There's more to a good portrait than a likeness.
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
Wednesday, 10 August 2016
I started this painting of my friend Carol over a year ago. She came to sit for me several times and we had a nice time chatting whilst I painted. I produced a painting that everyone recognised as her - (always a relief), but I wasn't happy with it and for ages I couldn't figure out why. It looked like her, but somehow it wasn't "Carol". So I asked John to picture Carol in his mind - how did he see her? His reply hit the nail on the head.... "She's a smiley person, whenever you meet Carol she is always smiling".
Of course! That's it - she looks too serious. Now here's a real problem. This portrait is about finished should I change the face now? Oh heavens, shall I scrap it and start again, or is it possible to alter it? A face smiling is not only very different - all the features crease up, the angle of the head alters, the shoulder line would likely change too.....but it is very risky, as it can end up looking like a grimace. To paint someone smiling is capturing a moment in time unlike painting a face in thoughtful repose. I had, in fact, done a quick oil sketch of Carol in the first session that I thought more animated but there wasn't sufficient information in it to use and for Carol to keep up a smile during a sitting would be not only unnatural but face-aching! So I put the painting aside and got on with other things. Then one day Carol posted a photo on Facebook of herself sitting with her mother. Unbelievably she was just about at the same angle as in the painting.
I'm always telling my students not to be "precious" about their paintings saying "It's better to change what's wrong than try to force it to be right", so here was truly a time to put my words into practice. What was the worst that could happen? I could ruin a painting that I wasn't happy with anyway. So here is a photo of the "transition" that I have to say was quite scary - but at the same time strangely exhilarating!
So now it's a true portrait of "Carol"