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A few advices to draw a portrait
Here are some reflexions and advice which seem to me important concerning the way to accomplish a portrait. I shall not speak about technique, proportions, shades and light here, all that remains of course fundamental in drawing and painting, but these are basic notions which can relate to so various subjects as landscapes, still lifes, abstract compositions and pictorial creation in general. I consider that you already know all these subjects
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The portrait remains a separate domain where the artist can certainly express himself, with his own feelings, but where he must also know how to paint a picture which resembles its model. It is a very particular domain where classical knowledge of the rules of drawings and painting is not always enough. Certain confirmed artists are not able to paint a resembling portrait, because the discipline imposed by the painting of portrait do not invite them, others work for years without ever reaching really there...
The portraitpainter must have certain innate qualities as a very good visual memory to keep in his mind a total vision of his subject as well as a very fine sense of precision and detail. The capacity to concentrate is also necessary, because it is inside of himself, with his own mental force, that he will have to scoop out this energy which will be able to make come out on the picture this likeness, marvellous and magical, with its model.
portrait de léa

Here are my some reflexions on this subject:

1: First of all, and before beginning drawing whatever it is, it is necessary to try to grab the character of the model, to differentiate the characteristic lines on which the portrait will be constructed. It is an impression that comes almost immediately by seeing the model, and to grab likeness, it is needed, at this stage, to have picked up mentally the main facelines of his model. There are exercices that each can make to improve in this domain. Contact me if it interests you.

2: Every stroke of pencil or brush must count. It is necessary to be sure of each of its proportions, every line must be fair and to correspond to what the artist sees on his model. For the pencil drawing, it is necessary for him to memorize the form which he is going to draw or the value which he is going to apply to the drawing. In painting, it will be necessary to have created the correct tone on its palette, in colour, in value and in intensity (the value of a colour is its position in the graduation which goes from the dark to the light, and the intensity represents its more or less pure, bright or attenuated character).From these three elements, the notion of value is the most important. It is necessary to try to paint by thinking that every blow of brush or pencil is definitive and will not be later corrected. That's why, it is necessary to remain most concentrated possible.

3: It is necessary to observe its model to see and choose its main lines. It asks to make a kind of mental gymnastic where the artist recreates the face of his model by simplifying it. It is necessary to try to translate it on the canvas or paper with the less possible material. Some pencil or brush strokes placed with precision and correctness are better than hundred blows of rough brushes. When the portrait is accomplished with a minimum of materiel, it often takes out again a force from it and a bigger expression. It is perhaps for this reason that my priority goes towards the pencil drawing, the simplest technique which is. When You use only minimum material, it is necessary to know, in compensation, to be direct, (go straight towards essential forms) and sincere (draw what You see).

Portrait Alexandra

4: look at the face which You draw by simplifying it in wide basic surfaces (3 or 4) on which will come the details of eyes, nose, mouth. If these basic surfaces are fair in their proportions, the portrait will have big chances to have very much likeness , even if You do not go very far in working on details. On the contrary way, a portrait which is not firmly constructed, with the main proportions which are not very fair, will not be resembling, even if details are accurately drawn.

5: Work fast: the fact to draw quickly allows to keep a level of concentration raised during all session of drawing. I think that it is not possible to stay in such a state of concentration during hours. These are intense moments during which the artist feels deeply his model and where he must express his creativity fast, spontaneously and without economizing his energy. Besides, the fact to draw quickly will allow, with practice, to leave instinctively the secondary elements of the face to keep in memory only the main forms of the face which will guide the artist throughout his work.

6: Treat edges in a light and soft way: it is a principle which is especially important for portraits painted with pastel or oil. To acquire a very realistic effect, try to melt the back plan with the subject, its hair or the clothes for instance, which will appear more realistic if they do not distinguish themselves too much from the background. This remark is simply taken from the observation of the reality.
This will also allow you, if you wish it, to bring to the foreground here and there some details which you consider important by adding contrast to them. This manner of treating outlines gently is very interesting because it allows to suggest a form rather than to affirm it hardly what leaves no possible interpretation on behalf of the one who looks at the portrait. It is a delicate notion not always easy to understand.
To explain it in another way, I take the example of a portrait which would be drawn with very strong lines, and that would not be wholly resembling. One could even feel a confusion to look at this portrait what is not really recognizable. If the artist took it back and work on it again with a little more blurred effect, less definite outlines, the portrait could become really recognizable because the one who looks at this portrait will be able to make coincider or superimpose the picture from the model which he has in his memory of the model with the drawings, what he could not make with too definite outlines.
It took myself time to understand it and one day, while I was drawing the portrait of my daughter, I must have interrupted my work because visitors came to visit my studio. Some time later, when I saw again this unfinished portrait, I thought it had a lot of likeness although the details were not ended. I had drawn the outlines of the face and main forms without going farther and this space left free, vacant, has allow the picture of my daughter that I had in my memory to overlap in these drawing and it is what made it so resembling. I even went back to see these drawing several times to assure myself that i was not dreaming, and I had every time the same impression. I had then understood that it is better to be thrifty in its lines, to leave space for suggestion, not always specify everything, draw everything, but make it well.
portrait de profil

7: Overcome or surpass the fear of failure: to doubt or to be afraid not to succeed are the worst enemies of an artist . It is necessary to undertake a portrait with a resolutely positive mind, and full of spirit. Avoid comparing yourselves with other artists, follow your path of your best, by evolving in your rythm. Every artist advances of different ways, and You should begin drawing with the most insurance and positive energy possible.

Be not afraid to take risks by trying of new manners of approaching a portrait. Remember that it is better to make a big failure in its drawings, to miss it absolutely and frankly, rather than to have a small half success. The fact to take risks and to draw boldly will make that one day you will achieve a portrait with a really likeness, and then there, it will give you a full trust in you, and it will give wings to your pencil. Having succeeded in that way, you will have only one desire: start again, paint another portrait.

If you have your personal point of view on the manner of approaching the drawings of portrait, it would interest me of course a lot to know also your opinion . Thank you for writing me a message if you wish it, because we never cease teaching and evolving in this intriguing and so complex domain of the drawings and the painting of portrait. The changeable, fragile, expressive human face, got in a moment but always in movement, remains the nicest subject to be painted which is.
Gérard Feldmann

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