I see portraits all the time with teeth… oh man, just don’t do it.
Painting a portrait is like going for a strenuous hike. It takes time, some planning, a lot of exertion and swearing when you get to the tough parts, but mostly you can get there in the end… painting a portrait with teeth is like climbing Mount Everest. Without a Sherpa.
Your painting can die a horrible death.
A smile is a very fleeting thing. You can’t hold it for long, right? How many times have you been at a super, happy event like a wedding and found in short time that your mouth hurt from smiling? Our brains register that a huge smile is a fleeting thing. And that it is not meant to be held… and held… stiff… stiff… cheese!
Yeah, it is just not good for a painting. And in the 17th century in Europe smiles in paintings were considered crass and a sign of the “lower classes”. So the aristocrats that were hiring the artists were not smiling. Or smirking. That was considered as “sexual availability”… shocking! I also read where before the 18th century, smiling widely in portraits meant that you were probably destitute, indecent, or mentally ill.
I searched for paintings by Rembrandt that had a large smile. (I figured if anyone could pull it off it would be him.) I could not find one so I guess he was smart enough to know his limitations and if that is the case then I had better not even attempt it. After all, I don’t sing in the car and think I am Beyonce…
So paint little Johnny with a smile, but no teeth. And what about those people that are extremely difficult to paint without including their teeth? You know- those super-smiley people in our lives? That is just the way we always see them so sometimes you have to include that about them.
I was lucky enough to attend the very last portrait workshop with master artist, Daniel Greene. Another artist, Linda Barnicott, convinced me to go and I am so very glad that I had the opportunity to see this master in action. I had always wanted to take his workshop. I heard it was hard. I heard it was scary… sign me up! On the first night Daniel asked for a volunteer from the audience to sit for his first oil demo. So my friend, the amazing Pittsburgh artist, Linda Barnicott, https://lindabarnicott.com and my speaker that was scheduled for the Artist Guild in April……(which got cancelled… Sniff) volunteered.
Here is the painting that he did in about 3 hours…
Yup! Teeth! Now if you know Linda, you know that this woman is never without smile. How the heck she held this smile all throughout his demo is beyond me. But Linda is a very smiley person so painting her very serious would not have worked. Dan even asked if she wanted a softer pose and if she could hold a smile like that… Linda replied “yes! I always smile.” So ok, this is where even the master was challenged… I am sure it took everything he had to pull this off. Woke him up on a Friday night for sure.
It is loose. It is fresh. It is alive… It makes me mad. It is so hard to do. Though it helps to paint life-size.
And be a master.
So if you want to attempt to do a tiny portrait of a child with lots of teeth- think again. At least paint life size. Maybe then you have a chance to pull it off… a slim one.