Capturing Personality

Many artists would be thrilled to achieve the enviable skill level of noslensanera (ArtistsNetwork.com user name,) displayed in his painting Portrait in Oil. The composition follows traditional classic portraiture conventions, the paint is applied evenly with no visible brushstrokes and details are rendered with precision. Overall, the artist shows a high degree of technical control in what appears to be an almost photographic likeness. In fact, there’s little or nothing obvious to fault in this painting, and the artist could find a good market for this type of realistic portraiture.

Still, the painting raises an important question: how can the artist go beyond this level? The painting appears to be based on a photo, and if that is true, the artist has mastered the skill of creating an accurate rendering of a photo in paint—no mean achievement. The down side is that this skill could easily become an artistic dead end, dooming the artist to similar, derivative results. Why spend hours recreating in paint what a good camera can do in seconds?

The answer to this dilemma is to find ways to make the portrait more personal. A camera, being a machine, is completely impersonal and totally objective. It hides the person behind the lens while bloodlessly recording the likeness of the person in front of the lens. In a sense, the artist has gone missing.

Painting directly from life may not produce the most realistic likeness, but it results in a painting exuding much more personality because the viewer encounters both the sitter and the artist. This confluence of two individuals makes a portrait from life unique and compelling.

Here are some suggestions for artists who want to go beyond photographic realism: Study the work of great portraitists such as Gainsborough or Sargent for inspiration on how to avoid the photo-in-paint look.

  • Loosen up when applying the paint. Leave visible brushstrokes, especially in the hair, clothing and background.
  • Experiment with croppings that go beyond the tried-and-true class-photo composition.
  • Paint from life whenever possible.
  • Add subtle color to the shadows.
  • Experiment with lighting to avoid a flat, evenness on the face.
  • Paint on a more noticeably textured canvas.
  • Work with larger brushes.

    Portrait in Oil is an exquisite painting that points the way to even more personal, revelatory expression.

    Greg Albert bio

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