Sometimes it’s hard to know whether the effort I put into portraits is helping…or a sign that I should simply start over.
I just finished a portrait commission. It was a very cute, long-haired dachshund named Buster, the grand-dog of friends with an intimidating array of art credentials: both have doctorates in art history; she taught on a graduate level, wrote important books on art and sold paintings of her own; he managed a major New York City gallery.
Perhaps that was why I kept tweaking and re-painting Buster…until the original, winsome dog in the painting had been covered by another…and another, and I knew that I was overthinking this poor pup.
Feeling very stuck, I started over with a different reference photo…and I could tell right away that this time, Buster was talking and I was listening, and the painting virtually painted itself.
I decided to give this dog’s “grandparents” the opportunity to decide which one they wanted, and – no big surprise – they preferred the second one.
The lesson I learned: the quality of a portrait may actually be in inverse proportion to the effort expended. Perhaps, like a winning tennis stroke, a good painting has to feel informed, connected, and ultimately effortless.
But I have to admit, the process is still a mystery…