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Old 12-03-2002, 02:02 PM   #1
Julianne Lowman Julianne Lowman is offline
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Top 10 Key Elements of a Portrait




What would you state are the top 10 key elements to the perfect portrait? There seem to be so many opinions out there as to what is a great portrait, but the key elements (regardless of what ranking order) should be similar - or am I just grasping for imaginary straws - seeking a true path to perfection?
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Old 12-03-2002, 02:14 PM   #2
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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Dominance is certainly one of the keys

This does not only apply to portraits, but generally all painting:

Dominant line
Dominant direction
Dominant size
Dominant shape
Dominant texture
Dominant value
Dominant color

Unity demands dominance.
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Old 12-03-2002, 04:19 PM   #3
Peggy Baumgaertner Peggy Baumgaertner is offline
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Julianne,

This is not a question I take lightly. I have found that every (every!) master work has contained each of the elements listed below. When I do a critique or judge a composition, it is the inclusion or lack of these elements that I base my judgment on. This is what I teach. These are the criteria I hold myself to in my own paintings.

1) Composition
2) Accurate, strong drawing
3) Definite light and shadow massing
4) Three value massing
5) Correct color without losing value massing
6) Solidity, three dimensionality
7) Integration of features with anatomy and planes of the head.
8) Beautifully rendered features
9) Edges, edges, edges
10) Visceral connection between the viewer and the subject in the portrait
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Old 12-03-2002, 05:58 PM   #4
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Peggy,

I like your list a lot. I knew composition had to be number one. Could you give a few words on #4, three value massing? And maybe as it relates to #5.
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Old 12-03-2002, 07:10 PM   #5
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline
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Quote:
From an email: Hi Michael, I'm confused about your recent post regarding the top 10 elements of a good portrait. Others might be confused also. I wonder if you could clarify that for the forum. When I think of something as "dominant", it seems to me that other items would need to be less dominant. Do you mean that all these characteristics need to be equally strong?
This is one of the things I learned fairly early on from Frank Covino and I try to incorporate it into my works. Dominance is a key factor in unity in art. Works of art that display dominance in each of the areas I mentioned before generally tend to be better works because they seem to be unified and in harmony with themselves.

Here in brief, is what is meant by dominance:

Dominance of Line - Keep the lines in a piece predominantly straight or curved and don't oppose your dominant line with too many lines of the opposite. Avoid tangents.

Dominance of Direction - Your support shape generally serves to establish your dominant direction. You can enforce that dominance by incorporating elements that move in a similar direction into the composition. If your painting is a long rectangle, then long shapes in the composition will enhance the impression and dominance of direction. Always, you should try to incorporate at least one element in directional opposition to your dominate direction to add interest.

Dominance of Size/Spacial areas - We have all learned that it is generally not a good idea to equally split areas in your composition. If you divide your panel in half with your horizon, it is not nearly as interesting as if you divide it 60/40 or 80/20. In that case, one primary space is the largest and dominates the work - even if it is not the focal point of the work. This is where the golden mean can really be your friend.

Dominance of Shape - Repetition of shape within the composition is something that is often sought after. If your have a large arch at the top of the painting, then continuing that oval shape elsewhere in the painting will create a dominance of shape that is more pleasing to the eye.

Dominance of Texture - Is the painting dominantly smooth and glossy, or is it largely impasto?

Dominance of Value - Rembrandt's works are often executed in the lower value range. If value is defined as High Key, Intermediate Key, and Low Key, then a lot of Rembrandt's paintings would certainly be classified as being with the Low Key or the lower end of the value scale - dominantly darker. I believe that this is similar to what Peggy mentions as her three value grouping.

Dominance of Color - One color or color range that generally appears more than any other in the work. This also plays into dominance of warm/cool relationships.
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Old 12-04-2002, 12:50 AM   #6
Peggy Baumgaertner Peggy Baumgaertner is offline
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Quote:
I like your list a lot. I knew composition had to be number one. Could you give a few words on #4, three value massing? And maybe as it relates to #5.
Mike,

I don't know how brief I can be , but here goes.

I've posted two paintings, 19th century. These two paintings are important only in that they were the original paintings I recognized this principle in. If you go back and check out five centuries of paintings in black and white (to isolate the values) you will see the same pattern.

The light, middle and dark values are massed together. Within that value massing, the middle value, for instance, can be broken up into numerous values, from the darkest middle value to the lightest of middle values, but within the mass, it never crosses over into the light value or the dark value massing.

In this first painting, you will note that the head in the light and the cravat are the light values. The background, coat, and shadow on the side of the head are middle value. The vest is the only dark value. A very simple, very strong head.
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Old 12-04-2002, 12:52 AM   #7
Peggy Baumgaertner Peggy Baumgaertner is offline
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In this second painting, much more complicated, you can really see the beauty of this principle. The hair and skin of the figures, the man's shirt, the woman's dress, the dog, are all light value. The man's coat, the tree, his back leg, are all middle value. The man's pants, the tree behind his head, and the grass he is walking on are all the dark value.

This is the key factor. Look at the woman's dress. There is a lot of information there, folds, and detail, detail in her hair. There are dark light values, light light values, but no matter how dark the values in her dress are, they never cross the line and become as dark as the lightest middle values.

Look at the middle values of the man's coat. Again, there is a lot of detail in the coat, buttons, folds, but no matter how light the lighted middle value gets, it is still darker than the darkest light value, and the darkest middle value is still lighter than the lightest dark value.

This is what I mean by three value massing. Controlling the values into light, middle and dark values, but within those three values, you have infinite value and color choices, as long as you do not cross over into the other two values. I think this is something that every artist knew until the 20th century, and then it was forgotten. We were not taught this very basic, very elementary principle.

BTW, Mike, this is where you get to play with composition. I contend that composition is not about line, but about value massing. (Phew...I think this is enough for now).

Oh! On your question about color correction without changing value, what I mean by this is you can put any color within a value mass, as long as the color doesn't cross the line and move into a different value.

I see this frequently in the postings on this site. On the middle value shadow on the side of the face, for instance, the reflected light onto the shadow will go too light, will cross the value line and become a light value. You need to be ever vigilant that when correcting for color into a value mass, to not cross over into a different value.
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Old 12-04-2002, 02:40 AM   #8
Peggy Baumgaertner Peggy Baumgaertner is offline
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Lastly,

Here's how I apply this principle to my own work, in this black and white of Lin. Her head, body, and dog are a light value. Her dress is a dark value, and the rest of the painting is a middle value.

In the painting in the background, the entire painting is in middle values. There are no values darker the lightest dark value and no values lighter than the darkest light value. (...excuse my repeating this post of the Lin painting, but I think the principle is more easily seen when in black and white.)
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Old 12-04-2002, 11:36 AM   #9
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Peggy,

That was a great lesson. I have never heard those principles explained.

I hope you get everything you want for Christmas. If you don't, you let me know.
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Old 12-04-2002, 11:36 AM   #10
Elizabeth Schott Elizabeth Schott is offline
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Wow Julianne, this is a wonderful thread! Not only is it a print out - but a blow up and hang it on your wall thread!
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