The Painted Portrait – What’s so hard about it?

The Painted Portrait – What’s so hard about it?


Most people answer “Getting the likeness.” However, any professional, honest, and experienced portrait painter will tell you that “getting the likeness” is simply a matter of carefully observing and measuring your sitter’s physical proportions. An artist can and should assess a human subject in the same manner as a landscape, still-life, or other subject matter for a painting.

It is difficult to portray the personality of the subject you are painting. It is important to have at least one face-to–face meeting with your subject, which should last at most two hours. It is perfectly normal to offer coffee or cold drinks, but this should not Wrinkle Arts be a social visit. Your sitter’s time is just as valuable as yours and is only there for a specific purpose. Make the most of your time.

It is a great way to get to know your subject’s inner self by making the first meeting a photo session. You can pose questions and take pictures with a hand-held camera, which isn’t equipped with tripods or flashes to make your subject nervous. People are willing to answer questions for the photographer, somehow.

This was the moment I captured the first photographs of a retired sugarcane farmer, who was very private and reserved by nature. A happy inspiration prompted me to pull out an authentic, well-worn, cane machete from my “props” cupboard. I asked him to show me how to use it on an imaginary cane stand. He suddenly came alive and spoke with passion about his love of the land and his farm life. He also remembered his beloved dog and the horses that helped him cultivate the crop. It sounded like he was talking about his private kingdom, and I thought it was. He replied that it was exactly how he felt about it. The portrait I named ‘Sugarcane Kingdom’ was born at that moment of illumination. You won’t need to take great photos as you will only use them for reference when your sitter is not there. Make sure you get photos from multiple angles. These measurements will have been taken with a calliper, by eye or by hand, and recorded them in writing or as sketches. Your photos will still be valuable in that they allow you to check the measurements without having to call the sitter back.

The best thing about the camera is its ability to capture your subject’s unique gestures and stances when they are relaxed.

This was evident during my first portrait session of Percy Trezise, a well-known conservationist who is also an artist. Percy was clearly trying to help me create an interesting photo. He had a dramatic pose every time I opened my sketchbook. Only by taking quick and sneaky actions with my camera was I able to capture the real man.

Percy brought his wife and mother with him to see the final work. Percy was pleased with the portrait. However, he protested that he had never stood with his hands in his pockets like the painting shows. Percy said the words and his ladies laughed. Percy then looked down at them and smiled, realizing that his hands were still in his trousers pockets.

As every portrait painter is aware, even a perfectly accurate rendition can cause disappointment in the subject due to his/her vanity or the sentimentality of family and friends. This was a problem that I encountered early in my career. The sitter wanted to give the portrait as a gift to her mother and was returning to her overseas posting. Lucy, not her real name, was a beautiful mid-forties woman with a full-figured face and lots of personality. Lucy, like many Super-model women, was concerned about the lines on her face that make it so expressive even in repose, just as so many other women. My only request was to remove her wrinkles. I asked her to smile at the mirror and then frown as she sat down on my dressing table. As I did, she was able to see that her “wrinkles” were lines of good humor and a record about the happiness she had experienced.


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