Monday, October 05, 2009

An unusual commission...

I'll be the first to say I'm no portrait painter. Painting portraits on commission (excepting the high, high dollar portrait artists) can be a frustrating task. Add to that the fact that I like expressive portraits rather than "painted photographs" (I mean - if you want an exact likeness with no brushstrokes and no "interpretation" - take a photograph!!) and it is clear why I usually turn down such work.

The small gallery where I am a resident hasn't any artists who do portraits. A couple of weeks ago there was a request from an older gentleman to have a portrait done from a photograph. That in itself was not a problem; although working from life is preferred, circumstances don't always allow for preferences. The problem was that he had a very limited budget and - the only photograph he had was a small snap-shot taken decades ago. The subject is now in her eighties and on life support. He wanted the painting done for the memorial service upon her death.

As one of the few painters there with formal training, I said I'd give it a shot.

The gentleman had had the snapshot enlarged to and 8 x 10 (shown above) - but there was very little detail and the outdoor setting put the woman in harsh sun and shade. Her mouth was open and one could not see the shape of her eyes at all - only that they were deep set. He had asked that I close the mouth and try my best to make her look her best.

After working for a few hours, I realized the eyes were impossible. I would either have to fake them - or leave them as dark blurs. And then it occurred to me to ask if she had children who looked like her! Yes!! I was able to obtain photographs of a son whose eyes were like his mother's. Ironically, the son had died many years before.

The final result is the 18 x 24 painting shown - with the lighting softened to show eye shape, and the lips brought together. It has a rather surreal "forties" quality that I like - though the stiffness of a portrait done from on photograph is rather obvious. I don't mind it much in this case though as it seems to work with the mood/style of the whole.

And best of all - the gentleman was pleased with the resulting portrait.

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