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Old 04-15-2006, 12:21 PM   #1
William Whitaker William Whitaker is offline
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Go for excellence in portraiture

The world of contemporary portraiture is much too dependent on photography. Far too many practitioners can
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Old 04-15-2006, 02:40 PM   #2
Carol Norton Carol Norton is offline
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To In-spire

[QUOTE]The world doesn
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Old 04-18-2006, 08:45 AM   #3
Ngaire Winwood Ngaire Winwood is offline
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Amen Bill

Professionals like yourself are our esteemed mentors and inspiration and we so often soften the gratitude you so very well deserve for your presence in this forum and other sites on the web where you so freely share your wealth of knowledge to us all. One day I hope we can share the burden in educating the public and educational institutions to see through our eyes.

I am constantly awe struck by the amount of unknown masters that has come before us on sites like ARC. The wealth of knowledge and real artistic history that has been refused its place in historical accounts because our esteemed art critiques/art houses/sellers like Salons and places such as Christies etc continue to be allowed to manipulate the public with their unqualified consultations and courses in modern and leading edge investment art. I believe our earnest is certainly due more credence towards educating the public into real artistic skills and the push must come from the professionals with the students supporting in the shadows but increasingly growing in numbers. The lifetime of skills developed by our forefathers to produce their majestic artworks cannot be understood by a mere voice in one or two editorials or by winning a few prizes, the awareness must come from continual publicity and advertising with the tables turning only when the majority of art competitions actually cater for a traditional/classical section and our institutions actually teaching skillful art. Publicity can be manipulated to our advantage, if we speak frequently and loud enough.

I certainly will be doing my bit at every opportunity and am open to new ideas to help popularise skillful artworks. We certainly have more avenues, technologies and events than in anytime in our history to increase the reputation of skillful art. What's stopping us taking this advantage? Numbers? Voices?
Ngaire Winwood
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Old 04-18-2006, 01:06 PM   #4
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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I always listen carefully to what Bill says, I think I've read everything he's written in the forum.
I cannot always hire a model to sit for me, so I follow Caravaggio's example on exercising with a mirror. I love to work from life, it gives me a pleasure that I cannot explain in words, I take advantage of every single opportunity to work from life.
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Old 04-18-2006, 09:00 PM   #5
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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I have drafted and now deleted three pretty long posts for this thread, because I have some strong feelings about the wisdom that Mr. Whitaker has offered. What the heck, here goes.

My opportunity to receive the training in the classical fundamentals was so far beyond my means and experience and ability that I worked in embarrassment, albeit very earnestly so, for years and yet will simply always feel blessed by it, even if I have made less of it than I might have. I paid a very high price for that opportunity, and only in retrospect can I say "gladly."

Fact is, most of the reference photographs I've seen on the Forum have been awful, sorry to have to say, though I don't often assume the role of curmudgeon here. And though those photos provided convenient excuses for the resultant flaws in the paintings, the fact is that the reference photographs revealed the (lack of) artistic sensibilities of the artist, not an aesthetic failure of the subject. If the artist had known what he or she was after, in terms of fundamentals, the photo would not only have likely been perfect, but it would have been unnecessary.

When I came on board the Forum many years ago, it was the case that even to admit you'd copied a photo was something you protected from disclosure. Now, a few competitive years later, we're proudly displaying our photography skills and our ability to copy those intermediary renderings.

I work for a publishing company whose competitor stole our editorial stuff for years, in the early Internet anything-goes days -- let's call that competitor the Smith Corp. -- and it happened that we produced a t-shirt with an image of a photocopy machine with the legend, "The Smith Editorial Department."

Sadly, that's the level that we're working at when giving up on life, on the real thing, and just copying an intermediate rendering already produced in another flawed, however instrinsically beautiful, medium. Nothing wrong with photographs, but you can't train your eye that way.

If one simply cannot find models -- family members, paid street urchins, kaffeeklatsch sipping buddies -- and, so, cannot proceed save by artifice . . . it may be best to stop. Many schools continue to offer degrees in accounting and archaeology, as well as studio art.

Or continue in portraiture, for the self-fulfillment of it. But don't wonder why your fiddle doesn't play Bach, while you go to book club. Or why the absence of a photograph leaves you completely unable to work.
Steven Sweeney

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Old 04-19-2006, 03:09 AM   #6
Geary Wootten Geary Wootten is offline
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Understanding Need


What a great thing you have posted. It's a much needed spark for me. I need to hear this because I use photographs in about 90% of my illustration work and in my brand spankin new portrait commission work. But, here it is! Your statement for us to grab something really special. We are now admonished to reach and strive for that one-in-a-million prize of having the skill to completely do portraiture that captures a striking likenes of the subject without the use of photos - at all. This is obviously a gem to dig for with great lust and fervor that includes many hundreds and thousands of painstaking practice hours.

But, I perceive an already mentioned dilemma with regard to doing what has been laid before us. For instance, nearly 100% of the full time professionals I see use photo references to get the work done. In fact, I see all but one here in this thread (so far) that states quite clearly in their websites and on posted works in the other sections, that specifically use photos in their portraits. And I believe we all would know why. It's as Sharon just stated. "It's what the client wanted."

So, my question to myself is, what do I do....use the photos for my "day job" then, practice like a maniac at every other spare moment for the true prize of mastering a pure free hand?

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Old 04-19-2006, 01:45 PM   #7
Patricia Joyce Patricia Joyce is offline
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Babe in the Woods Speaks

I have taken two Marvin Mattelson workshops and painted from life, twice. What an incredible experience, what beautiful colors to observe under good lighting, FROM LIFE.

Having made the decison to seriously begin my studies in portrait painting, I am moving to Gainesville, GA, to live as cheaply as one can. And I am not taking a computer. And I only own a small cheap digital camera, so in essence will not have a camera to use.

There will be no laptop next to my easel.

I hope I will find models to pose for me, or at least a good mirror! Why wouldn't any serious student want to learn as the masters she so admires? I think it will be absolutely necessary to learn from life before thinking of learning how to use reference photography.

I have read about many artists' studio set ups and practices here over the years. The system that makes the most sense to me is to have the client sit intitially, mainly to learn the subject and then to have a strong color study. Then one can utilize photography as an aid in executing the painting (few clients can or are willing carve out time for several live sittings). Towards the end of the painting call back the client for one more sitting, to review and readjust any color discrepancies.

I am a relative babe in the woods with painting, but I do not believe I am being too idealistic. I have seen paintings receive oohs and ahhs that simply look like copied photographs, right down to some obnoxious chotsky on a table in the background just because it was in the photo. Where is the breath of life, one searches for and hopes to find in a work of art?
Pat Joyce
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Old 04-19-2006, 02:55 PM   #8
Richard Bingham Richard Bingham is offline
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I hope everyone who takes portrait commissions is at heart striving to produce something "more" than a "mere likeness" or a correct image.

The constraints of portraiture for pay can well nigh strangle freshness of vision and creativity: issues of "likeness" in agreement with the patron's eye, their preferences (or demands) for pose, setting and aesthetics, the difficulty of finding and scheduling time for life sittings, and so on.

I feel photo references are a "necessary evil", and would like to know how others manage this aspect of the problem. I also feel that past a certain point, there's too much emphasis on technicality in this field and perhaps not enough on aesthetics.
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Old 04-19-2006, 03:02 PM   #9
Tito Champena Tito Champena is offline
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I share the same thoughts

"Reference photo" is the name for an excuse for painting from a flat surface to another flat surface and then wonder if one has achieved the "likeness". I believe that to achieve a 100% likeness is better to leave the photo alone. Rembrandt had some of his portraits rejected because of not having sufficient "likeness" . Singer Sargent would care less about an absolute "likeness", he painted his sitters taller and beautiful and no sitter got mad at him for not getting the "likeness". If you had seen the actual photos of some of the famous people he painted, you will notice how different they were from his portraits. I do agree that nobody should try to paint realistically if one is not sufficiently skilled with drawing, but this skill should be used to make an artistically beautiful painting and not as a substitute for the camera. Rembrandt and Sargent were skillful enough to have rendered photo-realistic pictures and yet they refused to do so. The goal or objective of a painter should be only one: to get better. To me, the search for perfection had nothing to do with the artist's professional or commercial goals. Whether a painting is beautiful or ugly does not depend on having achieved a likeness or not, but on whether the painting as a whole, inspires emotions on the onlooker or not. Nobody knows how the real Gioconda's wife used to look, because there are no photographs of her, but Leonardo's famous Mona Lisa still overwhelms me.
Tito Champena
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Old 04-19-2006, 05:30 PM   #10
Louise T. Dailey Louise T. Dailey is offline
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Thank you for this post. I have been thinking about this issue myself lately. I use photos. I used to trace them, but I have begun to break myself of that crutch, in the pursuit of stretching myself to prove (to myself) just how serious I am about all of this. Most of my clients don't have the least bit of interest in sitting for me, but I have talked a blessed few into sitting for at least part of the process. People are surprised that I even request this much, and I find myself reminding them that that was how it was done when the world's most memorable portraits were created. My relatively little bit of work from life has taught me SO much for the time that I put into it, I wouldn't give anything for it. I always appreciate your posts, and I have a lot of respect for you as an artist.
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