Thursday, April 19, 2007

Getting a Likeness Versus Capturing Emotion

Photo: Alexandria, graphite on paper, 8 x 10
After years of drawing and painting faces, since I was a child, in fact, I find it relatively easy to achieve a likeness of the person I'm "doing." Not as simple, however, is capturing the emotion I believe I see in that person. In the first place, my interpretation of what I see may be erroneous. A subject may appear to me to be serene and at peace when, in fact, melancholy may be the source of a still and quiet stare. Secondly, subjects holding a pose for an extended period tend to lose themselves in an emotionless limbo, one in which the brain seems to power down to a mindless state.
A physical likeness is essential in executing commissioned portraits, but when one is able to reflect some of the subject's inner vision, strength, or soulfulness, there is a vitality and reality to it that does not otherwise exist. There are several facets inherent in achieving this, including the pose, the lighting, the medium used, the tilt of the head, the direction of the eyes (up, down, askance, looking straight at the artist), how open or closed the eyes are, the posture of the model, the body language, the set of the mouth and the open or closed lips, how relaxed the model appears, etc. Sometimes the outcome looks mechanical; other times I feel I've captured what I was after.
The head study above, which I just completed about a week or so ago, is one in which I was satisfied that I had gotten not only a good likeness, but also a sense of the serious intelligence of this young girl as well as her sensitive romanticism. I hope to express in paint what I feel I found in graphite. I would love for this to be my version of the Girl with the Pearl Earring, after Vermeer!

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