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.
Interesting commentary as I am in the process of a close head shot where teeth are an important element. It’s been a good exercise for me. Can’t wait until we can get back to live workshops! I was really looking forward to this summer’s offerings at Sweetwater.
hi. I know, me too. The master series was just up and running and now on hold until next summer. I have great artists coming next year. my suggestion- back way off from your painting. Paint it as though from far away. Step back 8 feet. Come forward and make a mark… back off again and repeat. Up close and rendered tightly never works.
Christine, Always enjoy seeing your work and reading your blogs. That is wonderful that you and Linda got to attend Daniel Greene’s last workshop. I’ve always been such a huge fan of his work. I’m always struggling with teeth. It seems every commission I receive have them included, as I work primarily from photos. I rarely get the luxury of photographing the subject myself or working live. Your analogy of painting a portrait is accurate too! Haha. Been there and done that. Looking forward to the Guild reuniting after we’re done with all of this. In the meantime, stay healthy and safe!
ha! I know right? I just got a new commission with young children and it is a fine line to make them happy without them becoming stiff. My mantra is to never paint from anyone else’s photos – you may want to try that. It does help to control your references. And near the end of the painting I paint right on the painting while the kids are in the room- “knock them into shape” as it were. It is the only way for me. Plus, when the client sees you paint right on the canvas without fear they are happy to pay you!
I certainly agree with you, Christine. Teeth are a difficult proposition (and the color of teeth!). Not only the teeth themselves present problems, but the ways in which smiling changes the musculature of the face. I do avoid painting teeth, I must admit, and because I usually do my own photography I can ask the subject (if they will not sit long) to relax and think pleasant thoughts….but no teeth, for the very reasons you mention. Most people cannot hold that and it begins to take on a weird kind of grimace…and then where are you? I avoid painting from commercial shots (not allowed due to copyright laws anyway), or one done by a family member due primarily to lighting issues (which I like to control). But the big smile problem seems to appear in these types of photos. And, as you say, smiling brilliantly is not something we can do for long! It’s not natural looking. But it depends, too, on the general theme of the portrait. I find occasionally some teeth can be there, as when the mouth is open for whatever reason, and changing the shape of the face, perhaps a gesture, singing, or making a face of some sort. These I find fun to do, most likely captured by the camera, a challenge, and a bit out of the ordinary. But for a more serious and natural portrait, it is so much more beautiful with a more relaxed mouth….and no teeth showing.
I’d love to take another workshop with you, but I’m still not ready. And I know it. LOL
sure ya are!
When painting teeth or the open smile. Your 8foot technique works because.. you tend to simplify.
“More” in this case , is NOT best. Only enough to barely read as a light area( teeth) with limited definition or contrast ( of the teeth )…. for Pete’s sake do NOT try to paint every tooth !
Those teeth you painted were awesome! If I painted a portrait of my husband it would only be with smiling teeth because he is always smiling too. And Alan Picard does a great job with teeth – just watched one of his old YouTubes on pastel portraits.
it can be done. but not easy….
Yes, I always wonder why I get the wedding, graduation, and birthday photos for commissions. Usually these are long distance clients so I really have no choice. I never get comfortable with teeth but I find gritting my own teeth and trudging forward gives me practice. Crossing fingers. Smiles
yeah. but you do have a choice…..saying no to bad references. Because a bad painting is never worth signing my name to….