The art of portrait painting in oil colours
This informative book on portrait painting has been preserved for generations and fully deserves to to be available to all portrait artists online. While the art of portraiture has moved on, much of what was written is still valid and relevant to the modern day portrait painter.
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THE TREATMENT OF PERSONAL DEFECT
The judicious painter places his sitters according to their respective ages and the character of their features. Children and young people he places near him, but persons of middle age and those of more advanced years are placed as far from the easel as may be convenient for studying the form of their features.
The reason of this is sufficiently obvious : in painting the former he cannot see too much of the bloom and luxuriance of youth, but in painting the latter he ought to see and feel as little as possible of the traces of age.
The imitation of any defect of feature, whether natural or accidental, contributes very strongly to identity; and as defects are much more readily seized by inexperienced painters than beauties, a beginner would be more likely to dwell upon a blemish than to veil it and seek to show the better points on his sitter’s countenance.
If the complexion of the sitter were coarse in colour, and showed a network of minute ramifying blood-vessels, with the furrows on the brow, the crow’s foot under the eye unusually deeply graven, and the cheek overhanging the upper lip from the wing of the nose, and the painter were to seize these points and transfer them to his canvas, every spectator would recognize the accuracy of the likeness, but no one would approve of his own portrait being so faithfully rendered. The markings in the face of a man being more decided than those in the features of a woman, the character of the former is much more readily caught than that of the latter ; and in consequence of an entire deficiency of strong point and matured character in the faces of children, these are much more difficult to paint than either of the two former. Some artists insist that the faces of all children of tender years may be painted alike, and such is their practice ; but to this proposition no one will ever agree who is at all in earnest in the study of the art.
It is perfectly legitimate practice not only to veil and soften down accidental and natural defects, but even in some cases entirely to omit them, and a distinction should also be observed between permanent and transient defects.
The eyes, nose, and mouth must be brought forward with all the reality due to their importance ; but incidental and supplemental characteristics which either break up the breadths of the study or point an unfavourable allusion-as the wrinkles on the brow of age, or even the dimples on the cheek of youth- should not be painted with all the direct force of the life. It is an utterly false position to say that, because they are there, they must be marked as strongly as in nature ; for, however successfully any result of years or accident may be imitated in a portrait, it will always appear upon the canvas infinitely more prominent than in nature, because, although a picture be masterly to the last degree, it is far from being the living creature. There may be eloquence in all the features ; but the vital argument in the mouth and the responsive communion in the eyes which diminish the observation of the effect of accident or the traces of age are sure to be absent. True it is, if we consider these apart, and paint them as we behold them individually, they may be perfectly just in representation ; but they will, nevertheless, appear exaggerated in a picture. When the eye of a spectator is engaged by that of the sitter, he sees these points, but they are modified ; and not till the student can accustom himself to paint such effects as he thus sees them will he succeed in securing that desideratum in portraiture-general truth.
But in case the beginner should receive a misleading impression from what we have said on this subject, it is necessary to caution him against so far subduing these appearances as to injure the resemblance. We can only point out the proprieties of practice ; he must look to his own perseverance for power of execution, which, with experience, will instruct him in each case how far he may insist upon those points of individuality upon which resemblance depends. And it must be remembered that as the education of the painter renders him susceptible of the beauties of form and expression, he becomes proportionately sensitive of personal defect, and in dealing with each he is liable to depict the latter more effectively than the former, because it is easier to paint the one than describe the other.
The treatment of the portraits of aged persons is an extremely important consideration. In proceeding with such a study, the beginner will regard individually all those indications which betoken age. We may in such cases counsel him, in representing any markings on the forehead, to lay, first, the light ridge, and then the dark furrows, as in this matter he will be less likely to exaggerate than if he reversed the order of proceeding ; and then none but the most conspicuous markings must be represented.
A personal defect may disfigure only one side of the face. In this case, such a view of the features should be taken as will exclude the blemish from observation. An inequality in an eye, for instance, may be dealt with in this way.
About John Payne
I’ve been a professional portrait artist for the last 12 years but have been painting for a lot longer . I started out by painting nothing but seascapes and still do the odd one from time to time , I then moved onto landscapes and wildlife paintings before I finally decided to concentrate on portraits.
I get commissioned to paint a lot of pets , mainly dogs – but I also get to paint a fair amount of portraits of people.
more about John John Payne