What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
by art_composition , April 3, 2010—12:00 AM
In creating portraits an artist has a lot of points to tie into reality and produce a recognizable person. Individual faces are so distinctive that properly done a caricature is as recognizable as a photorealistic portrait. Distinctive features such as full lips, an upturned nose or one that has been broken, a dimple, a jutting chin, thin or heavy brows and the like come in an almost infinite number of combinations to make faces memorable.
But how do we recognize a person from a distance, or how do we recognize a person portrayed with a three inch expanse of paint pigment? These details from a wedding painting I did in watercolor fit that category. You cannot paint facial details. That would simply result in a cartoonish or grotesque look. It all has to be implied in the whole figure of the person. Clues such as hair length and color, height related to other figures nearby, and a light or heavy build help. The best clues, however, come from each person__™s characteristic body language. The way he slouches in thought with arms folded, the way she reaches up and touches that lock of hair, the long swing of those arms and legs in that rapid, loose jointed walk, the erect posture, the arms that reach to the toddler__™s shoulders time and again in a guardian__™s gesture, the lifted chin, and so forth. Finding these personal details is how you create real people instead of stick figures in a painting. It is how you get acquaintances to look at those squiggles on the paper or canvas and say, ___Why, that__™s so-and-so!___
How do you find these key movements and stances that are such a part of humanity? You have to really see people. The best way to better see the world around you is to draw it. Draw people everywhere, unposed people doing all sorts of things, including ___nothing___. Your gesture drawings will help your better understanding of the complex vocabulary of body language. You may not have time for more than a squiggle before a stance is changed. Another may repeat the same shrug so many times that you begin to feel those shoulders rise and fall and start to notice the way the hands spread at the same time. A coffee house patron may be lost in a book or keyboard and scarcely move except for the hand that occasionally reaches out for the cup while the eyes never leave their point of interest. Of course, you want to try capturing the people you know best in their most typical movement. The more time you spend drawing, the more solid use you can get from photos. You will even use the shadows in them better, because you will understand their relationship to the form all the more and you will have looked closely enough at the figures you draw to know that the camera tends to darken shadows and lose the tints within them.
If you see yourself as primarily a colorist and prefer to project or trace your images from photographs rather than perfect your drawing skills, in my opinion you would still benefit in the observational powers that sketching people will develop. Your drawing may not be one you would want to show others, but you will see more completely and accurately for your efforts.