|Noelle with a Black Dress by Ron Hicks,
2007, oil, 20 x 16. Collection Gallery 1261,
I think photography has altered the way we judge the painted portrait. With the ability to capture a photographic likeness—from the details of a person’s features to the minute expressions on the face—came the idea that the more detail you can render, the better your portrait. When it comes to oil painting, however, this isn’t always the case. Unless an artist is aiming for hyperrealism, chasing a photograph’s appearance with paint can lead to artwork that feels strained and contrived.
Colorado artist Ron Hicks strikes a strong balance between truly seeing his subject and executing a painting that goes beyond the details. The artist explained to me that the foundation of any portrait is created with four or five distinct shapes. This is because no two individual’s shapes, or the way the light falls on those shapes, are alike.
It’s a liberating idea, and gives us all a certain level of freedom to pursue portraiture in our own way. You can seek out those distinguishing shapes and then add your own “discovery,” of your subject, as Hicks calls it. It could be a mood or facial expression that catches your attention. Adding your response to a portrait’s shapes is what makes the work unique.
Hicks’ approach to portraiture strongly resonates with me, and I think it is probably inspiring to you, too. Stay tuned for more portrait painting tips and oil painting techniques that I'll bring you throughout 2014, and in the meantime consider all the resources in the North Light Shop that you might want to consider, with 25% off today in celebration of this holiday season. Enjoy!