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Old 07-24-2009, 10:50 AM   #1
Mike Dodson Mike Dodson is offline
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"Repeatable" Portraits

I don't want this post to come across as negative, because I have been guilty of doing the same thing, but has anyone noticed that when you go to the web-sites of most portait artist's and view all the collected icon's on the cover page you get the feeling you are looking at a photographers web page? I don't mean the level of realism but the poses. The same pose over and over. For example, all little girl looking at the camera smiling with a white dress. Judicial portraits sitting in a chair wearing a robe. A business man in a suit standing in front of his desk. The same repeatable lighting from painting to painting. If we are admirer's of the great painters of the past, what happened to the paintings of people involved in some type of activity, a group portrait with some of the subjects engaged or distracted by something going on away from the sitting or looking away. Is it a lack of time up from creating interesting compositions, a change in what clients want in a portrait from the past or are we just playing it "safe"? I just don't feel I am seeing enough variety in portfolio's vs. those of the past (including my own I might add). This is an area of my work I would definitely like to change. What are your thoughts on this?
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Old 07-24-2009, 01:42 PM   #2
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline

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Reason #1 is that I cannot get anyone to want to pose as crowning themselves....which is really unfortunate as it would make a great portrait! "When I rule the world..."

Reason #2 I think is largely due to the client's expectation. They often want a very specific look - the male wants to look successful, the female wants to look beautiful, and parent's often want children in idealistic settings more often than not, wearing nice clothes.

Reason #3 Little girls just look good in white dresses with bare feet. It is a bit like a piano standard - everyone wants to have at least one of those in their portfolio because they are just darn attractive and hit both the "expectation" and the "beauty" requirements.

My 2c.
Michael Georges
Michael's Life Drawing & Painting Blog

Regular and consistent work from life will improve your portraits.
Drawing skills are the foundation of all an artist does.
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Old 07-24-2009, 01:51 PM   #3
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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the male wants to look successful, the female wants to look beautiful
In my experience, the men also want to look beautiful and the women want to look succesful, too!
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Old 07-24-2009, 02:49 PM   #4
Stanka Kordic Stanka Kordic is offline
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Interesting topic Mike.

Yes, I do believe the term 'portrait' comes with certain expectations. In my opinion, the client often has an idea in mind, then goes in search of the artist that comes close. Rare is it to come across individuals that are totally open to whatever crazy idea the artist has in mind. They want to see most of the face, pretty smile, distinguished pose..all the points you mentioned. Oh, heavens, and we must have the likeness.

Personally, although most of my families were a joy to work with, it became exhausting to convince them to try something different, which I desperately need to be engaged in the project. For example, asking them to stand in a rose bush

I'm moving on a bit. Not saying no to commissions, but not actively seeking them out either.

Hope I'm not being too negative.
Go for what inspires you.

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Old 07-24-2009, 02:49 PM   #5
Michael Georges Michael Georges is offline

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Well and I certainly did not want to come off as sexist with my comments, so yes I think we can say that everyone generally wants to look beautiful and successful.
Michael Georges
Michael's Life Drawing & Painting Blog

Regular and consistent work from life will improve your portraits.
Drawing skills are the foundation of all an artist does.
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Old 07-24-2009, 02:57 PM   #6
Allan Rahbek Allan Rahbek is offline
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you'r right, we should not do things that are second to photos but be more inventive.

I often admire chinese painters for their mix of traditional schooling and western realism, their expressive brushwork.
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Old 07-25-2009, 12:52 AM   #7
Debra Jones Debra Jones is offline
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I was thinking the same thing recently, and spoke of it to a fellow SOG member.

I went through the National Portrait Gallery on Monday while visiting DC. I was both impressed and, in a sense bolstered by the images I saw. Yes, the icons of their success were the norm, but I was thrilled at the variety, and oddly the scale of the pieces. Perhaps the paintings on display were because there is limited room and smaller works make for greater quantity, but the scale of most of the pieces I found remarkably human. Pieces that I would actually have room for in my studio to paint.

But what I was most thrilled about was the variety. The understanding of traditional technique for maximum effect was quite visible to me. I was not so daunted as I felt I might be. I also was impressed by the range of novelty of the more contemporary portraits. Christy's portrait of MacArthur, for one:
amazingly loose, and NOT regal.

I was excited about the thought that we as the painter, have to have a voice. Perhaps it is why I am not a SUCCESSFUL, portrait painter, but these Sargents above, are all about Sargent. They are commentaries, not depictions. As portrait painters, it is necessary to have a voice in order to tell the story of our sitter.

That apparently frightening portrait of Eunice Shriver from the contest winner, was pretty nearly breathtaking in person. So far from the hand on the chair and stately setting, it was literally radiant. The Rockwell portrait of Nixon, the Shanks Reagan, such strong commentary in paint on the individual, but oddly quite accessible.

There was a time when I remember the controversy being to educate your audience so they could learn to appreciate you. I truly believe that as an individual, the approach to your client will always have an audience. If you can be honest and strong in your statement, you can find the people who want to be seen through your eyes.

Now, I really need to go find a cute little girl in white to paint.
Because some people have four legs.
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Old 07-26-2009, 12:04 AM   #8
Mary Cupp Mary Cupp is offline
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The Royal Society of Portrait Painters of Great Britain has some portraits that are refreshingly unconventional. The British seem more willing to portray themselves in unguarded moments and in casual poses - even in the portraits of very official individuals.

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Old 07-27-2009, 12:14 PM   #9
Cecelia Cox Cecelia Cox is offline
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Thank you for giving us the link to this site! They really are refreshing and unique. Definitely not cookie cutter. I do think it's possible to have a beautiful, original approach to the barefoot little girl in the white dress, and I've seem many beautiful examples, but wouldn't it be wonderful if more clients were open to more original ideas? I wonder why the British seem more open to stylistic variation?
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Old 07-27-2009, 06:41 PM   #10
Debra Rexroat Debra Rexroat is offline
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Back in the late 70's and early 80's I supplemented our income by doing wedding cakes. While I could do the most wonderful original masterpieces in cake and icing, most brides were reluctant to do anything but the most basic designs that you could get from any bakery. My portfolio was full, however, of original designs and the use of unconventional flowers and colors from those weddings where I was able to convince the bride that if I was given license to use my creativity they would have a cake to remember. If it was that hard sell for a cake, which has a temporary life-span, selling the highly original portrait is likely more difficult. I think having a few examples in the portfolio are a must when trying to push the envelope on the standard.

I personally find the casual, almost candid, portraits to be the most engaging. And I have seem some wonderful ones here.
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