Portraits. Why are they so hard?!

Portraits of my daughters.

It’s really hard to admit your weaknesses. It’s easy to do what you’re good at, blog about it, tweet it, etc but very rarely do you show your failures, or not even your failures, but your attempts. Attempts at something that you are NOT good at. Showing how hard it was to get there, practicing and practicing until you’ve torn all your hair out in frustration and just realized, well, it was good try but I need to move on.

In my case, it’s portraits. In college I HATED THEM. Figure drawing was fine, body parts? not a big deal, but faces? UGH. Just take a photo already. Seriously.

And when you break down a face, it’s still lines and planes and color just like every other object on earth, but what makes it different is that there is a soul behind that face. There is a story that I can’t capture with my oils. It’s incredibly intimidating and frustrating to paint something that has more emotion in a simple smile or gaze without it looking like a death mask. Some people have that talent. To capture a Mona Lisa moment and make something that exudes this emotional feeling when you look at it. I avoid that subject matter like the plague. Because honestly, I’m not good enough. And I know I’m not.

But as I was unpacking some of my artwork, I came across one of my very first paintings. It was of two little girls playing outside. One was blonde, the other a brunette. It was one of the only paintings I made that had people as the subject matter.  We were having a housewarming party and one of our guests made the comment that it was just like our two little girls. (Premonition perhaps?) I laughed, no I said, I painted that when I was about 19 years old, probably models from a magazine, probably passed but barely and I realized after that assignment that I was TERRIBLE at painting people and from then on I stayed with my safe landscapes and my impressionistic style. Coward.

Untitled. 1997.


The faces of the girls were actually quite small, in fact the one girl was looking away from the viewpoint. I hadn’t really looked at the painting for quite awhile since it had been given to my grandmother many years ago. I can by hyper critical about it now and rip it apart. Proportions are off, I didn’t mix colors very well, the background is flat, is that mud on her face??, on and on.  We are all our biggest critics, but it got me thinking. How would I paint a person now? Now that I’ve had some time and experience. I’ve never really given it a try since. Would it be easier or even worse?

At the same time, I had got to be pretty good friends with another local artist who does extremely realistic paintings. He’s VERY good at what he does. One of his prints hangs in my office and I’ve had time to really appreciate the time and dedication it takes to create one of his pieces. It’s incredible the amount of patience you need to get colors PERFECT, to sit for hours and barely make a dent in the hyper detail. We’ve talked briefly of our different styles and it got me thinking. I didn’t want to become stagnate. I don’t want to get to a point in my life and think, I can’t get any better. That this is my limit.

I’ve always been a free-for-all when it comes to artwork. I mix paints on the fly, sometimes I’ll mix media, I’ll just throw away brushes rather than clean them. Again, just spontaneous and undisciplined. Commissions are different of course, but just painting for me, its totally free, no rules.

While that sometimes works, I find I fall into a rut. The same colors, the same style, not quite growing as much as I want. I might be happy with the painting but I feel there is more.

So I decided to try portraits again. (Crazy talk! What are you thinking!?)

Then, who to paint?

I immediately thought of my husband in a George Costanza like pose!

Maybe not so much…


Okay maybe not. And if I ever did, you can bet your tighty whites I’m not going to blog about it! You’re welcome.

So then after a good laugh, I thought of my daughters. People that I’ve seen every day for their 3-6 years of age. I’ve memorized their faces, I know their smiles and frowns. They are the only people that I could really try to capture if I was going to try.

And since they are little kids that will not stand still to save my life, I took photos. A cheat I know, but you have to start somewhere.

This is my oldest. Leia


Although I was more conscious of my colors, I still made it look like “my style”. Mouths are tough. I’m not going to lie. And eyes, if they are not right, then it doesn’t look like the person at all.

This last week I started my youngest daughter’s, and although I’m not done yet, it’s starting to look like her. Her eyes are so dark brown that they just suck you in.



Overall, I’m happy I’m trying this. It’s a personal challenge, a goal of mine to be happy with these two paintings (Which happen to be of two of my favorite people on this earth.) And while the paintings may not be perfect, they are pretty perfect to me.


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