July 21, 2012 12:15 pm Leave your thoughts


I’ve become more and more interested in portraiture as of late, and Liz’s friend Tess was kind enough to provide me with a subject for my second portrait in years. I saw this picture of her and it immediately recalled a favorite Gustave Klimt painting of mine called “Judith and Holofernes”, based on the story of a beautiful Israeli widow who seduces and beheads an Assyrian general, saving her native city of Bethulia from being destroyed by the Assyrian army. The heavy lidded eyes, large ornate silver earrings and the generally intoxicating feeling I got from this photo of Tess to me all hinted at elements I liked in the Klimt painting, and suggested a wonderful source for a portrait.

I finished the final painting in 3 days, but sketched, worked on studies and thought about how I wanted to execute it for weeks. All in all I am fairly happy with how it came out but of course I also have a heightened sense for all the mistakes that might not be so obvious to others. Most of these mistakes, however, I’m able to look past as the source photo I used was pulled from Tess’s facebook page and measured at about 140px by 140px. To help you visualize, it was about as large as my logo in the upper left hand corner of this page and extremely pixelated, but I was too attached to the photo to choose another one and it provided me with the challenge of creating something lifelike using very little visual information.

The most fascinating aspect of portraiture to me is it’s incredible sensitivity to minor changes, probably due to how ingrained the archetype of the human face is in our brains. Unlike an apple or a landscape, one small stroke in a portrait can turn a beautiful women into a deformed woman, and you are constantly walking that fine line as you work which can obviously be a very nerve-wracking experience, especially when you’ve done something you like and you have to then work around it. I can’t yet decide which is worse: continuing to wallow in an ugly, one-dimensional portrait or achieving something you’re happy with only to destroy it while trying to enhance it. It’s very similar to gambling: do I stay where I am and settle for good or do I risk everything for great?

I also learned the value of stepping away from a portrait (which is of course a good rule of thumb for any painting) in order to see it more objectively. Aside from the challenge of creating form while simultaneously capturing the correct skin tones (one of the most difficult things for me) I was constantly surprised and dispirited to find that what I thought was a proportional, symmetrical face was actually terribly lopsided after stepping away for 2 hours and coming back. Whatever the reason, it made me more and more distrustful at every stage that what I was seeing was actually what was there.

In the end, this second portrait forced me to confront these issues and hopefully prepared me for even better portraits to come…

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This post was written by mryczek

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