Monday, January 30, 2012

You Only Hurt The Ones You Love

The Bloggist

John Singer Sargent said this about portraits; "The definition of a portrait is a picture of someone whose mouth isn't quite right."


I remember when I opened up my very first starter kit of oil paints.  It had six tiny tubes of paint, a 3X6 inch coated cardboard palette, a small bottle of linseed oil and another of turpentine, and two bristle brushes (one of which I still have thirty five years later.)  But no instructions!  What was I supposed to do with this crap?  How was I supposed to learn to paint if no one was going to tell me?  Printed on the back of the box was a cryptic blurb about discovering the joys of painting-- blah, blah, blah.  But it did say that if you mixed Burnt Sienna and Titanium White together you get a lovely "flesh" tone.

So I did portraits.

Over the years I've done a ton of them.  I've painted friends, brides, grooms and family.  Some for free, and some for a fee.  Some I wish I had another crack at.  Others, I'm sure, the owner's wish they had picked a different artist to do them.  Fair enough.  There was even a couple that I thought I did okay.  But I keep trying.  Like all paintings, you never know when one is actually going to come out great.  It's just like Hide-And-Go-Seek.

My poor family has faired the worst, in their opinion.  I did portraits of both of my children about a dozen years ago.  Starting with my son Tom:

The photo I used for this was when Tom was about five years old, but I painted this when he was nine.  Everybody said I made him look too old.  "Just wait," I said  "he'll look this old eventually."  So what if it took another five years...

Since I did this to Tom, the next year I painted his older sister Leigh:

She was thirteen, and yeah, everyone said I made her look too old.  I do remember trying to down-play the hardware she had on her teeth.  She wasn't thrilled I showed her braces to begin with.  Ten years later I did another portrait of her.

"Thanks for the green spot in my hair, Dad" was Leigh's comment on this, (apparently, I still have some underpainting showing through,) "and do I really look that old?" 

But then I thought I'd give Tom another try.  Here is the lad at nineteen:

"Geez Dad,  you made me looked pissed off!"  Or so thought Tom.  He was nineteen, and he looked like this all the time.  I thought I got his demeanor nicely.  However, I promised to make him look more pleasant the next time I paint him.

I got it in me to try another one recently, so I went after my beautiful partner Ellen.  Now really, Ellen is a lovely woman.  But she rather dislikes what I did to her.  

"I like what you tried to do," she said to me "but don't you think there's something a little wrong with the mouth?"

John Singer Sargent would have known exactly what she was saying...



Karla said...

Thanks for starting my day with a good chuckle!

Susan Roux said...

I just posted about improving as an artist and asked if readers were. I guess you answered the question before I ever asked it! Geez Kevin, already reading my mind???

It's fun to see the progress in your work. As for Ellen, I can't complain that you didn't use red!

Patty Meglio said...


I really like your self portrait. I think that portraits are so difficult to do well, especially when you are first learning how to paint. Don't let anyone discourage you. You are doing great and definitely improving.

Virginia Floyd said...

Kevin, you're so much cuter than that!

Love your comments about your suffering family. Funny! I don't know how good the likenesses are, but the portraits stand alone as good paintings. Very good!

lamizner said...

I love my later portrait! But yes, you did my hair a smidge green in some spots. I love it nonetheless!

Stephanie Berry said...

Funny post Kevin. Guess we all have made those very same mistakes. I'm always amazed if someone likes their portrait.