When I’m doing a portrait, whether it be in pencil or paint, getting a likeness can be a problem. Sometimes it happens quickly and largely mysteriously, but i’ve found that the better I know the person the harder getting a likeness becomes. I’ve often thought that this is due to trying to put too much character into the portrait rather than just drawing what I see, but as I’ve already said it is mysterious. I’m working on one now that I’ve restarted two or three times but I still haven’t got a likeness. When I say I’m working on one now I mean I’m thinking about one I started close to a year ago and have not finished yet. Maybe after I finish what is on my easel I will go back to the portrait.
I think I know what the problem is with this particular portrait, but it got me thinking about caricatures; what is it about caricatures that allows me too instantly know who the caricature represents? Caricatures exaggerate certain aspects of an individual, and that might enhance recognition, but they aren’t particularly accurate portraits, even though it is often obvious who the caricature represents. Not being a caricaturist, I’m not speaking from experience, but I think there are two parts to it; the first is an exaggeration of physical aspects and the second is depiction of an aspect of character; a special interest for example. I have a feeling that exaggerating one aspect of character is likely better than several. This should be best if you know the subject well, but most caricaturists have to talk to friends and family to get the character information, so it’s not a case of knowing the subject well.
I’m inclined to think that I need one or two aspects of an individual to get a likeness. Do they have a high forehead or a large nose? Once I get a likeness then the rest of the portrait seems to fall into place and it does seem mysterious.