. Lucky for us, though, Chris Saper shares her results and methods in Classic Portrait Painting in Oils: Keys to Mastering Diverse Skin Tones (available as part of the Artists Network eBook Club). In it, she gives you step-by-step demonstrations in which she paints the same subject both from life and from a reference photo so that you can see–and learn from–the differences.

Portrait painting by Chris Saper

Faith (oil on linen, 30×24) by Chris Saper. Click here to “pin” this to your art board on Pinterest.

From Classic Portrait Painting in Oils by Chris Saper

Without regular practice painting the live model, even the most accomplished artists’ skills will become rusty. There is simply no way to paint fresh and accurate color, thoughtfully executed edges and convincing form without study and practice from life. Period. There is no shortcut, no book or DVD that can give a painter the observational skills and insights to be gained from real life interactions with real subjects. Teachers routinely stress the importance of practice. They aren’t just talking about repetitive acts; they are talking about the concept of “perfect practice.”

In math or chemistry, perfect practice means systematically and accurately showing the steps involved in getting an answer. In vocal training, it means performing vocal exercises and scales that incorporate proper breathing, posture, mouth and tongue positioning–not merely hitting the notes in a song.

In portraiture, perfect practice means working with proper tools and under conditions that enable growth, including good lighting, good rest and good materials.

Another obstacle to better portrait painting involves using inferior references. Portrait artists who fail to insist on excellent photographic references cannot reasonably expect to have excellent results. Without honing our observational skills by studying the live subject (including still life and landscape subjects) there is no way for us to effectively interpret photographic references or to understand the significant limitations they impose upon the portrait painter. ~C.S

Classic Portrait Painting in Oils is available as part of the Artists Network eBook Club, where you can have more than 100 art books at your fingertips. Sign up for a subscription so you can access them any time. Bonus: the list is always growing.

I apologize if I’ve made you hungry for chili, but I hope I’ve made you hungry to learn.

Cooking up something new for next time,
Cherie

Cherie Haas, online editor
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