Putting your best FACE forward
Certain expressions are better for portraits than others. In choosing a source photo from which to work, it’s crucial to think of the subject’s character and what you want to say about her-him, but it’s equally important to pick an expression that will work well in paint.
I like to paint using a photograph which has a certain dynamism or activity, but I’m careful to avoid choosing an image that can only ever read as frozen time. In other words, I tend to look for a moment that a person could comfortably inhabit for more than that moment. This often means that I work with transitional expressions: not quite at rest or neutral, but not in a full-blown smile (for example) either.
Of course, avoiding the bigger expressions means working with the subtlest of subtleties, where each brush stroke changes the meaning of a face.
In this portrait of my sister-in-law Wendy, I’m looking for the quiet amusement before her laughter.
It’s a reflective but very warm smile…
...and it’s that warmth which I’m struggling to capture as I build up the layers.
Here, the lower half of her face is slightly too tall, and it gives the smile a sort of sarcastic know-it-all feel—very far from the mark!
I’m starting to sort out the coloring in this image, but the portrait still doesn’t have the right feel.
Finally, I’ve managed to make the portrait warmer in its expression. Wendy actually looks a bit like her daughter Sara in this image.
Here Wendy seems like she’s holding in her laughter (or like her mouth is full of water that she’s about to spray in your face!). It’s too much—too strained—but with a little more work…
...the completed portrait reveals the Wendy I know.