The Happy Struggle

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Dear Artist,

He’s a painter of portraits. But the struggle he goes through plays itself out in the studios of artists of all stripes. This man happens to work from photographs he takes himself. “If Leonardo had been shown a camera he would have found a use for it,” he says. He sorts through his supply, eliminating ones he doesn’t trust. Gradually he narrows the choices, not one, but several. He’s beginning to think he knows his subject. From their meetings he has subjective ideas of character which will influence the result. Then there’s the props that go with the subject. This is all important. It’s what raises his portraits above ordinary head-and-shoulders stuff. With props he can show the subject’s character, passion, charm, individuality. The props integrate with the whole and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Even though he knows there can be truth in fiction, this painter feels the importance of likeness. If it isn’t a dead ringer he considers it a failure. Nothing can save it. So he starts with the face. He knows approximately where he’s going around the face but he commits to his center of interest. He also knows he must get the look and the likeness within the first few minutes for everything else to fall into place. This is why he must bring freshness and desire particularly to the first commitment. If not — it’s scrape off, start again, or wait for better times. A likeness, he knows, cannot be pulled out of a preliminary that doesn’t look right.

Now the hands. When these are well and truly on the way a sigh of relief goes up, the atmosphere in the studio becomes rosy, and all is right with the world. The rest is casual fun.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The work of a master reeks not of the sweat of the brow — suggests no effort — and is finished from its beginning.” (James McNeill Whistler)

“In my studio I’m as happy as a cow in her stall. It’s the only place where everything is all right.” (Louise Nevelson)

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