Portrait painting of a young man

oil painting portrait of young man with beard

An oil portrait painted (mostly) from a live model.

I began this portrait painting of my nephew David last year. During two sessions, he posed for 7 hours for a group of portrait painters I belong to called The Rochester Art Club. We gather every Thursday afternoon in a studio on the fourth floor of the Hungerford Building, an old converted factory in Rochester, NY. In the summer, it’s hot there. As the artists work, they are all quiet and focused. Models have trouble sitting still and staying awake as the little A/C unit hums and tries to keep up.  But  everyone is friendly and encouraging. I appreciate having the opportunity to paint “from life” with them.

Why paint portraits from life?

Non-artists often wonder why we don’t just paint from a photograph. In a nutshell, photos excel at capturing details like eyelashes, hairs, moles, textures, and everything within the viewfinder you may or may not care about. BUT they do not capture all the subtleties of the lights & darks (“values”) –or the variety of colors. Especially with skin tones, when looking directly at a person, you can see blues, greens, violets, pinks, and other colors in their skin. Not so in a typical photograph. It’s all lost. Additionally, in most photographs, the highlights are over-lit, and the darks are too dark to see into. The human eye is much better at seeing all these lovely things that make a portrait painting look beautiful, and real.

Some painters have sworn off photos altogether. They insist on painting only from life, whether it is a landscape, still life or a model. This definitely makes their job more difficult, because they have to pack up and paint outdoors for a landscape, or hire a model to sit for them. Others painters use photos to help with composition, or shapes, or to recall details, but still paint from life to capture the values and color. I usually do the latter. Last week, I referred to the photo I took last fall to finish David’s hair, beard, and shirt details. I’m glad I got most of his face finished the day he posed, because the photo did not have any of the nuance in his skin. I learn so much every time I paint from life, because I see so much more as I take the time to really LOOK. I never tire of trying to recreate what I see in paint. You can see more of my portrait paintings on my portrait portfolio page.