What Do Your Portraits Have to Say?

By Stan Miller

It has been suggested that one of the primary reasons the Mona Lisa has endured in popularity through the centuries is because of her smile. Why her smile? Perhaps because she is not just smiling. Her smile seems to be uncertain, thoughtful, reflective, indecisive, causing one to pause, look again, ponder what she is thinking, feeling. There is a common truth that all of humanity shares and that we feel when we look at that smiling woman.

Picasso’s “Untitled” (1923) is so dramatically distorted and abstracted that one can quite easily imagine any number of characters and qualities of this person. The style and distortion of this painting is equal to or more fascinating than the subject (a smiling woman), diminishing the need to establish a more acceptable universal mood or character that a more realistic style might require.

The watercolor painting below is titled Heather’s Memory. My hope is that the viewer would first see her soul, her contemplative thoughtfulness and longing. If people’s initial reaction to this painting is, “What’s her name?,” the painting in my mind would be a failure (except for her family).

“Heather’s Memory” (watercolor on paper, 18 x 15 in.) by Stan Miller

Charles is painted with egg tempera on paper. My goal was for the viewer to first see the contemplative man — a man who ponders life and reflects on his family, his history, his past, his future.

“Charles” (egg tempera on paper, 24 x 36 in.) by Stan Miller

With The Messenger, do we first want to know who this person is? Or do we first want to know what he is feeling, what he is looking at, what he might be reading? The character on his face suggests that he has struggled in life, that there are storms around him, and yet we might see a courage . . . a strength.

“The “Messenger” (watercolor on paper, 14 x 20 in.) by Stan Miller

Finding the right model, creating the right lighting and doing effective editing are all crucial in communicating the right message. Determine the viewer response you hope to achieve before choosing a subject and starting your watermedia portrait. Keeping this goal in mind will focus your attention on only the details that move the painting in that direction.

Paing along with Stan Miller, Richard Sneary, Matthew Bird, Olga Litvinenko, Thomas Schaller, and Linda Baker at Watercolor Live, January 26-28, 2023!


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