|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.
|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!