I'm wrapping up work on individual portraits of 2 siblings, in the style of my personal work. For me, this has been a ground breaker. After having spent the last 4 years fine tuning my current body of work, I was curious as to how these commissions would go. My new collectors have only seen my personal work, and not my more traditional portraits. I did that on purpose:) What is different about working to please just myself vs. myself and a specific family? A lot actually. I talk a bit about meeting them here.
While painting, I found myself remembering my time with each child. Although I don't have them pose for live sittings, I take hundreds of photos. We interact quite a bit. What I'm doing without them realizing is storing notes in my mind's eye. Their mannerisms, their expressions. How they think. The experience I had wells up again while I'm at the easel and the individual child becomes known as the painting builds. I found that even the palette I chose for each child reflected something I felt with them.
Felt. An important difference.
Yes, it's easy to fixate on just the likeness. So easy. I had to keep pulling myself back from that. Even though with one of the children, it became overwhelming to nail her face. She has a face that is distinctive and unusual, complete with a nicely placed beauty mark. I would set her piece aside to work on her brother, but out of the corner of my eye I felt her stare. She's a powerful force at almost 12 years old. I listen to nudges like that, and proceeded to work on her face. Once I finished 90%, I was able to move on a bit more easily. It was as if she spoke to me, and asked to have that done. I know, a little strange. For me, what happens when the likeness becomes the end all, is that the paint loses something. The abandon, the willingness to move with ease goes out the window in lieu of precision and accuracy. Bleh. Not fun. I need to have fun when I paint in equal proportions to the work that it also certainly is.
Her brother by contrast, was calmer. He has a mellow energy, and a very reflective spirit. I kept visualizing him in an epic pose, and intuitively wanted to place him above the horizon line as I photographed. His portrait has more realism, more traditional aspects to it. Again, this was a gut feeling on my part. He's grounded in reality, yet willing to take some risks...he had to climb a lot of rocks in the photo shoot.. kind of scary at times! (his dad was right there watching, in case you were all wondering)
My personal work in comparison is bigger, a wider scope of awareness, perhaps. Yes, I tune into my models, but the models are representative of every woman, man and child. Of me. We are all there in a big collective in my consciousness as I paint. This, rather than pinpoint accuracy of one person, becomes my theme.
I can't say one way is better than the other. They are different experiences, and I'm grateful to have both. I'm not sure I would fill my schedule with commissions only like I used to. Some wild part of me gets lost in that equation. The balance is important to me.
This is what I find so fascinating about life in general, the variety of experiences. We move around thinking that only happiness is what we need. Yes, but how would we know we are indeed happy, if the challenging times didn't present themselves? How do we fine tune the skills needed to be graceful in adversity? Grace and finesse doesn't just happen. It is experienced, assimilated, and then projected out. That's what I'm working towards anyway, and hopefully, I'll never call my self an expert at it any time soon. That applies to painting too.
Joy comes in seeing it all, the boundaries and the freedom, as the true reality of living that it is.