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.


I was writing a post saying that perspective didn’t add to the reality illusion.

I’ve changed my mind.

I think perspective can significantly add to the illusion of reality in a painting. This painting is very early in the process and I’ve only got a bare minimum sketch and have started to fill in some areas. I don’t know if the sketch is correct until I’ve started to fill in paint areas. Until I start filling-in I don’t know for sure if I really like it. If I am trying to match the painting with my imagined idea of what it should look like then perspective is certainly part of it. At other times I have used perspective tools like a vanishing point but this painting doesn’t benefit from that. At present the coffee cup is a little too impressionistic for me. I remember doing things like this in painting class years ago and the exercise was to ignore any thought of perspective; or reality for that matter.

I typically do a very rough sketch and then start filling-in areas. When something looks wrong, I fix it and continue to do so until it starts to look right. A little wrong is OK but this is definitely too much. Perhaps the amount of wrongness that I will accept defines some of my style. Wrongness can be for many reasons but rightness only exists in our mind when what is on the painting matches with our internal view of the world.