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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Paintings I've Not Done Yet--People

Copyright, Jim Lane
Sharon along the Seine
As primarily a portrait artists, I've developed a fairly fine eye for photos which will lead to outstanding painted portraits. One of the pitfalls to which painters often succumb is in accepting what they deem a nice photo of someone and then assuming it will make a good painted portrait. That's frequently not the case. Insofar as "snapshots" are concerned the bar for an acceptable image is much lower than that for an outstanding portrait. The photo of my wife taken last year along the Seine in Paris (above) was what the TV painter, Bob Ross, would have called a "happy accident." I'm always taking shots of my wife while we're on vacation and for the most part they usually range from awful to barely acceptable. In this case, everything came together--the lighting (shortly before sunset), the interesting (but not too interesting) background, the perspective, the water (the Seine was quite high at the time), the simple black and white outfit, and her attractive expression--contributed to one of the best photos I've shot of her in several years.
Copyright, Jim Lane
The "makings" of a good portrait source photo.
Yet, even at that, the original photo (above) was far from perfect. The light background caused the face to silhouette. I had way too much background to the left of the figure yet cropping it out would eliminate the arched tunnel beneath the bridge. As a general compositional rule, there should be roughly a third to a half more space in front of a figure than behind it. The figure should never be perfectly centered (though this one is more centered than I really like). Thank God for digital editing software. The problem with the silhouetted face was simply a matter of carefully outlining the entire head, hair, neck, and bosom then brightening that section while maintaining adequate contrast. The problem with the excessive space to the left of the figure (behind her back, so to speak) was more difficult. Cropping to the left of the background arch helped but not enough. Then I reduced the space between the arch and the slender tree trunk by sliding the whole left side of the photo to the right. I was further able to reduce the space on the left by sliding the tree and stone embankment slightly to the right. It's not as simple as I make it sound, but you get the idea. Additionally, I adjusted the edging stone to the lower right of the figure slightly to the left to maintain the one-point perspective. I debated as to whether to remove the railing but decided against it inasmuch as it added a little more depth to that area. The result was to turn an acceptable source photo into a portrait grade image.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Self-portrait in the Round. As you can tell by the 35mm SLR
and the "comb-over" this shot was taken many years ago.
In today's Postmodern era, when working from photos is a common practice among most artists, I chose the self-portrait photo (above) as illustrating the fact that an artist no longer needs to hide from the public this important step in rendering the painted image on canvas. It's a self-portrait yet the face is largely obscured by the camera, thus emphasizing the important role played by photography in creating the art image regardless of the medium.

Copyright, Jim Lane
A portrait or a genre figure painting?
Of course not all paintings of people are necessarily portraits. There is, in fact, a rather fine line between the two. A portrait is, in general, somewhat posed, featuring prominently the portrait subject, while bearing a physical, and hopefully a psychological likeness. Ideally, the subject should be surrounded by some suggestion as to his or her interests or vocation. It's in this final element where the line between the two tends to get fuzzy. The Salad Chef (above), is it a portrait or simply a genre scene aboard a cruise ship? Although the face in the image is relatively small in relationship to the entire shot, skilled portrait artists have been known to work successfully with less. For the rest of us, it would make a fascinating figure painting or still-life ala Wayne Thiebaud.

Copyright, Jim Lane
A sport you don't have to be good at to have fun at.
I cropped the original image slightly to attain the
symmetrical perspective.
Speaking of cruise ships, I've found them to be a ready source of subjects for paintings, everything from landscapes to still-lifes and figures. I once did a still-life of a salad served me in the ship's dining room. This solitary pair presented the opportunity to employ an interesting one-point perspective composition, a familiar subject, and an emotional attachment all within the same work. Here we have a portrait, but not in the traditional sense of facial features forming a familiar likeness. Here is a portrait of a happy, active, couple, amid their "golden years," in an athletic activity they can both still enjoy.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Boy on a Wall, Villefranche-Sur-Mer, 2001
Having been an art educator for more than a quarter century, children are among my favorite subjects, both as a painter and as a photographer. The young boy on the quay (above) symbolically greeted us as we stepped from a tender onto French soil for the first time about fifteen years ago. The photo is definitely not of portrait quality and perhaps really should have been included among the photos of figures I posted a couple weeks ago. However all of them were of sculptural works while this young Frenchman, though seemingly quite iconic as to time and place (Villefranche-Sur-Mer on the French Riviera) was far from carved in marble or cast in bronze.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Boy by the Water, Pompidou Center, Paris, France, 2015.
More recently, as we visited Paris last year (2015), I found my way to the Pompidou Center only to discover it was closed (I didn't do my homework the night before). However, the neighborhood surrounding the architecturally unique art museum is alive with human activity every day of the week. Though the water temperature in the huge fountain outside the museum was much too cold for more than fingertip enjoyment, this young Frenchman was making the most of the chance to sail his toy ship (I missed the boat) across the "turbulent seas." If you wish to paint the scene, you'll have to add your own watercraft.

Copyright, Jim Lane
He called it "Spot."
And finally, my reptile-loving son during his teenage skinhead phase. Although the photo is of portrait quality, I doubt I'll be painting from it anytime soon. For the benefit of any artist with similar interests, all l can say is, have at it.

As the seventh group in this series, like the others, these photos are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographical location. If you have a website, include the URL; and please, when finished, e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.


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