Unexpected Approaches to Portrait Painting
ARTIST DAILY August 13, 2014
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Can a Caricature Help My Portrait Painting?
The Grimaces by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1823,
lithograph, 13 1/8 x 10.
Awhile ago I was in the Met and saw "Infinite Jest," an exhibition of drawings and prints that explore satire and caricature from the Italian Renaissance to the present. I enjoyed the show, walking around and chuckling at several of the drawings, but nothing really spoke to me, and yet weeks later the images from the show are popping into my head as if I had seen them just this morning.
I've been puzzling over why that could be and came to the conclusion that even though caricature is a completely different category of portraiture, it uses the same strategies that can make fine art portrait painting and portrait drawings memorable.
At its most essential, a caricature is an exaggeration or distortion of a person's physical characteristics, but it is still a study of a person's physicality. We've all seen the boardwalk artists at the beach who draw quick caricature sketches in a handful of minutes. The artist gets the shape of the face and accentuates two or three physical features of the sitter and voila, a caricature.
Caricature of a Woman in a Large Hat
by Enrico Caruso,
1920, 14 x 20,
pencil drawing. Senator Dolph of Oregon
by Thomas Nast,
1894, pencil drawing with ink,
13 1/2 x 10 1/4.
Although fine art portraiture takes longer to create, a portrait painter still uses the same approach. First, it is essential to get the shape of the head right. This is a crucial step because it determines how the head sits on the neck and leads into the torso, and how the features sit on the face. Think of how you are able to recognize a friend or acquaintance from across the street. The same rule applies for a portrait; the sitter will be recognized first from their big ol' noggin.
With a caricature, the artist will usually exaggerate a person's features�eyes, lips, chin, ears, or hair, even freckles or big eyelashes. It always varies, but usually the artist doesn't emphasize everything and only select one or two features for the biggest impact. Fine art portrait artists should work in the same way. Not in terms of exaggerating the size or proportion of a person's features, but drawing attention to certain aspects of a person with color, light and shadow, and strokes.
For me, looking at a model and first thinking of how I'd draw their caricature can really open up my mind to what I'd showcase in their portrait. And, just like the caricatures that stood out in my mind weeks after I'd seen them, a portrait that visually "heightens" certain aspects of a person's looks will certainly stand out from the crowd. For more on what goes into painting an excellent portrait and how to capture a person's likeness, Alain Picard's Successful Pastel Portraits Value Pack is a great all-in-one resource. Enjoy!
Online Editor, Artist Daily