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Old 05-10-2008, 02:56 PM   #1
Clayton J. Beck III Clayton J. Beck III is offline
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A likeness, why the difficulty?




These are some thoughts I have on the subject of likeness and the difficulty even the most accurate drawing can bring.

Much of our ability to recognize other people may also be a result of our emotional response upon seeing them. If we don't have a familiar feeling perhaps we may not recognize this person even though their faces are similar to the way it was upon the last meeting. Some people I believe recognize other people more from a mechanical-mathematical type of recognition of measurements of faces and others perhaps their emotional response to them. I think this may explain why portrait artists will receive different judgments about their work from various people. Simply because the artist has chosen a particular response that they had to the subject in their own particular way and if the artist's vision doesn't match the viewer's, little connection is made between the viewer and the artwork being viewed. Often times, I believe, the sitter's emotional response to the artist and the artist's emotional response to the sitter so strongly comes out on the canvas and is so unique to that situation that others may not recognize or see a likeness in the face of the sitter simply because they've never seen the sitter in that situation. I believe this explains much of the poorly received and dissatisfactory results of some portrait sessions. The artist can only paint his point of view and if that point of view does not match the viewer's then the resulting portrait is often deemed a failure. The portrait itself may be mechanically perfect and the result still dissatisfactory. I believe this is often the case when lesser artists project and trace an image onto a canvas with no understanding whatever of perception and likeness and end up with a poor portrait as a result.

I teach my students many methods including the traditional systems of drawing such as perspective, anatomy, line and mass, gesture and rhythm. As skill develops I try to instill in my students the idea that skill is not the only thing they're going to need. I tell them not to forget that their subject is a human being and that you also are human being not just a recording instrument. Your subject is not a still life. You have a visceral reaction to your subject on so many levels it would be a shame to only try to capture the coldly analytical "camera-like" image that so often pass is as great art these days. If one's skills are developed enough and one's response to the subject is clear enough, great things are possible on the canvas.

I would hope that the following example is more than a 'likeness' as it is my daughter.

"Renata" 26" x 32" Oil on Linen. One session.
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Old 05-10-2008, 04:25 PM   #2
Carlos Ygoa Carlos Ygoa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Clayton J. Beck III
Often times, I believe, the sitter's emotional response to the artist and the artist's emotional response to the sitter so strongly comes out on the canvas and is so unique to that situation that others may not recognize or see a likeness in the face of the sitter simply because they've never seen the sitter in that situation. I believe this explains much of the poorly received and dissatisfactory results of some portrait sessions. The artist can only paint his point of view and if that point of view does not match the viewer's than the resulting portrait is often deemed a failure. The portrait itself may be mechanically perfect and the result still dissatisfactory.
I think this is the whole key to the thing, and I could not have said it better. I have had this exp
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Old 05-10-2008, 04:27 PM   #3
Carlos Ygoa Carlos Ygoa is offline
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PS

By the way SPECTACULAR PIECE YOU POSTED, CLAYTON!!!!
Composiotion, execution, everything about it is masterful.
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Old 05-10-2008, 06:36 PM   #4
Allan Rahbek Allan Rahbek is offline
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Great subject, Clayton,

I believe that the factor in question is body language. The body language of a person we knows will be recognized in a glimpse if it is there in the painting. Always listen to the mother.

When a painter takes on a commission, to do a portrait, it might be an awkward situation, at first, depending on his routine, and he may unintentionally provoke a defensive body language from the sitter. Or the sitter might feel uncomfortable for other reasons.

Many things can go wrong if the "team" does not manage to relax and loosen up and the result can be that the painter never gets the expression he would want.

This is particularly a problem if the painter only sees the client shortly for a phot.....you know, and even worse if the painter is presentet for an old snapshot and ordered: PAINT !!!!

I remember, reading about Sargent, that he would espect a likeness from the very beginning of a portrait if it were to be successful.

Your daughters portrait is very elegant, I like the composition and the vignette character.
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Old 05-10-2008, 07:03 PM   #5
Clayton J. Beck III Clayton J. Beck III is offline
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Thanks Allan,
You are absolutely right about body language. When I'm working with a model for the first time often it is a bit awkward in the beginning. Inevitably as I tell the model to take a break they will always fall into a pose that is much more natural for them and that's when the real work begins. I often am given (and probably take) too much credit for the poses I have my models in. If there something I could probably take credit for it is recognizing a good pose when I see one. If I had to "set up" every pose that I did, my limited imagination would probably cause me to repeat myself over and over again without realizing it.

I see this done far too often with figurative artists. I can tell in most instances whether or not the pose was the artists idea or the models idea. This isn't limited to modern work. It is quite evident throughout the history of painting. I've been asked on more than one occasion to write a book on how to pose a model. I find this impossible as 99% of the time my contribution to the pose is something as simple as "could you move your arm to the left the little". I do take credit for the setup though. Before a model comes in I make a definite effort to set up a scene as far as lighting and arrangement of large values and colors and textures. Occasionally my setup will be torn apart and rebuilt as my original idea was wrong but most of the time it seems to work out well for me. Simple ideas of lighting and arrangement of pleasing patterns and textures are usually enough to spark quite a bit of creativity once the model arrives and we begin searching for a pose. This all goes back to the idea of there being a symbiotic relationship between my subject and myself. Before the model shows up I literally have no idea what the pose will be but I do have an idea of what the painting will be. Once the model shows up and we begin working I realize occasionally that I have completely misjudged the character of this particular person and my setup will not work. I never try forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Once again, you are absolutely right about body language playing such an important part in "recognizing" a person. Therefore body attitude should be added to the idea of what a likenesses. Thank you again Allan.
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Old 06-23-2008, 04:32 PM   #6
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Hi Clayton,

I don't know I missed this thread!

I think all of the commments in this thread are very insightful, and the importance of subtlety in what comprises "likeness" is on the money.

I can speak from personal experience as I sat for one of Clayton's demos, and he carried on a conversation with me the WHOLE time, and kept me laughing. I kept thinking, doesn't he want me to try to stay STILL?!

Your daughter's portrait is gorgeousBTW!
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Old 06-23-2008, 05:12 PM   #7
Clayton J. Beck III Clayton J. Beck III is offline
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Hi Chris,
A lot of fun painting you. As you know, if I had asked you to 'sit still' then I never could have come up with the natural looking expression I think I captured.

I learned a long time ago that the likeness is less in measuring and more in arrangement. Many parts of the face are mobile and therefore unlikely to be measured well. Besides, if I want to do a still life, I'll set one up. The fun in painting is the relationship I have with my subject. Isn't that what it's all really supposed to be about anyway.

Thanks for contributing!
Clayton
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Old 06-23-2008, 07:40 PM   #8
Thomasin Dewhurst Thomasin Dewhurst is offline
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Very lovely and energetic painting, Clayton. Wonderful composition and, again, great use of black in such a Franz Kline way. Splendid!
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