Portrait Practice

Leo portrait study
Leo portrait study oil 14×11

One of the best ways to improve your drawing skills is to draw or paint portraits. As a human we learn to separate people from each other as soon as we are born by the subtle differences between faces. So, when you are executing a portrait it is easy to spot where your drawing has gone wrong. (Even if fixing the problem isn’t so easy.)

But, so can everyone else.

Reagan portrait study
Reagan portrait study oil 14×11

Practicing for a visual artist, especially portrait practice, is a very intimidating thing. Once you make that mark, short of taking flames to what you have done, it is there for a lifetime of judgement. Unlike more transient arts, such as singing, or dance, an artist’s practice is easy to mistake for the performance.

I love the way Dianne Mize put it in a recent blog post.

“Developing skills to this extent requires practice, lots of practice. And here is where artists lose the advantage enjoyed by musicians, actors, poets, and all other performers. That advantage is that the practice sessions are distinct from the performance. Evidence of the struggle gets left behind the scene.

Not so for painters: we have our practice pieces starring us in the face. And there’s always somebody wanting to see what we’ve done, leaving us vulnerable to their comments. Nobody has to hear a musician’s practice nor hear an actor’s rehearsing nor watch an ice skater’s workout, but once an artist has done a practice painting, it’s there to be seen as if it’s the final statement.”

Nina portrait study
Nina portrait study oil 14×11

For the visual artist who wants to master his craft, there is no way to get out of the miles of not quite right, and downright ugly, paintings and drawings required before mastery is achieved. We have to suck it up, and grow a thick skin to all of the throw away comments that can stick with a person for a lifetime.

Substitute Model portrait study
Substitute Model portrait study oil 8×6

But, maybe we can shorten that road a bit if we all did more portrait practice, and invested in a blow torch.

Compose Blog

Eye Tracking vs. Paintings

Over at the blog Gurney Journey, artist James Gurney has been explaining how eye tracking software correlates to painting. Eye tracking is where a computer makes note of where people’s eyes pause to look while viewing a painting or photograph.

He’s posted some interesting finds in the past on his own paintings where it shows people flick their eyes from one spot to another without really seeing what is in between. This is interesting for the artist since we are taught to try to lead the viewer’s eye around a painting, but in reality people are seeing a connect the dot before anyone has connected the dots.

In his latest post a graduate student has asked computer software to blur parts of photos that received less attention and the results are very interesting.

Please go read James gurney’s blog about eye tracking as he goes into much more detail.

But as Mr. Gurney points out, the artist’s practice of making some parts of a painting more in focus than others may have more to do with the way we see than a strategy to lead the viewer’s eye.

I wonder if it would be possible to implement something like this into a digital camera? And if people would miss the everything is in focus look of most photographs?