Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So your portraits/people look like Martians

One of the best tips I got from my great teacher, Robert Rumel, is about the eyes. You know, I never even thought about the fact that eyes don't always show a reflection of light until Robert pointed it out to me. Think about a bathtub when it's in low light....say you have lit candles around it. Now, do you see a big shimmer of white light? Not a chance. The reflected light, if any, will be gentle and probably have some color to it. Now take away the candles and let the very low natural light be observed and you really don't see much, if any, reflections.

It's the same with our eyes and that's why I am showing you, today, the portrait I did of my daughter with her friend when they were 3. This was a very difficult painting because in the photo I took I could hardly see their eyes because of the shadows. In fact that's where the charm lay in the whole composition. The contrast of going from deep shadow to bright sunlight makes it very intriguing. In fact one could say that it is a use of the technique called chiaroscuro-made famous by such masters as Rembrandt and Caravaggio (they differed in that Rembrandt's light dissolves into the form-whereas Caravaggio's hits something solid). But I digress. Back to the point I'm trying to make by showing you my painting.

As I was coming towards the end of this painting I kept wanting to perk these little girls up by bringing life to their eyes by way of reflections. Every time I did that I would stand back and think, "Yuck. I just don't like this painting at all." Finally I gave up and let the composition as a whole bring the much needed life to this painting. In my diligence to put in the eyes so they would be recognizable I forgot all about the charm of the painting-the drama created by light. That's when I gave in and only put in the reflections that would actually happen. Then it became a success and only then.

ALSO, it's not going to be the same reflected light in both or all of the eyes. Remember that as that's another key to making this person come alive. Plus the shapes of the light and placement on the eyes will be different. This means you really have to observe and if you can't get it from your photograph then have someone stand in similar light and observe what's going on.

Part of the problem I was having was being too tight. I just hated the painting and then a little thought came into my mind......which will be the topic for tomorrow's tip of the day. Now you will just have to wait until then.

Now, of course, if you are doing something in a more illustrative or abstract style these rules need not apply. All of this goes out the window. But if you want realistic people you should, definitely, follow these rules.

Oh, I should add that if you could see the original painting you would see that the light in the eyes are not matching.


  1. Beautiful portrait Julie! Really beautiful!

  2. Thanks! That was a long time ago. Gracie (on the left)is 22 and married!