What makes mona lisa so captivating?

Portrait Painting/Sketching as Storytelling

 

Many people know I have a very classical taste when it comes to art, not just in classical paintings but also as you may have guessed from my Persistence series, classical art forms in both dance and music. But today, I’m going to go in depth about the reason why classical portraiture is so different and special from what is produced today.

As a disclaimer I want to make it clear that I am not against painting/sketching from photographs (I do that alot) but I do not endorse working purely from photographs.

Have you ever wondered why the Mona Lisa is so captivating? People say that the eyes move, and if you look at the greatest portraits in history all of them seem to have life and a gaze that follows you. I’ll never forget that time I went to the Art Gallery of NSW with my dad, he doesn’t really understand much about art, but he couldn’t get over how the gaze of Ruben’s self-portrait. It was so life like - it seemed more intimate and realistic than a photograph. He couldn’t understand why, at the time I knew there was more to it than just techniques and lighting, but I couldn’t grasp how.

Today I believe I have found the answer after making copy after copy of master paintings in my 100 portraits series. What makes a Rembrandt so memorable? What makes a Velázquez so filled with life, when you look at his portrait of Juan de Pareja he feels like someone who exists, someone you could encounter on the streets. It’s the ability to not only paint a likeness, as most people would make you believe what a portrait should be, but also the ability to show you the story of the life behind the subject. Who were they? What were they like? And not, just, what do they look like.

A sketch of Velázquez's  Juan de Pareja  part of my 100 Portraits series on my instagram. It's said that this was actually a practice painting of a slave he did before he did the commissioned portrait of the Pope, but what's fascinating about this portrait is how  n oble the subject looks. There is an internal  b earing about how the subject carries themselves that doesn't make him look like someone of lower social standing.

A sketch of Velázquez's Juan de Pareja part of my 100 Portraits series on my instagram. It's said that this was actually a practice painting of a slave he did before he did the commissioned portrait of the Pope, but what's fascinating about this portrait is how noble the subject looks. There is an internal bearing about how the subject carries themselves that doesn't make him look like someone of lower social standing.

What I learnt from this sketch of Rembrandt was his use of tone treatment. He uses midtones everywhere in the face but the eyes are hauntingly dark. Self-portraits are a very special type of genre when it comes to painters, every time I've done one of myself in front of a mirror I always felt an answering touch on the part of my face that I'm putting onto paper.

What I learnt from this sketch of Rembrandt was his use of tone treatment. He uses midtones everywhere in the face but the eyes are hauntingly dark. Self-portraits are a very special type of genre when it comes to painters, every time I've done one of myself in front of a mirror I always felt an answering touch on the part of my face that I'm putting onto paper.

And how can you possibly get that sort of depth and storytelling from a photograph? Unless that photograph was taken by a cinematographic expert, who knew how to interact and capture an interpretation of the character they saw. But then would that be your vision? Would you see and notice the same things if you met the subject?

Portrait painting/sketching is a conversation between the subject and the artist. It is a conversation without words, it’s a conversation between what the artist can notice and feel and a subject of what the sitter is going through at the time of creation. Everyone has a story, and if you look hard enough you’ll find the soul under the noise. It’s why studying the works of Masters is so fascinating, you’re seeing not only their skill but also the world through their eyes and hearts.

What makes a truly good portrait? It’s portrait that can tell a story, more than just what the sitter looks like. Or at least that’s the criteria I hold myself to.

 

INSPIRATION E MARTË (4) - Robert Greene

 

Since we’re talking about storytelling, this week I want to introduce you all to a personal inspiration of mine: an author of a book I often reread: Robert Greene.

This is the man that really transformed the way I saw the world from when I was just a nerdy little teenager trying to learn about how to pick up someone (romantically) by reading some ebooks, to a sort of...not quite enlightened but certainly more thoughtful young adult that really questioned the motivations and perspective behind certain actions people took. This is the author that penned: The Art of Seduction, The 48 Laws of Power and as you’re probably aware I’m obsessed with his book Mastery.   This is also a portrait done from a photograph so in order to engage with the subject I really had to do research into the life and imagine the story of who they are if they were a breathing person in front of me.

This is the man that really transformed the way I saw the world from when I was just a nerdy little teenager trying to learn about how to pick up someone (romantically) by reading some ebooks, to a sort of...not quite enlightened but certainly more thoughtful young adult that really questioned the motivations and perspective behind certain actions people took. This is the author that penned: The Art of Seduction, The 48 Laws of Power and as you’re probably aware I’m obsessed with his book Mastery. 

This is also a portrait done from a photograph so in order to engage with the subject I really had to do research into the life and imagine the story of who they are if they were a breathing person in front of me.

Do you have a book that you constantly go back to reread again and again? Where every time you reread it just seems to unveil some new perspective that was there when you first read it, but it wasn’t quite the time for you to absorb it; the situation in your life hadn’t aligned enough to create that opportunity for it to resonate with you. As I am going through shifts in my life and creative career I’m constantly butting into new challenges and obstacles that can really disturb me mentally and physically, and in those times it’s really important to have someone or something that can kind of encourage and mentor you through it. For me Mastery was one of those books that I could really rely on to uplift and fuel me.

I don’t know too much about Robert personally, I’m mostly just a fan of his writing, but one of his personal stories that really resonated with me was the story of his life before he found his true calling in life: writing.

It wasn’t until he was 39 when he published his first book the 48 Laws of Power, which became an instant best-seller but before then he was really drifting around from job to job, going through an estimated 80 jobs as a construction worker, translator, magazine editor, and Hollywood movie writer to name a few. (Now I’m doing the maths I don’t know how he managed that...say he started working from when he was 15, that would be an estimated 3 - 4 short-lived jobs per year…)

But as he describes in his books Mastery, sometimes you need to go through all those things that weren’t really quite suitable for you to eventually find something that is perfect for you. I always joke when I’m introducing Greene’s works to friends by describing them as self-help books for people who don’t believe in self-help books. I’m a big fan of his writing because it’s so thoughtful, he really takes an observation and lays it out in clear points backed up with historical stories that are both really entertaining and memorable.

 

INSPIRATION E MARTË - (3) Pivoting from the bottom : Kim Brennan

One of the perks of starting this series is researching into the inspirations of my readers and either learning about someone who is truly admirable or finding a story in the lives of someone I might have known before but never truly understood. Sometimes the story is tinged with dark humour, sometimes it’s relatable, but it is always moving in some way, even if it’s just a little bit.  

This week’s inspiration was volunteered by my brother, Neil, a law student who takes rowing very seriously. So it came with little surprise to me when he nominated his rowing idol Kim Brennan, who won the women’s single scull at the 2017 Rio Olympics and who also happens to be a lawyer. How could one find so fitting a role model??  

My first introduction to her was a youtube video; a replay of her rowing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She moved swiftly and consistently, the muscles in her arms bulging and making the unable-to-do-a-single-pull-up me very envious. But beyond that, I didn’t understand the finer points of rowing and while I knew how hard it must physically be to compete on an Olympic level, I couldn’t really relate. But because I’ve always enjoyed doing portraits of people I feel connected to, I did some further research into her story.

One thing I realised as I was drawing this portrait of Kim Brennan was the incredibly piercing gaze that athletes have. They always seem to be looking into the future and the potential the exists everywhere, this focus is something I love.

One thing I realised as I was drawing this portrait of Kim Brennan was the incredibly piercing gaze that athletes have. They always seem to be looking into the future and the potential the exists everywhere, this focus is something I love.

Kim has always been an athlete but she didn’t take up rowing until she was 20. Prior to taking up rowing she was actually a sprinter and a hurdler who was competing on a professional level. Going by how focused athletes are, it was hard to see how one can transition so dramatically from a sporting arena concentrated on the lower-body strength to another arena that primarily uses the upper-body. What made this 180 pivot? 

A devastating injury would be the answer. At 19 years of age she was told that her desired sporting career was over. What a thing to go through! It would be like a doctor telling me I’ve damaged some nerves in my hands and I can’t draw with any level of finesse anymore, as a teenager I would have thought it was the worst day of my life and at the time Kim thought exactly that. But now looking back and reflecting on the depth of emotional despair she had felt at that point in time, it has become her source of strength, it has become the best part for her.

It has given her not only the opportunity to find a new sport to go into but also the perspective for any future failures and dark pits of emotions. It’s something that once experienced and lived through becomes a nourishing well that one can constantly dip back into as a reminder that they can get through their current obstacle and come out stronger.

Inspiration e Martë - (1) The Underdog Story: the Wright Brothers

I started an Email Newsletter not long ago but I have a confession to make. Now that I've had some time to unwind and look through all my previous emails...I can see how much more I have to work on...in terms of everything! XD

So in order to make this Newsletter more entertaining and engaging for you, I've decided to start a series that's more constant and inspiring. I'm an avid reader who really loves historical figures, stories and mythology. You may also know that I'm pretty obsessed with the idea of Mastery and persisting to that point.

Each week I’ll be sending out an email on Tuesday called Inspiration e martë. E martë means Tuesday in Albania, a small country next to Greece and Macedonia. The direct translation is "Of Mars". Each email will talk about one historical figure I love and what's inspirational about them. :) Accompanying it I'll also attempt a framed sketch of the historical figure. 

 

This week, my source of inspiration is a duo: the Wright Brothers

Everyone loves a good underdog story and what duo can emulate that more than the Wright Brothers; Wilbur & Orville? They were going up against all the odds. Who would possibly have bet on two young men who had not even received highschool diplomas, and whose funds came solely from their bicycle business?

And yet they had succeeded where all others before them failed; they had accomplished the long held dream of humanity - to take to the skies untethered. 

Orville Wright, 29/05/2017  Inspiration e Martë Series #1 Pencil Sketch

Orville Wright, 29/05/2017
Inspiration e Martë Series #1
Pencil Sketch

Wilbur Wright, 31/05/2017  Inspiration e Martë Series #1.5   Pencil Sketch

Wilbur Wright, 31/05/2017
Inspiration e Martë Series #1.5
Pencil Sketch

 

Building the first aircraft that would hover off the ground for a record breaking minute (almost, 1 second off), they were up against doctors and experts in the fields of engineering and aeronautics. At the time it was a race to see who could do it first, who would be the first to soar. The favourite to win the race was Samuel Langley, part of the Smithsonian Institute and granted an enormous government fund with the media tracking him and his team of experts' every progress.

With Wilbur and Orville, they had a team too, but none of them had completed highschool and there was certainly no media attention following them. Their funds were meager and most of the parts for their aircraft prototypes came from spares in their bicycle workshop! 

But they had heart! Every day they would work on their project and test out new frameworks, crashing down hills and breaking prototypes and sometimes bones. They were doing as much as 4 test runs a day! There was no money and little knowledge, but everyone gave what they had; they shared a vision and they were determined to bring it to life.

And on December 17, 1903, Wilbur Wright piloted their first plane at Kitty Hawk for 59 seconds, far ahead of any contemporaries in the field. 

One of the reasons I'm starting this series is so I can train myself up to entering the Archibald, which is one of the challenges that I've been afraid of attempting for so long. I'm testing out a theory here that if I draw enough inspiration (don't you love puns :P), I'll eventually get enough courage and discipline to counter my fears. :)

You can bid on these framed portrait sketches at a value of your choosing with the option of the story inscribed. Right now I'm really trying to grow my email list so I would appreciate so much if you would be able to give me a helping hand by spreading the word out there and getting anyone interested in receiving weekly inspiration to join us. Let's build a more creative community together! <3

I hope my journey brings some joy and inspiration into your life and I would love to hear about any historical/current figures or stories that you've found inspirational in the past. :)

With Love,

Nancy