Modern Portrait Painting RSS

51 Oil Portraits from Life: Community Remains part 4, artists identity
The questions of wearing spectacles came up quite a bit in the portrait sessions. In general, painting someone wearing glasses is considerably more challenging than painting them without glasses. It isn't the frames themselves that make it a challenge but the actual prescription of the eyewear that distorts facial features that can be problematic. However, people who always wear glasses rather than just on occasion or as an accessory, can be difficult to identify even for their closest loved ones without their glasses. I left the choice up to the sitters and gave myself a little more time after our painting session to those who felt their eyeglasses were an essential part of their looks or identity.
51 Oil portraits from life: Community Remains part 3, the intuitive slow art of seeing
One of the reasons realistic modern portrait painting is challenging, particularly in our age dominated by photographic imagery, is that there is very little room for error, or even interpretation, when capturing likeness of  a specific human being. If an eye painted a millimeter too large or small, or a nose is missing a certain bump or specific slope, the entire image can unravel into a portrait of someone else. A simple selfie provides the sitter and viewers a far more precise and culturally "reliable" representation of my subject. However, "likeness . . . is certainly a different thing from what a photograph gives, which may or may not present a very true sense of the subject" points out Oregon artist George Johanson in his book Equivalents, Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists. "One's physical image seems changeable . . . The closer and more carefully one looks, the more the face changes from one viewing to the next" (11).
51 Oil portraits from life: Community Remains part 2, precedent and process

I usually start my portraits by sketching with a thin layer of oil color and solvent, and a tiny bit of linseed oil. This dry brush layer is translucent and easy to wipe off for needed corrections. Anderson uses a neutral mix, but I find myself gravitating to a warmer pigment in the underpainting. Beneath all our varied melanin producing skin cells our human flesh is red, pulsing with life giving blood. Lately I've favored Gamblin's Transparent Earth Red for this sketching under-layer of my painted skin tones. Red ochre has long been used by artists to depict the magic of being alive. The Gamblin color is a synthetic red oxide; I enjoy its greater vibrancy as compared to its ochre-based counterparts like burnt sienna or yellow ochre.

51 Oil Portraits from Life: Community Remains, part 1 commencement of a dream
The first art school critique of my modern portrait paintings made it apparent that accurately representing my subjects on canvas was not enough to engage academic viewers. While I'd had relative success engaging the sentimentality of a conservative audience, the contemporary art scene was a world apart. Professors educated during the sixties and seventies held on to the "common critical trope" rejecting "the importance of portraiture to modernist art (West 187). I received even more push-back from graduate students who felt representational portraits were "anachronistic, inert, [and] crusty - a form of vanity exclusive to the rich" (Patrovich).