Do It with a Stranger

Eva Mullarky by Kristin Künc, oil on linen, 9 x 13, 2011.
Eva Mullarky by Kristin Künc,
oil on linen, 9 x 13, 2011.

Portrait Painting–Where to Start

I can be a really hard sell when it comes to portraiture because from a beginner painter's perspective, I'm not always sure how to get the most out of a portrait painting session. So I wanted to talk to a close friend and amazing portrait artist, Kristin Künc, about her portraiture teaching and painting practice to get some insights into how to get the most out of any portrait I decide to paint and how to make one a cut above the rest.

"An interesting hairdo." As an artist who has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours working, Künc stresses that you can't underestimate the importance of eye-catching. If you are doing just a standard head and shoulders portrait with no background, then encourage the model to bring an interesting accessory to wear during the session. It could be a scarf, earrings, a necklace, or even a unique hairdo. As long as it catches the eye, you are on the right track.

"Shy, or outgoing, or strange." A strong advocate for getting to know your model—even if just setting aside a few minutes before the session for a brief conversation—Künc encourages her students to paint the model the way they are. If they are shy—don't have them look directly out. If they have a bolder disposition, they can look right at you. If the person is strange or has a peculiar way about them, use more dramatic lighting to accentuate their expression in a way that heightens their look.

"Sounds old fashioned, but…" Künc says that the one thing that differentiates a great portrait is whether or not the underlying drawing for it is good. If not, it won't matter how great the colors are or how interesting the brushwork is. Another key necessity is a good light source where the lights and shadows are clearly distinguished on the face.

Portrait of Deiter by Kristin Künc, oil on linen, 10 x 12, 2011. Portrait of the Fortune Teller by Kristin Künc, oil on linen, 9 x 13, 2010.
Portrait of Deiter
by Kristin Künc,
oil on linen, 10 x 12, 2011.
Portrait of the Fortune Teller
by Kristin Künc,
oil on linen, 9 x 13, 2010.
Kristin Künc, oil on linen, 10 x 12, 2011.
Hill Girl by Kristin Künc, oil on linen, 10 x 12, 2009.

"Get someone off the street." Künc mentioned this to me in a tongue-in-cheek way, but she went on to explain that what she meant was that when learning to do portraits, it can be really helpful to not paint your family members, children, husband, or wife. These are the people who are apt to be most critical, and that can be hard to take when starting out. If it is a friend or stranger, you won't be emotionally attached and can approach the painting relaxed and not worried, freeing yourself to make mistakes and learn from them.

For Künc, portraiture is a way of challenging herself and simultaneously doing what she loves, and isn't that all of us really want? So if you want to further explore all that portraiture has to offer, you might be interested in the Chris Saper's Professional Portraiture Collection with art-instruction videos on classic portrait painting, painting skin tones, and painting portraits in cool light. Enjoy!

 

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

10 thoughts on “Do It with a Stranger

  1. Courtney, I have always enjoyed your comments, but did you really have to have the teaser, “Do it with a stranger?”. Couldn’t there have been a more tasteful header?

  2. “family members most critical”?
    I gave my dad a “Bob Ross” painting for Christmas. First time in oil, didn’t have his “Liquid white” (or even basic oil medium), an oil painting kit a previous painter in our group left behind (no brushes, half the paint tubes wouldn’t unscrew and I had to open them from the bottom end, huge variation in thickness from one tube to the next). Every frustration I had to deal with in acrylic, and it’s wet forever, to boot. Suffice it to say, the result didn’t look much like a Bob Ross, and I almost didn’t give it to him. My dad (who “wouldn’t give $5” for many of the large-format paintings appraised on Antiques Roadshow) thought it was “pretty good” and it now lives in our kitchen (as yet unframed and unvarnished).

    Meanwhile, I did an ink drawing of Mark Twain, thought it was fairly decent, and took it to the fair–well, the judge (no indication she realized it was Mark Twain) thought his tie was bad. And she also thought my self-portrait of me on horseback when I was ten (a painting I wouldn’t have attempted even a year earlier) wasn’t bad “for a beginner.” (We’re talking about a judge that’s giving blue ribbons to art where it’s obvious the painter had no understanding of color temperature, lost and found edges, eye movement, or even basic value.)

  3. I would like to offer some food for though on the criticism of the heading on Courtney’s post: I served on a political action committee for local candidates, and at one of the meetings we pondered on what to use for a “slogan” to use on handouts, and agreed on, “Do it with ______”, followed by goals, such as: Do it with _______ to increase the school budget; Do it with ______to sponsor seminars for drug education for parents of children of all ages in the school system …etc… etc… We had not associated it with the sexual implication until it was subsequently brought to our attention by one of the candidates. So, I would consider giving Courtney a pass on this one.
    As to the article itself, I was glad to be introduced to a painter whose style caught my attention, and prompted me to read and research further – with thanks to Courtney for this.

  4. I would like to offer some food for though on the criticism of the heading on Courtney’s post: I served on a political action committee for local candidates, and at one of the meetings we pondered on what to use for a “slogan” to use on handouts, and agreed on, “Do it with ______”, followed by goals, such as: Do it with _______ to increase the school budget; Do it with ______to sponsor seminars for drug education for parents of children of all ages in the school system …etc… etc… We had not associated it with the sexual implication until it was subsequently brought to our attention by one of the candidates. So, I would consider giving Courtney a pass on this one.
    As to the article itself, I was glad to be introduced to a painter whose style caught my attention, and prompted me to read and research further – with thanks to Courtney for this.

  5. I would like to offer some food for though on the criticism of the heading on Courtney’s post: I served on a political action committee for local candidates, and at one of the meetings we pondered on what to use for a “slogan” to use on handouts, and agreed on, “Do it with ______”, followed by goals, such as: Do it with _______ to increase the school budget; Do it with ______to sponsor seminars for drug education for parents of children of all ages in the school system …etc… etc… We had not associated it with the sexual implication until it was subsequently brought to our attention by one of the candidates. So, I would consider giving Courtney a pass on this one.
    As to the article itself, I was glad to be introduced to a painter whose style caught my attention, and prompted me to read and research further – with thanks to Courtney for this.

  6. I would like to offer some food for though on the criticism of the heading on Courtney’s post: I served on a political action committee for local candidates, and at one of the meetings we pondered on what to use for a “slogan” to use on handouts, and agreed on, “Do it with ______”, followed by goals, such as: Do it with _______ to increase the school budget; Do it with ______to sponsor seminars for drug education for parents of children of all ages in the school system …etc… etc… We had not associated it with the sexual implication until it was subsequently brought to our attention by one of the candidates. So, I would consider giving Courtney a pass on this one.
    As to the article itself, I was glad to be introduced to a painter whose style caught my attention, and prompted me to read and research further – with thanks to Courtney for this.

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