The Trouble with Likeness

June 21, 2020

I have not had an art tantrum in forever. Yes, art tantrums are a real thing… and yes, adult professional artists suffer art tantrums. There’s a Donald Duck cartoon that shows Donald frustrated with his artwork that he would crumple up what he’s doing and throw it behind him… just like the way real artists do. Seriously… I’m not joking. This happens frequently. Anyways… about two years ago was the last art tantrum I had. I was so frustrated with what I was doing, I pretty much did what Donald Duck did… threw away what I was working on and restarted from scratch. I was painting a portrait when I suffered this breakdown. Lucky for me, the canvas I was working with was only 5″ x 7″. I’m not so lucky if the canvas I’m working with is huge;

Bryce Portrait

This particular portrait had been immensely frustrating. I finished it a while back, but every time I see it I’m tempted to take it down and fix it. It’s a very well done painting. There is a lot of immense details that I poured into this painting. It is remarkably hyper-realistic. It’s a portrait of my nephew. Sadly, it doesn’t look like him much. The good news is that I have captured my nephews’ likeness numerous times on small paintings;

So the truth of the matter is, I’m really not that bad when it comes to doing portraits. I have about a 60%-70% success rate with capturing the likeness of a person. That’s not a bad number honestly. It’s just immensely frustrating when I fail.

Initially, I wanted to write about tips on how to capture the likeness of a person, but after doing a google search on the subject matter, it turns out there’s already quite a lot of good articles about it. The best I can honestly write about are tips for what to do when one is frustrated with capturing the likeness of a person. So yeah, here are things to ponder when one’s portrait painting isn’t going too well;

  • Even the Pros Fail.
    • It’s no lie, I have seen it before. I have seen masters paint a gorgeous portrait day in and day out… and then out of nowhere paint a very good looking painting that does not look like the person. It honestly happens to the best all the time. No matter how great the technique and execution are, a likeness in a portrait can fail. Think about it, we all have had at least one photo of us that sorta doesn’t look like us. That one photo that is so confusing, when your mom sees it, she either thinks you are your brother or your best friend. Maybe it’s the lighting… maybe it’s the shadows… who knows? But for one reason or another, everyone else thinks you are someone else in that one photo. If that happens with photographs, then likeness in portrait paintings can fail.
  • Take Your Time
    • Honestly, this is great advice. If you are frustrated with any painting, just walk away from it and do something else. Then come back to it when you have a fresher mind. Either that or restart your painting from the beginning.
  • Go Back to Fundamentals
    • This is practically what each and every article about portrait likeness talks about. Always go back to your fundamentals and foundation. It doesn’t matter how well-rendered the nose is, or how attractive you made the mouth look. If you put all these great looking separate parts of the face together in a haphazard way because your foundation is ill, then your portrait is going to look like a moose instead of the person you are trying to capture. Enough said.
  • Cheat if You Have To!
    • I have had some successes in doing freehand portrait paintings;
  • Cheat if You Have To!
    • But even with these great looking freehand portraits, I have way better success at my portraits if I trace the image first. So I’m going to trace as much as I can get away with. Even pros do it, no shame in that. And lastly…
  • Just Breathe
    • Honestly… just breathe. That is the best one can do when one is frustrated.

My frustration is still currently high when it comes to the subject matter of likeness. My acrylic portrait paintings are so far going good, so that isn’t what is currently disappointing me. What is currently aggravating me is that I’m not doing too good in capturing a likeness in digital sculpting. I had one sculpture that came close to my subject matter… everything else looks meh. But it’s ok… cause at least I finished this one illustration that still looks like the person I based the painting on. It’s my recent Bridgit Mendler inspired painting that gives me a small smile in my face;

An Illustration of A Dalaga and a Royal Baby
Ang Dalaga and the Royal Baby

It might not look exactly like Bridgit Mendler, but given that the original photo I was referencing had a totally different lighting condition than the illustration above, I think I pulled off the likeness nicely.

Anyways… for all the frustrated artists out there, don’t forget to breathe! Happy art-ing!

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