My son's graduation photos came in the mail this week. "Complimentarily retouched" to perfection, his skin as smooth as a Ken doll's, it struck me that he looked like so many awful painted portraits that I've seen. The Photoshopping tech had created an even, unrelieved surface where, in life, there are tiny colour, temperature and value changes, maybe even a blemish or two. With a complete lack of understanding for how a human face works, the well-meaning fixer had dehumanized my boy, making him fit to play a robot in a futuristic movie. Or to be on the cover of a glossy magazine with all the other retouched humans.
I've seen portraits that look the same. Slaved over for days and weeks, the faces in these paintings never ring true: the parts are all there, but, with our instinctive understanding for what comprises a face, we won't be fooled. The face doesn't live.
Which is why every portrait artist should spend some time working from a live model. The experience of looking hard and translating what they see into paint gives artists an awareness for how a face works. That awareness can then be applied to the wasteland that is a photo reference, injecting dimension and life into its sanitized surface.
\I'll be teaching a 1 1/2 day :painting the portrait from life" workshop in Kelowna, BC next month through the Federation of Canadian Artists. There are still a couple of spots left so, if you'd like to experience the difference between rich life and 2-dimensional prints, please join me.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to call the photography company and see if I can get my son back.