The Thin Line Between Portraiture And Caricature

A caricature is a portrait that has some features distorted and/or exaggerated.  The visual likeness is maintained and easily identifiable. Caricature is a good starting place for prospect portrait artists to start learning to draw.

So, you’ve just completed that portrait and something just doesn’t click. Or worse still, it was a commission and the finished piece is being viewed by the subject, their face ashen with surprise. What might have gone wrong?

A lot of people think that a portrait is supposed to be a precise depiction of the sitter, a snapshot made out of paint. However, this can go very wrong.

While many portrait artists would tell you that they prefer painting a portrait when the sitter is silent, without any conversation in the studio as it would cause distraction that can prevent them from achieving the level of creativity they desire, the truth is far more basic than this. An artist will put a little of himself into his work as he paints.

However, among all art types, the portrait is really about the sitter rather than the artist. You should aim at immortalizing the sitter, rather than adorn the truth with your own understanding. And if your opinion of the sitter is strong, then most likely, it will influence how to put color on to paper.

So how can a portrait artist add personality to a painting? It’s pretty simple. You tweak facial features to adapt to a set of rules that are widely recognized (physiognomy – currently considered a pseudoscience but the basic understandings are used in today’s modern society). If you’re not certain about this, look at the typical cartoon in the daily newspaper – the same process pushed to the extremes.

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Therefore take another look at that portrait and ascertain if it’s the true depiction of the sitter, or whether you’ve ‘unknowingly’ included a bit of exaggeration, however marginal, to the face.

The following examples show how your feelings about the sitter can influence your final painting.

• Eyes are small and are close together – this individual seems the cunning and treacherous type. I should have my payment soon as possible and make sure it comes.

• Sitter is shy; eyes look away from viewer – this person cannot be trusted. He’s simply unreliable or he has a guilty secret.

• Upper eyelids are deep – this person seems suspicious and thinks I’ve charged way more than average.

• Widely spaced eyes – he is a kind person with high integrity. They can even pay next time.

• Long nose – this person is too curious!

• Nose curves downwards – cupidity. This individual thinks they’ve got a great bargain. I could have charged more.

• Lips are thin – wants to be a great artist, just like me. Envious.

• Lips are thick – sensual. I need to focus, need to stick to the painting.

• Narrow mouth – self righteous.

• Receding chin – not decided. The portrait’s being paid for by his mother.

• Square chin – this person knows what they want. They are forthright.

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