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Old 12-23-2002, 08:59 PM   #1
Julianne Lowman Julianne Lowman is offline
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Fiasco with a great portrait




Here's a new one for me. A woman at church commissioned me to do a portrait of her for her mother's Christmas Gift. I took reference photos and in 6 hours had a completed portrait. Her only request was that I remove as many wrinkles as possible. I just presented it to her and she cried. Happy tears? NO Way! She said, "Is that how I really look? I look dead". She then showed me a photo of herself taken about 6 years ago and stated THAT was what she wanted. Well, it doesn't look anything like the woman I photographed or painted.

I realize that many people, as they get older, view themselves at a certain age, then when confronted with reality are VERY disappointed with the results. Her husband, I might add, also sees her several years younger.

My question is, how much do I tweak this portrait to suit the client? She wants the hair color changed, and to look happier (like in a "cheese" photograph).

I am very pleased with the outcome as are many mutual friends.
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Old 12-23-2002, 09:59 PM   #2
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Did your client see and approve the reference photos you used before you began painting, by any chance? I always show them a selection of photos from the photo shoot and have them initial the one or ones they would like me to paint from.

If there is anything they want me to change we discuss it very specifically before I begin painting.
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Old 12-23-2002, 11:53 PM   #3
Julianne Lowman Julianne Lowman is offline
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I usually don't do this since the reference photos are only for my reference and I don't want the client to be confused with backgrounds that will be changed, flaws in skin, messed up hair etc. Perhaps I should have done this and it would have saved me a great deal of frustration. I think she would not have approved the photos, thus preventing wasted time.
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Old 12-24-2002, 11:53 AM   #4
Margaret Port Margaret Port is offline
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Hi Julianne,

In my opinion, in her vanity, your client will probably never like her portrait, unless you work from photos of her when she was twenty years old, perhaps. I guess it depends whether she is paying you enough for you to spend much more time on it or if you need to keep in "good" with her for social reasons.

I once did a pastel portrait of a woman with strawberry blonde hair who requested a serious expression. She then posed and wriggled and laughed and moved about. Finally I had a portrait which onlookers agreed looked just like her and I was happy. Was she? No way. Would I change the hair colour, and this... and that.. etc. She then took it home for her husband to see. Back she came the next day carrying a passport photo, for changes. And the next, and the next. Meanwhile, the paper was just about worn through from the rubbings out and I finally had to concede defeat and insist that I couldn't do any more.

We can't please all of the people all of the time.

It is very frustrating!
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Old 12-24-2002, 02:44 PM   #5
Julianne Lowman Julianne Lowman is offline
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Eureka! A Solution

I pondered the issue at hand at length. An epiphany was granted along with a solution. I called the cleint and told her that the amount of changes really required a new portrait, not "tweaking" this one.

I told her that after Christmas, we would get together and take a series of new photographs (with her new hair color) and allow her to choose the photo from which her new portrait would be derived. She agreed. I honestly don't think we will ever get beyond the photo stage. And I will be off the hook.

If not, we'll both be on the same page as to the "look" she truly wants in her final portrait. I will not compromise and deliver a substandard piece of work that has my name on it for all the world to see. I think some clients see us as "servants" instead of experts in our field.

If we bend over backwards to the point of breaking our integrity, we have essentially created a work that is not our own. I like the portrait I've created and will frame it and hang it proudly in my studio.
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Old 12-24-2002, 03:16 PM   #6
Jeff Fuchs Jeff Fuchs is offline
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John Singer Sargent once said "a portrait is a painting in which there is something wrong with the mouth."

If it was true for a master, like Sargent, it must be a universal problem.
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Old 12-25-2002, 09:42 PM   #7
Jeff Fuchs Jeff Fuchs is offline
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By the way, I'm really curious now. Could you post the portrait... and the reference photo?
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Old 12-26-2002, 08:50 PM   #8
Julianne Lowman Julianne Lowman is offline
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I understand the curiosity to see the final product and reference photo, however, out of respect for this client and considering the small world in which we live, I feel it best not to post this particular painting.
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Old 12-26-2002, 11:24 PM   #9
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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Julianne,

I understand your position. You feel you captured this woman as she was, but she does not like the painting. Although you must be true to your style and your vision of the portrait, part of portraiture is making the client happy.

Everett Raymond Kinstler devoted an entire chapter in his book about this titled "Professional Attitude." I would like to quote a section from that chapter:
Quote:
Your Attitude Toward the Contract

If you choose to paint a landscape, interpreting it in whatever manner pleases you, your painting may be sold to someone who is attracted to that painting. What you paint is your decision, and the painting is sold after the fact. With portraiture, you are commissioned to produce something in advance. Once you agree to do the portrait, you are entering into a contract which can have many limitations. These limitations are challenging to me; they may not be to you.

In accepting a portrait commission it's important to remember that you have made a contract; that you are participating in an agreement and therefore have a responsibility to produce the product being commissioned. Your client has every right to expect a reasonable likeness of the subject.
Now much of Mr. Kinstler's book and this chapter especially is based on his experience and his working procedures. Since the entire chapter relates to this there is much too much for me to quote here. But the one thing that strikes me after reading your post is that the person commissioning the portrait was also the subject, and yet they never saw the painting as it progressed. How much time did you spend with the subject? How many sittings and did you paint any of it from life?

Again from Mr. Kinstler's book
[QUOTE]
Painting the Portrait

The portrait painter reacts, responds, analyzes
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Old 12-26-2002, 11:32 PM   #10
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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I am glad to hear you have planned to do a new painting and I hope things work out better this time.

I would not only let her see the photos but let her see the painting in process. I would even suggest painting some of it from a live sitting maybe for final touches at the end. It really does help make the subject feel they are part of the process. And you spend more time looking at and interpreting the person from life, not from a photo.
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