View Full Version : pathetic portraits!!!

07-22-2000, 02:08 PM
although i can paint perfectly acceptable portraits that look vaguely human, i have trouble obtaining likeness. what can i do to help??!
this wouldnt be a major problem if i wasnt studying 'A' level art and one of my coursework pieces is on portraiture!!
aaah! help would be much appreciated about any aspect of portraiture in any medium
Many thanks!

07-22-2000, 06:55 PM
Hi LA, welcome aboard!

Obtaining a likeness is difficult. I think it was Sickert who said that a portrait is a painting with something not quite right about the mouth!

There are many factors in getting a good likeness. It might make for a more useful discussion if we could see an example. Could you post one of your portraits? Do you work from photos or life? If photo, perhaps you could post the photo as well.

Instructions on how to post an image are here (http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/Forum10/HTML/000001.html) .

best wishes


07-23-2000, 08:53 AM
Hi again!

Im working at the moment from life and usually produce a research portrait for my contextural workbook or for display on my research board in aboput 5 hours for a finished painting.
However that is in acrylics and i also do some quick sketches in about 15mins.
i have studied art for the past 6 years and have 1 more year to do to qualify for university (im 17). however this is the first year that portraits have become compulsory!!
I enjoy portraiture and painting in general, however with 2 other 'a' level subjects to study and many projects to complets for art with a full research package (including still life, design, portraiture, ceramics and soft sculpture) i have no time to sit and and practice likeness for HOURS!!which is what i usually do because i quite enjoy it!
at the moment i am trying to paint a still life which is 8foot by 6foot!!!REALISTICALLY!! and this is why i am runing out of time!!

Have you got any tips on creating a quick likeness??!! because i have the remainder of the summer to finish all the coursework that i have mentioned with research and have no time to waste!!

Thanks again!!!

07-23-2000, 09:20 AM
Originally posted by sandrafletcher:
Hi LA, welcome aboard!

Obtaining a likeness is difficult. I think it was Sickert who said that a portrait is a painting with something not quite right about the mouth!

Actually, John Singer Sargent said this.


07-23-2000, 02:32 PM
Originally posted by cagathoc:

Actually, John Singer Sargent said this.


Thanks cindy! I knew it began with an S http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif


07-27-2000, 08:04 AM
Use any information that your subject presents to help you achieve a likeness; angles of the nose and chin/jawline, shapes of the shadows, positive and negative shapes around the head, along with plumb lines and length proportions Sandi mentioned.
Many artists draw from the inside out. For example Richard Schmid starts with the eyes; getting their shapes and proportions RIGHT before going on. Then he uses these to relate other features to, building from one "right" thing to another. Good luck! Ken http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif

[This message has been edited by 4vincent (edited July 27, 2000).]

07-27-2000, 03:01 PM

thanks for your help everyone! ill have a go! thanks again!

good luck everyone else out there attempting portraits!! enjoying it is essential!!


07-28-2000, 10:31 AM
Compulsorary demands do not diminish and eliminate what must come of hard work and experience. You must work with realistic goals and understanding of reasonable outcomes.

I have tried to break into the "circuit" of portraitists that are hired to travel, sit with a client for several days..perhaps two weeks, then fly home to produce a $40,000 painting. I was "|-|" this close to getting such an opportunity with Tom Lehman, the pga pro golfer...having first attained permission thru Nike. One successful pro athlete venture no doubt would have led to others, and it was a major disappointment.

One gains the kind of confidence...that one thinks of all artists that could be contracted, the world is losing out not making use of your talents. Such confidence does not come over night.

I developed a system which someday I hope to market, (especially to art teachers thru school arts and supplies catalogs), that starts portraits not with the traditional shaping of the head working in, but beginning with the eyes working out.

I studied Leonardo DaVinci's notebooks, and studies of cadavers and realized a system of measurement was possible, a standard based upon averages..whereby each individual's unique features would immediately be noticeable. My son has capitalized on such things, and is at only 22 years of age already noted in who's who of caricature art. (An excellent artist- http://www.caricature.org look up Jason Seiler)

I will try to reason this much with you, and that is...that you can make the face too thin, too wide, too long or narrow and if the eyes look exactly like your subject...people WILL walk away impressed with your likeness. On the otherhand, if the eyes are off...no exact replication of all other features will produce such an impression. You will not receive credit as a good portraitist...period. A fine painter, yes...but not at capturing a likeness.

So...my friend... eyes...eyes...eyes!

Get a sketchbook...grab People's Magazine, and any others..and fill a sketchbook with nothing..and I mean NOTHING but eyes.

Focus your attention on the shapes of the white of the eye. The negative space. For all irises are round. That is a given. However, each person's distinctions that create their unique personality comes from the eye's white shapes.

I wish I could tell you where to proceed from there...but, I'm not prepared to give away my system until its patented and I've found someone to market it for me. Btw, if it seems hard, learning is not always easy, and respect for skill sometimes comes proportionate to the dedication required to succeed. Good luck...


"Art attacks can skill!"

07-28-2000, 02:38 PM
HI Larry

thanks for the advice! ill just try that!
i have been studying the features seperately and then trying to put them together and i have actually found that working from the eyes out is much better than from the face in!!
i have also been studying Leonardo da Vinci's "head of st anne" and "self portrait" as a good, firm starting point! i hope it works!!

Thanks again for the advice!

P.S. i would be interested to know if your idea takes off!! it sounds great! especially if u have been lucky enough to find a gap in the market!! all the best with your work! let us know how u get on with it!

Leslie M. Ficcaglia
07-28-2000, 07:48 PM
LA, when I begin a new portrait I block in the face and features first, and then refine them as I continue to work. It's easier for me to translate a three-dimensional shape onto a two-dimensional plane if I develop the skull beneath the features first, not literally but by focusing on the shapes and angles of the face and getting them down on the canvas. I find that no matter how terrific the eyes are, subtle differences in the shape of the jaw or the hairline can really throw a likeness off. One trick I've found to be very helpful is to cover up the area that I think may be deficient and see whether, once that distraction is out of the way, the likeness recovers its strength. We readily fill in the gaps when a person's face is partially masked by a scarf or a hat, and still recognize him or her, so covering up a possibly incorrect chin or jawline and seeing whether that makes a difference can be very illuminating.

Leslie M. Ficcaglia
Minnamuska Creek Studio
Portrait Gallery at http://www.igc.org/mauriceriver/riverpeople.html

Mayet Ankh
07-30-2000, 07:16 AM
When I start a portrait, I mark out the head shape lightly - just so I know it will end up the size I want. Then I draw a horizontal line halfway accross the head to mark out the eye position and a line down the middle of the head to mark the position of the nose. The first detailed thing I tackle is the eyes and eyebrow shape. This has to be correct and all the other features are worked around them. Next place a small mark where the tip of the nose will be and a horizontal line where the mouth will be. Observe width of mouth - where corners of mouth line up with eyes. After you are happy with these proportions you can work on fine tuning the features. The outline of the face can be adjusted around the features until the likeness is achieved. Well this is my method. Hope this is of some help to you. http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif

[This message has been edited by Mayet Ankh (edited July 30, 2000).]

08-20-2000, 06:28 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by LA:
although i can paint perfectly acceptable portraits that look vaguely human, i have trouble obtaining likeness. what can i do to help??!
this wouldnt be a major problem if i wasnt studying 'A' level art and one of my coursework pieces is on portraiture!!
aaah! help would be much appreciated about any aspect of portraiture in any medium

Dear Fellow Artist,

First, study with the BEST instructors you can afford or travel to...Daniel Green, Kinstler, Sanden, etc. Second, purchase the best books you can afford. Thirdly, practice, practice, practice.

As a former portraitist, I recommend balancing what people tell you to do with what you see. If you trust one or the other, trust what you SEE. Spend more time looking at the subject than at the painting surface, whether using pastel, oil, acylic, or other, etc.

Don't expect the first strokes to be final. Find your way around and let the subject tell you where things go. There are tips (rule of thirds, etc.) you can use for the facial/body structure. Study it all, then trust what you see. The character of the person will come through on their own.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
L. Diane Johnson, NAPA, PSA
LDianeJohnson.com (http://www.LDianeJohnson.com)

08-31-2000, 03:06 PM
try looking at :draw real people-lee hammond

DRAW family and friends;lee hammond

also draw real hands-lee hammond

09-01-2000, 06:24 PM
I was given a brilliant tip from critiques, try to copy the masters, and use a plumb line ruler anything to get the features in the correct place.



09-01-2000, 06:27 PM
Hi again

any possibility of seeing any of your work, I am very interested because I adore doing portraits (I'm better when I don't have to add colour - a bad sign)


09-03-2000, 12:44 AM
hi geraldine!

ummm i suppode i could post something...they arent very good tho!! http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/redface.gif
id have to figue out how to upload things first! can anyone help me there??? http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/biggrin.gif

if i ever do figure out how to do this...!!

i am actually enjoying portrature..although i do have a trouble still woth likeness! it's actually more fun now i am getting into it!!

LA http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/biggrin.gif http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/wink.gif

09-03-2000, 12:48 AM
i am also not very good at typing as you all probalby can tell from all the spelling+typing errors above!! http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/biggrin.gif

09-06-2000, 05:51 PM
Hi La

I can help you upload one of your pics.


09-09-2000, 02:13 AM
I do portraits from photos (20 or so, but I choose only ONE) that I take of the subject.
I start by blocking the dark areas if I am using a light ground, or the light areas if I am using a dark ground. It is very important to place the head correctly on the canvas and make a painting, not just a portrait, so I am very careful to have the right proportion of negative and positive shapes and do a composition that is pleasing and balanced.
I start from the large shapes and slowly get to the details...very slowly. Details can give you the illusion of likeness and lead you in the wrong direction. Look at your painting from far away...is the likeness there? Put it in front of a mirror...does it still look OK? Likeness begins with bones, the supporting structure of the face and its projected shadows. Don't make the eyes too predominant, they are not more important than the rest of the features. Mostly study the realtionship between the areas, large and small, that form that particular face...like a puzzle, eventually, all falls into place. http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif

09-09-2000, 04:52 AM
Originally posted by Sandi:
. . . The title "Pathetic Portraits" has me rushing in here, all excitedly, to show mine off too. aarrgghh. What's up with me? Does anybody else do this too?


Yes! Only I was sure someone had posted copies of my stuff and written: "How do I avoid making the same mistakes?"

Talk about no self-confidence!


If emailing me, please remove "nospam" from the email address.
Mōran taing agus mar sin leibh an-drāsda,


09-09-2000, 05:04 AM
Here's a little "trick" I use to help me see and learn the person (or any other subject, for that matter) I intend to paint:

I print out around 5-10 (sometimes more!) really light 8x10 grayscale copies of each of the photograph(s) that I intend to use or that display a characteristic of that person that I wish to capture in paint or just know more about. If you are working from real life, you can use a digital camera and take 10 or so of different poses. It doesn't take that long, really.

I then take a soft 3-6B or so pencil and "redraw" the face (tracing, really) directly on the print-outs. I go over the various parts, darken the shading, highlighting, adding this and that as I go. Picking out various interesting features, etc etc. After a while I feel like I "know" the person and can render a much better likeness for my final drawing.

Think of it as a blind man learning what a person looks like by feeling their facial features.

This especially works for me if:

a) I'm really not in the mood to paint this particular person. Hey, it happens!
b) I haven't had enough of my 32oz Super Big Gulp coffee mug in the morning http://www.wetcanvas.com/ubb/smile.gif


If emailing me, please remove "nospam" from the email address.
Mōran taing agus mar sin leibh an-drāsda,


09-09-2000, 07:37 PM
once you got the basic shapes done, and if you're using a photo,,,,,turn both photo and canvas upside down and realign your proportions. when you see the image upside down you see the shapes in abstract so you're not influenced by its reality....{M}

"it's alright to be judgmental,,,,,,,,if you have taste"...MILT

10-04-2000, 06:45 PM
Checkout "Drawing a Likeness" by Douglas R. Graves - step-by-step advice on how to successfully analyze and draw portraits.

10-10-2000, 07:16 PM
I learned to draw likenesses by "whittling" I call it. I use soft dusty old vine charcoal on strathmore paper an make the longest lines I can, right through eyes, nose corners of the mouth, do all that plumbline stuff right on the paper. Charcoal dusts off with a blow, so I don't get too attached to the drawing. I erase with a kneaded eraser or chamois, using the smudges for the shadows and erasing into the light. I like to stay UNattached so I can make the mistakes and not feel defeated. Scribble, smudge and keep as LOOSE as you can, far from the paper and it increases your objectivity.
I am learning as my work matures that I am NOT drawing eyes, or noses or mouths, but shapes of light and dark and color. I keep in mind it is a piece of paper or canvas and paints or pencils. When I get done, it is ONLY a picture, not the person. I keep a better compostition when I stay aware of the space in 2 dimensions not three.
AND work work work. The more I draw, the more I understand AND want to know. When I am ready to learn them, tips from people or books make sense to me, even tho I may have HEARD them over and over.
AND LOOK. Use your eyes as you would a pencil. Spend much more time watching the subject than the paper, you will train your hand to follow but if your eye can't observe you won't make sense of it.
This group of veterans will give you LOTS of wisdom and you sound like fertile soil. Let us see what you do and "take what you LIKE and leave the rest." (That was from Ken Kesey I THINK!) (Pretty much works everywhere, don't you think!)
Enjoy, most of all and love what you do.