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How do I paint people without making them look weird?!

by | 8 Jun, 2021 | My Painting Process | 0 comments

The Ugly Dutchess by Quentin Matsys, c. 1513

The Ugly Dutchess by Quentin Matsys, c. 1513. Matsys was an exceptional artist, and didn’t just paint the dutchess “looking weird”. It’s speculated that it may have been a work of satire, with the red flower signalling that she is courting. On the other side of the coin, some think that she may have suffered from Paget’s disease, and that the painting was a representation of disability being more accepted and part of every day life. Rather than being depicted as extreme abnormality, as had been the case prior to the 16th century.

As you know, I predominantly paint pet portraits, with the odd bird, wolf, landscape or inanimate object thrown in for good measure. Recently though I’ve wanted to broaden my horizons and do more portraits, only of people this time.

Now, a portrait of an actual person is a whole different matter compared to what I usually paint! Us humans are programmed to recognise faces. We see them everywhere, even in places we really shouldn’t. Elvis on a piece of toast anyone? My point is that, unless you’re deliberately doing an abstract, everything has to be bang on. The shape of the head, the breadth of a smile, the colour of the eyes. Everything. If something’s not quite right it’s going to stand out like a giant zit. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong. It’s jarring.

With that thought constantly in the back of my mind, I approached with a lot of trepidation, not to mention a fair bit of procrastination. This shit’s important. So, I thought, how do I paint people without making them look weird? A simple question you might think, but, as is my way, I pondered on it for ages. Then the proverbial lightning bolt struck – ‘PRACTICE!”. Durrrrr! Yeah, I know, quite a revelation! Sure, I’ll practice, but on what, or, more accurately, whom?!?

Jump forward a couple of weeks and I’d come to the conclusion that I’d start with something less likely to get me lynched. So I crawled though some stock photo websites for inspiration and started my new journey with:

Now I’m a humble kinda guy, but I think it turned out really well! Buoyed with this new found confidence I wanted to move it up a gear to real people. Not that the baby isn’t real, I just mean people that I actually know!
Messages got sent to a bunch of friends to ask if they’d mind me painting them and, would you believe it, a couple actually said yes! One of them was even brave enough to send me a couple of photos to work from.

Then, after a couple of weeks working on the portrait, off and on, and constantly thinking I wasn’t finished, I finally concluded that I should stop before I went mad. This is the end result:

Anna Marie

Annie, my dear friend, thank you. Thank you for humouring me and agreeing to my mad idea, and thank you for humbling me with your compliments, it means a lot. I truly hope that you like your portrait. It was a pleasure to paint you.

So, that’s the start of my people portrait painting journey. I’m more than happy with how it’s gone so far and I can only get better…hopefully.
If any more of my friends are happy for me to use them as practice, message me. I’m game if you are!

To finish then, I’ll answer my original question. Practice is everything, and I think I’ve managed to dodge the bullet so far! What do you think?




About the author

About the author


Justin is the owner of The Curious Creative. Besides painting he also enjoys going for nice walks with his dog, photography, music, food, movies, and a bit more food. He's also an uber nerd and loves anything to do with tech. Currently he's trying to seek help for a nasty Microsoft Flight Sim 2020 addiction.


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