Sometimes, for me, likeness is the central most important goal in painting a portrait; it is a measure of one's skill and opens the way to better work. But occasionally, as in the above piece, the likeness falls short and then is abandoned because I stumble onto something else that seems interesting and I don't want to lose it by badgering the painting toward a better likeness. I was working again on Puccini and was listening to one of his operas as I painted, and it may have been the power and emotion that came through the music or I may have followed what I thought might be an ideal of male beauty, but this face is not exactly Puccini, though it might be a man with his music in him.
At any rate, it was a piece of the puzzle in trying to find a way to a better painting of the man. In the last post, I mentioned a few of the ways painters work toward laying out the features of the face, and I failed to mention very many of them, though I'm sure I'm not even aware of all of the possibilities. Perhaps the most common one is the drawing of the oval shape and the line down the center with horizontal lines drawn to mark the location of the top of head, chin, eyes, nose and mouth. This is an easy way to get a start, but it is based on the notion that everyone shares the same structure, and one needs to make alterations to the norm based on the individual being painted. It is very useful in sketching quickly and in locating the features when the head is tipped one way or the other, turned to the side, etc.
Another method is to paint in a large shape representing the head, then dark blotches for the eye sockets, then carve at it with other features, closing in on the location of the various bits by feel. Other artists start with an eye, then locate the other eye, then the nose, etc. based on what they have painted so far, and I find this one of the most difficult for me, leading to gross distortions. In fact, I tend to use a variety of approaches, sometimes one or the other, sometimes several in concert, and I think the important thing is just to continue the effort, the practice, because the body does learn something along the way and accuracy seems to be a result of continued effort.
When I am struggling to understand a face, I often turn to pencil or charcoal, too, since anything that leads to an understanding of the structure is helpful. And when a likeness is off, it is frequently the basic structure that is not quite right, something that is very frustrating when one has spent a lot of time nagging at the details.
With the return of the sun, finally, I have been able to make it outdoors to work on plein air skills and watch the birds and the changing light. The lake is full again and the boats are buzzing by. Yesterday I was down on the deck at the boathouse painting when some friends stopped by in their boat; it felt very civilized to mix the two things.
It's tricky to paint water when the light keeps changing so rapidly. The breeze shifts and suddenly what was dark green is now light blue, or the transparent deep water is suddenly an opaque surface.