There's no ‘right way’ to make a portrait. Some artists will focus on different facial features or capturing beautiful light. For others it is about how the clothing or environment tells a story. Some artists abstractly convey personality through gestural marks and intentional use of color. For others still, portraiture is about creating an exact and realistic rendering.
For myself, every time is different. I prefer to photograph my subjects and, when possible, work with them in the studio making figure studies. I need to know who I’m making a portrait of.
When working from a photograph, I prefer to have hundreds of images to choose from. I spend hours editing and studying each photograph. In time, a few images begin to stand out because of how they capture expression or emotion. After editing and studying, it becomes obvious which photos will inspire a strong portrait.
In the studio, I continue to cull my images by making large charcoal or cante drawings. Some drawings will be gestural. Some will be precise renderings. Sometimes I use ink and a bamboo brush to make loose studies. These first drawings are so exciting - like the first few times I get coffee with a new friend. There are so many stories I haven’t heard, things I want understand. It is new and exciting.
Lastly, after I’ve gotten to know my subject, studied the shapes that make up their face, and come to understand the subtle shifts that inform their emotional expression - I can begin their portrait. I draw and paint in layers giving the portrait depth and personality. The layers allow for mistakes to become a part of the final piece. The mistakes are so important really. Mistakes make the portraits honest. My portraits are not perfect renderings. People are not perfect. People are dynamic, flawed and beautiful.
I work on a portrait until it feels like the person I’m painting. When it’s done, I am spent, full and changed. I feel like I would feel having spent a long intimate vacation with a new friend. I love getting to know new people and I love making portraits.