I love Masterpiece Theater on PBS. Recently the movie Birdsong aired–a love story about a soldier on the battlefield of World War I and the lover he left behind.
|Claude Renoir Writing by Pierre Auguste Renoir,
There was a scene from the movie that has stuck in my mind. The main character, Stephen, creates a quick sketch of a fellow soldier and eventually gives it to the man. The soldier, upon seeing the portrait, almost immediately asks to have it and says he’ll be sending it to his wife as she’d surely love to have it as a keepsake of him.
The power of portraiture is not in the bells and whistles that adorn it after the painting process is over. You don’t need a huge gold frame or fancy lighting to appreciate a portrait painting. Instead, what we should strive for in any portraiture attempt is a sense of the person in the likeness.
Stephen’s portrait drawings were made by quiet observation, often sitting a bit removed from his subjects and catching them unawares. I hope this doesn’t sound shifty because it really isn’t. You don’t need to have a formal session with a model to create portrait art, and sometimes those kinds of situations can make it more difficult to see a person as they really are. Oftentimes, it can be better to see the person in their natural environment or in a more casual setting–at least initially–to get a sense of their character and demeanor.
|Portrait demo by Travis Schlaht, 6 x 8,
oil on canvas, 2010.
You can take these observations into the studio with you for a more formal portrait painting session, but my hope is that they will liberate you from any self-imposed expectations of what is proper or expected in portraiture so you can discover how to paint a portrait your way. American Artist is a magazine committed to helping all its artist-readers find out what kind of artist they are supposed to be. With top instruction and beautiful images in every issue, a subscription to American Artist is sure to fuel your creativity and imagination while helping you hone your painting skills. And the June 2012 issue includes really compelling portrait demos–one by Daniel Greene and another by Wendy Caporale–and the July/August issue follows up with several more. Enjoy!