A neighbor recently gave me some feedback on my portraiture. I like feedback, particularly when it's positive, but negative feedback is also OK if honest.
He said that he was visiting a mutual artist friend, and, as he walked into the living room, he saw a portrait of the man. He immediately thought, "that reminds me of Pam Coulter's style." Not wanting to be offensive, he asked the artist, "Is that a self-portrait?" "No," said my artist friend, "that was done by Pam Coulter."
My neighbor then said, "I just knew it. You put life into the portrait."
How does one put life into the portrait?
Well, I'll tell you, it's a great deal easier when you are painting from life. Particularly when you have a friendly relationship with the sitter. It's more of a challenge when you are using a photo. There you must "grant life" (so to speak) realizing that the photo is a vehicle for getting to the essential person. And this gets a bit into the spiritual universe. Assume that the photo is a dull image of reality. (In fact, the body is a dull image of reality.) The reality is the person himself (or herself) at their very best and brightest. It's the spirit. And that's what you are set on portraying.
In another instance, I recently did a corporate portrait of Mr. Sam Church Jr., past president of the United Mine Workers of America. His widow did not see the portrait until the unveiling, but emailed me and said:
"I wanted you to know that my son, Nathaniel, and I unveiled your portrait at the UMWA headquarters in Triangle this morning. I was overwhelmed. A close friend of Sam's, Nathan Landow, joined us and immediately commented that it was the "Sammy" we remembered from his tenure as UMWA President.
What a surprise. Not a dry eye in the room! Thank you for the remarkable work. I am so proud that the portrait will hang in the new offices for the UMWA and that Sam's legacy is honored."