My 15-year old niece Kitty kindly gave up a day to sit for me recently.
Unlike most portrait painters I actively avoid working from photographs.
I see a portrait's true purpose as being a way of capturing something of the subject that a photograph can't.
Spending hours with someone; moving, sitting, chatting with you – means that the character, attitude and personality of that sitter will make an impression. And it is elements of that which I will try to capture.
A photograph freezes a moment lasting just a fraction of a second.
When an artist copies a photograph, it is unavoidable that the photograph itself will dominate in their painting, no matter what other observations and approaches they use. The photograph effectively dictates what the painting will look like before the painting is even started.
Conversely, having someone sitting in front of you – moving, breathing, talking – forces the painter to have no option to look. And look they must – for hours on end.
That's not to say that photographs don't have their place – as art in their own right, and as useful reference material. A real portrait should give much more than the click of a shutter can offer you.
Equally important in portrait painting is the fact that – unlike a landscape or still life – the subject of your painting is actually themselves working hard too.
Sitting still, being sensitive to the studio environment and the needs of the painter, is far more taxing that one might imagine.
With Kitty I felt very privileged to have such a beautiful model who sat very still.