Art Gallery Gauvin

Australian Bush Legends

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Mona Lisa by Da Vinci_detail

The Painted Portrait - What's So Hard About It?

Most people tend to answer: 'Getting the likeness.' But any experienced, successful,  and   honest portrait painter can tell you that 'getting a likeness' is purely a matter of careful observation and measurement of the sitter's physical proportions. A human subject can, and should be, assessed by the artist in the same way as you would a landscape, still life or any other subject for a painting.   

The real challenge is to convey the Character of the person you're painting. For this, it's essential to arrange at least one face-to-face meeting with your Subject, lasting at least two hours. Although it's natural to offer coffee or a cold drink, don't let this become a social visit. Your sitter's time is at least as valuable as your own and s/he is at your studio for a purpose. Use the time well.

A very good way to get a feel for your sitter's inner Self is to make this first meeting a photo session. With a fast-action camera - hand-held, no tripods or fancy lights to make the sitter nervous and self-conscious - you can ask questions while you snap away. Somehow, people are always willing to answer the photographer!

One unforgettable instance of this happened as I was taking the initial snapshots of a retired sugarcane farmer who was extremely reserved and private by nature. Acting on a happy inspiration, I produced an authentic, well-worn cane machete from my 'props' cupboard and asked him to demonstrate the proper way to use it (on an imaginary stand of cane.) Suddenly, he came to life and talked with deep passion about his love for the land and his life on the farm, recalling his favourite dog and the long-dead horses which once helped him cultivate the crop. Thinking aloud, I said it sounded as if he were speaking of his own private kingdom and he replied that was just how he felt about it. That moment of illumination resulted in the portrait I called Sugarcane Kingdom. see painting here

The photos don't need to be very good because you'll mainly use them as reference when the sitter is absent. So, be sure to get shots from many angles. You will have taken measurements, either with calliper or by eye, and noted these down in writing or by making sketches. Still, your photos will be invaluable in letting you check without constantly calling the sitter back to the studio. Read more...