Forget the Finishing Touches

I love Masterpiece Theater on PBS. Recently the movie Birdsong aired–a love story about a soldier on the battlefield of World War I and the lover he left behind.

Claude Renoir Writing by Pierre Auguste Renoir, lithograph, 1902/3.
Claude Renoir Writing by Pierre Auguste Renoir,
lithograph, 1902/3.

There was a scene from the movie that has stuck in my mind. The main character, Stephen, creates a quick sketch of a fellow soldier and eventually gives it to the man. The soldier, upon seeing the portrait, almost immediately asks to have it and says he’ll be sending it to his wife as she’d surely love to have it as a keepsake of him.

The power of portraiture is not in the bells and whistles that adorn it after the painting process is over. You don’t need a huge gold frame or fancy lighting to appreciate a portrait painting. Instead, what we should strive for in any portraiture attempt is a sense of the person in the likeness.

Stephen’s portrait drawings were made by quiet observation, often sitting a bit removed from his subjects and catching them unawares. I hope this doesn’t sound shifty because it really isn’t. You don’t need to have a formal session with a model to create portrait art, and sometimes those kinds of situations can make it more difficult to see a person as they really are. Oftentimes, it can be better to see the person in their natural environment or in a more casual setting–at least initially–to get a sense of their character and demeanor.

Portrait demo by Travis Schlaht, 6 x 8, oil on canvas, 2010.
Portrait demo by Travis Schlaht, 6 x 8,
oil on canvas, 2010.

You can take these observations into the studio with you for a more formal portrait painting session, but my hope is that they will liberate you from any self-imposed expectations of what is proper or expected in portraiture so you can discover how to paint a portrait your way. American Artist is a magazine committed to helping all its artist-readers find out what kind of artist they are supposed to be. With top instruction and beautiful images in every issue, a subscription to American Artist is sure to fuel your creativity and imagination while helping you hone your painting skills. And the June 2012 issue includes really compelling portrait demos–one by Daniel Greene and another by Wendy Caporale–and the July/August issue follows up with several more. 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.   

2 thoughts on “Forget the Finishing Touches

  1. Re: Framing, I think I need to bite the bullet on the framing, I did watch and use a sale to buy frames, but I also have some frames that I refinish nicely and look good , but I dont charge extra in case someone wants to reframe a piece. I would say for two of my recent sales, the frames were exceptional and I like the idea of a classy piece of art work needs a classy frame! Thanks