Oil Portrait Painting Tips 6
Capturing a person's character.
Oil portraits provide a lasting image of a person for centuries after their death. Following generations can look at the oil portrait painting and get a feel for what their ancestor was like as an individual. So it is always a good feeling to be able to provide a family with a portrait of a loved one.
Oil portrait paintings are a record of what you think you see in a person when looking at them. Try to absorb as much information about a subject as you possibly can. Look at the way they think and act, their emotional state and their attitude to others. Get a feel for their character and personality to put into the portrait painting. Look for visual clues in their face that best illustrate your personal feelings about them. These might be laughter lines or just a twinkle in their eyes.
The unique and enduring quality of portraiture lies in the artist's ability to convey the living humanity of the sitter. In order to do this the artist must capture the sitter's 'essence'. Paradoxically, though, to succeed in this he must invest something of himself. On first impression portraying a likeness may seem to be a primary consideration of portraiture. However, this carries the suggestion of realism and many portraits are not painted realistically. Moreover, while we may admire portraits made in centuries past, we have no idea whether they look like their subjects or not.
The primary task of a portrait is to produce a likeness of the sitter, but it doesn't end there, because a portrait is a painting as well, and to succeed in terms of art it must meet the usual criteria of composition, balanced color and successful rendering of three-dimensional form.
Even if you are painting a head-and-shoulders portrait, where you don't have a variety of elements to juggle with, you must consider composition, deciding what angle to paint the head from, where to crop the body and how much space to allow above the head. For a three-quarter or full length figure you will usually have to include some of the room, though a common convention for standing figures is to leave the background vague to prevent it from competing with the figure.
If you choose to make the setting a part of the composition you have the advantage of being able to provide visual clues about your sitter's interests. A portrait is not just a description of features; it should convey something of the character and atmosphere of the person as well. A device which has been used by portrait painters from Renaissance times onwards is to show the sitter with a selection of his or her personal possessions.