Sunday, July 08, 2018

It doesn't look like me!

The hard thing about drawing people you know, friends or family, is that they want the drawing to look like them. If I make a drawing that focuses on line quality, or trying to capture a mood, the first response is "it doesn't look like me." On the one hand, I could say "take a picture." But often I think photos don't capture people very well either. It's very tricky to get a good photo of someone. One that makes you think their essence has been captured. So "take a picture" is really too glib. Back to drawing problems: I do empathize with people who want realism. When I draw my family I often end up thinking "that doesn't look like dad." If I took the image away from the photo I might consider it a good or at least a pleasant drawing for other reasons. But making the comparison can be disappointing. I think we are trained to expect a reproduction, not an impression. The better we know someone the more we want an accurate likeness.

I asked Jim his take on realism and he says it doesn't seem important because there is photography if you want a good likeness. In portraits a painting is interesting if it captures some common humanity. That's what makes Old Masters' paintings so good - you see their humanity over all this time and it still speaks to us. He thinks in contemporary portraiture the expressiveness of line and medium should say something about the subject. This from the guy who, when I did a loose, very impressionistic sketch of his mom, said "it doesn't look anything like her." Oh well. See above.

Somehow, even when I don't want to judge my drawings by their resemblance to the model, I do. Other people do too. This drawing of my dad interests me - when I compare it to the photo I used it's not that accurate. There are five sketches in this particular sketchbook of my dad. When I flip thru the book and glance at the others I think "that's supposed to be dad but it's not right." But when I see this one - I think "that's dad, that really feels like it's dad." Jim says it's like caricature - you can exaggerate some features and the person is still immediately recognizable even when it's not an exact likeness. So that may be what I see in this drawing.

Here's another pair for comparison. To me, knowing my dad, I just don't like this drawing. I know there are ways to get a more accurate drawing, a light pencil sketch, measuring, correcting, etc. would all make these drawings better. But that's not fun. I want to enjoy the drawing process more than I want realism. All the measuring and aiming for realism is what made me stop drawing years ago. If I was aiming for perfection I would probably stop drawing again. Still, I obviously am conflicted about the whole thing. As a friend says "Onward."

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