Archive for May, 2015

Photography or not?

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Last time I wrote about why I have chosen to work from photographs when doing self-portraits. A logical question arises from that discussion: If I can take a photograph, what is the point of drawing or painting a portrait from it?

There are several valid reasons to do so. My primary reason has been to practice my portraiture skills on an easily accessible subject who won’t feel imposed on, won’t try to tell me not to show her wrinkles, and doesn’t charge modeling fees. A photograph sits still for as many hours, days, or weeks as necessary. It can be digitally adjusted to test the desirability of changes in lighting, color, contrast, background and more. And it doesn’t complain if, after all that, “it doesn’t look like me!”

150306p Barbados Woman

Another important reason is the very fact that drawings and paintings simply are not photographs. To my way of thinking, art is—or should be, to some degree—interpretive. Photographs can be interpretive, also, but rarely to the same degree as a manually produced image in which even slight exaggerations of line weight or adjustments of color or brushwork can express the artist’s feelings about the subject or suggest some otherwise invisible aspect of the subject’s nature or character, as I have done in my portrait of a gregarious woman from Barbados (#150306). This “artistic concept” applies not only to portraiture but to landscape, still-life, and other subject matter, as well.

Some painters entirely shun the idea of working from photographs. I fully understand and sympathize with their reasons for this attitude. But I cannot entirely agree.

The first argument I often hear is that photography cannot provide true replication of color and light. However, when the artist has a thorough understanding of color, and of light’s effect on it, this problem can be overcome to a great degree in interpretive painting.

Another common argument is that photography captures a limited scene at a single moment, whereas interpretive painters often want to capture the essence and emotional or energetic continuity of the scene that carries beyond a single, instantaneous depiction of it. Although this sense of continuing action is not easy to convey when working from a photograph, an astute and observant artist who knows the subject matter well can apply that understanding to the artwork to suggest more than most photographs will have been able to record.

Approaching self-portraiture

Friday, May 1st, 2015

A lot of us cringe when we see photographs of ourselves because we don’t like how they depict us. Our image in a photograph is not what we’re used to seeing in a mirror because, the fact is, we’re not built entirely symmetrically. Any aspect that is asymmetrical appears to be exaggerated—doubly so—whenever we see it photographed.

Historically, when artists have drawn or painted portraits, they usually referred to a mirror image. Since photography has come onto the scene, we have had the choice of which to derive our self-portraits from.

150309p Self Portrait

I have chosen to use photographs for my own self-portraiture (including #150409p, above) for two reasons. First, a photograph records my features as most people are used to seeing me, so a mirror image would appear to them to be as “wrong” and distorted as a photographic image appears to me.

The irony is that when preparing for the self-portrait above, I shot the reference photograph in a mirror but forgot to reverse the image before drawing from it. So what you see here is actually the mirror image that I am more familiar with. It does help to be able to chuckle at our own mistakes!

The second reason I like to work from a photograph is that, working from a less familiar image, I am less inclined to succumb to vanity and either consciously or unconsciously “improve” certain features to make them appear more attractive to my own eye. This is because I am forced to accept the reality of the less familiar image as though it were an entirely separate person. If I should try to “correct” my appearance from a photographic image, I would almost certainly be distorting it away from the perception others have of my actual appearance.

I do hope I managed to refrain from succumbing to that temptation in the self-portrait shown here.

Of course, this raises the question of why I should go to the trouble of drawing or painting a self-portrait if I’m taking a photograph anyway. I’ll address that question next time.