Silly Portraits of Authentic People

Woman in St Patrick's Day hat with lemon wallpaper
Woman in St Patrick's Day hat with lemon wallpaper

Portraits are traditionally serious, and I’m okay with that. But they can also be light-hearted and goofy or dramatic. There’s no law against that! It’s okay to paint silly portraits of authentic people.

Woman in St Patrick's Day hat with lemon wallpaper

Lorril is the 26th of my 100 Faces Portrait series, and she rocks it. She is a retired police officer with specialities in dispute resolution and mindfulness training. Above is Lorril in her spare time.

Traditional portraits are quite serious and even austere. The obvious reason for this is that back in the day before everyone carried a good camera around with them 24-7 the models had to pose for hours and hours and hours while the artist toiled away at capturing their likeness. No one felt like smiling through all of that.

She ain’t got time for smilin’. Portrait by Robert Campin, 1430 to 1435.

I was lucky to study art in public school and for a while in college at a time when art was considered important. (It is still important, but weirdly the educational world isn’t universally convinced.) We were taught in a pretty classical manner, and were taught that we shouldn’t try to paint smiling sitters because they looked forced. But in retrospect, that’s because they had to sit there for hours. There is a lot of value in painting live sitters. It’s a good thing. But it has some limitations. Models get really tired. (Have you ever tried to hold a pose for an hour, followed by a bathroom break and another hour, and a bathroom break and another hour… and so on? It’s difficult.

There used to be a common opinion among serious artists and painting from photographs is cheating. Some still feel that way. They grouse that your light looks different. Well, yeah, the light can be different in a photo. For one thing, it doesn’t keep changing throughout the day. (Imagine trying to paint a sitter and getting a really good start, but then the sun goes behind a cloud. It happens all day long!) But also, the light can express modern life. This portrait of my niece shows the reflection of blue light from digital devices. Keep in mind that in the olden days, artists were capturing their contemporary life for posterity. We’re doing that, too!

Woman with short hair in glasses with cat wrapped around shoulders and blue light reflections from media devices.
2 of 100 Faces Amber Sisson-Manuel

I remember a thing about teeth. We were taught that one shouldn’t paint teeth literally. They should be sneaked in so they wouldn’t be too distracting, if you must paint them at all. A google search shows me that this isn’t that big of a thing in modern portraiture. There are tons of articles online about how to paint teeth without making them look weird. A big thing is just making sure they’re not glaringly white. Real teeth are rarely bright white, and when they are they look weird even on a real, live person. I paint in a loose style, so I don’t strive to make them indistinguishable from a real set of chompers.

As I work on my 100 Faces Portrait Project I occasionally solicit volunteers, and one of my calls was for people to submit unusual facial expressions, and I got some great ones.

Woman with short brown hair making silly face, glasses
10 of 100 Faces Kerrie Sisson Hutchinson
24-100 Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Blonde woman wearing assymetrical glasses (one lens round, one lens square), making funny face
12 of 100 Faces Kellie Snider, Artist

Please keep an eye on my portrait series. My goal is to have an exhibit of all 100 Faces next year. Are you interested in a trip to Pittsburgh? It’s really a cool city, and you should come and see my exhibit! I’ll let you know when it’s scheduled!