Sunday, October 29, 2017

First Person... or Sitting... Face to Face - Portraiture - Part Three

The term "first person" in language infers that the speaker himself, or herself is the narrator of the conversation or story being told. The expression also usually assumes that the content of the writing relates to the personal thoughts and experiences of the speaker.

Could one not then contend that portraiture is a "conversation" created by the painter which focuses upon feelings and interests that are somehow stirred by the sitter? If those same feelings or interests occur as a result of a relationship between the two people could one then rightly concur that now three individuals... the painter, the sitter and the viewer are active participants in this conversation?

This premise is what makes for successful portraits in my mind. The image intends... and reveals more than a physical likeness. Costume... backdrop and expression also contribute to making the portrait reach out to the viewer's eye and mind.

The genre and tradition of portraiture can be seen not only to span thousands of years in time, but as well it can be seen to have successfully crossed social barriers of class, culture, religion, politics and tastes as it moved through time. The tradition predated photography but shared many of the same functions.

Today, in this digital age the "art" of portraiture has been has been handed over to any person with a hand held phone. While the quality of the lens and camera function are superb and make possible portraits of quality... in the hands of sensitive and thoughtful user.

What seems to have become the standard for portraiture is 'the "selfie". Mostly... the resulting self- image or snapshot lacks everything that a good portrait  aims to capture. In both photography and the art of painting, we have democratized the playing field and done disservice to both art forms.

I must admit that my experience in the art of portraiture does not match that of my landscape and still life interest. But I did the necessary study in draftsmanship, anatomy to create acceptable results. I will conclude this evening's post and my portraiture review with these samples which I am proud of... and that support my beliefs. You can be the judge whether my journey seems to enter the genre valid and the results of value. After all... it is the viewer's eye and opinion at the conclusion of the "conversation" that are the best judge.

A portrait of young friend Kayla... the free spirit  GIFTED

"Listen to the Guitar Man  - a gift to a blogging friend  GIFTED

"Sugar Daddy, Ken McCutcheon"- friend and World Champion Maple Syrup Producer  SOLD

"Cold Hands... Warm Heart" - portrait from the rear of long time painting friend  GIFTED

"River Boy" - portrait of my son Andrew on one of our canoe trips  GIFTED

 Ode to the Triple Portrait genre.... my only "selfie" HA HA   (me and my shadow)

"Lost in the 60's" - a study of an inhabitant on Salt Spring Island, BC   SOLD

This is a "memory" portrait of Allison "Jemima Puddle Duck from memory done c.2000 while I lived in Chester NS. It was a section of a larger work entitled "A Home Isn't Just a House". It featured a characterized memory of Allie and I strolling past my favourite home in Chester, NS. There never was such an event. Isn't the memory a wonderful tool... especially in making art???

I wish to assure you that my ramblings about portraiture and my journey into the genre were not intended to emblazon my abilities in any way. The reason for this series of posts was to review my journey to revitalize what skills I have used in the past in preparation for re entry into this difficult and demanding genre after a long absence from working on such a project.

The idea to take on another portrait came out of a chat and comment that my long time Blogger Caroline Simmill of Scotland made to me recently. She remarked how smitten she was with Allison's beauty and wondered if I had ever had her sit for a portrait.

Sadly, my answer was no. More sadly still... there exists no physical possibility that this can ever happen. That reality forms a very cogent part of my "new normal" that I am trying to develop and live by for the remainder of my time here. Don't put off today... what might be impossible for you to complete tomorrow.\

Caroline's question stirred something deeply within me and would not go away. At first I could not wrap my head around looking into her eyes so intensely... nor could I spend more than mere moments keeping my head and heart separate from those desperate and painful last moments with her. I was quite simply... paralyzed and the act seemed outside possibility.

Over several weeks, I decided to use this approach based upon my conviction that this could really be valid and self-healing exercise to begin exercising evidence of,  and confidence in my "new normal". It did require much soul-searching and many hours of research to find just the right backdrops and ... most importantly ,the most comfortable photo reference to work from. After much deliberation... and the help of these posts... I am ready to proceed.

One last bit of encouragement came as a result of attending a recent book signing event in Kingston. The event was the launch of a book by her peer and long time photographer friend, Peter Coffman. But that is a part of a story... for another day>

Stay tuned.. and wish me luck!

Good Painting... to ALL!... and Blessings!!


  1. Hi Bruce I have always felt your portrait work to be as good as your landscape works. Isn't it interesting that you feel you are not a portrait painter! Maybe you simply enjoyed painting landscapes more. I think the family portrait done from memory many years ago is lovely. Could that be a way forward in a way to 'face Alison' by painting her doing something such as swimming or feeding birds. It would be Alison at a distance yet it would be a beginning and maybe more comfortable that a more formal painting where she is facing you and directly looking at you. When my father died I kept a photo of him in a book in my art room. In the photo he was looking right at me smiling. I felt myself transported right back to that day that moment when the photo was taken each time I looked at it. I finally had a portrait of him in profile which was framed and in our home on a bookcase. I wish you luck and enjoy the quiet time with Alison Bruce.

  2. Good morning Lass!... As is always the case, your visits are timely... and your sensitive comments seem to hit the bullseye very frequently.

    Such was the case today. I do not doubt my ability to make portraits and you are ever so right in saying that I prefer landscape painting as a genre.

    I do it after all of the years of practice reflexively I believe. Even the colors can be found in the same places on my palette, so there is little or no need to look down or consider my thoughts.

    Portrait painting proves challenging only because the variables do change... even if only in my own mind. Strange... because you see - the face is simply a special... landscape, also based upon form... line and contours! HA HA!!

    My thinking has followed yours to the "t" Caroline and I have considered Allie feeding chickadees.I do have such a lovely shot of that in my files. However, I keep being drawn to this three quarter view of her in an act of quiet contemplation and peace.

    Thank you for sharing your own family reference and memory of your Father Caroline. Isn't blogging such a wonderful tool of connection? I am grateful... and deeply blessed to have our "connection".

    Good Painting... much Peace and Good Health!
    Warmest regards,

  3. I have no doubt your portraits will become as beloved as your landscapes in your mind as you move through this new normal. I find myself drawn to the portraits of the musicians the most, but you know what you're doing and I'm looking forward to new portraits - if not of Allison, then of friends, family, even online folks. Wishing you a wonderful rest-of-the-week :)

  4. Thanks Rhonda... You're right. The new normal may include more forays into this genre until my comfort level and abilities match my interest in the human figure and visage!

    Thanks for visiting again an dfor adding your encouraging comments. Much appreciated!

    Warmest regards and Good Painting,

  5. Dear Bruce - I think friend that your art is always beautiful. For sure your artistic talents lie not just in your landscapes. Love the painting of you and Allison in the last painting. Such a lovely and magical work. Take care and have a great day.

  6. Hello again Debbie... Thank you for dropping by and for leaving such encouraging comments.

    The thought of creating works that speak of magic... to one I admire and respect leaves me feeling fully satisfied.

    I have just entered the painting arena to do battle with my portrait ghouls this afternoon. The canvas no longer looks back at me with blank face.

    Stay tuned...

    Warmest regards and Blessings,