Artists have painted portraits for centuries, often for commission,
and often not. Regardless of how they were done, the artist’s
skill would have been looked at first. As the most perfect
creation, the Human Form was the main focus of studies at
the old Academies. It has been known throughout
generations of artists that, “if you knew how to draw the
human form, particularly the human portrait, you could draw
anything.” All academic studies were based on working
with life-models, and the artists drew and painted only from
life or from their imagination. Even when photography was already
invented, the Artists still learned the Anatomy and the laws of Perspective. They exercised their Visual memory and applied their skills of working from life to create life-like convincing multi-figurative compositions and group portraits.
In the past several decades, with the boom of commercialism and drastic changes in Art education, when Drawing and Human Anatomy were completely erased from the curriculum of Fine Art programs, portraiture became something of a commercial venture, and quite often today it is nothing more, but a copy of a photograph, which does not require the Master knowledge, Creativity, Imagination or any in-depth Academic training.
ALL the greatest Masters of all time regarded the Classical Academic training as indispensable in the development of highest artistic and professional skills - the higher the education, the higher the competence, credentials and credibility of the artist.
Regardless of your art education, or what your occupation is, and whether or not your neighbor had a portrait painted by the same artist, you will feel intuitively, if there is anything wrong with the portrait samples you are looking at. That should be the signal for you to just look more thoroughly at things, so you would avoid making a costly and irreversible mistake.
Artists with the lack of proper education and experience of working from life, totally depend on the camera and copy whatever is visible on the photograph, without knowing what’s underneath. As a result, instead of creating the in-depth and full of character portrait, they draw a mask with no soul.
Unlike the amateurs, the Pros, by bringing their experience of working from Life, improve on the reality of the camera, filling in the one element missing: the Soul.
Photography was a great invention and today it often assists in creating commissioned portraits, both on the client side and for the artist. However, because of its general popularity, photographic image became more than a reference point and quite often even used as a subject for copying and tracing, which sadly simplifies the true essence of fine art portraiture and in reality, shallows its meaning.
Just like The Masters of the past, I don't believe in "short cuts", especially in portraiture, as it is a form of art, which represents the highest form of The Creation, us.
I also have a great admiration for those contemporary artists realists, who chose not a path of least resistance, but to explore and study the expertise of the traditional school, the most challenging and the only school, which teaches you to draw and empowers the artist with the skills of the Masters.
If you have read up to this point, you are one of the many people interested in knowing more about the fine art of portraiture and its timeless values which will always exist, regardless of new movements in art.
To Summarize, commissioning a Portrait is a huge responsibility you undertake for the generations to come. Therefore, I believe you deserve to have this necessary fundamental knowledge about:
- the differences between photographic images and realistic portrait paintings
- the skill of drawing freehand
- when photographs are used, developing a portrait from a number of references, vs just copying a single photo
- the artist's ability to work from life and the value of that experience in painting successful portraits
All of these factors and information above may assist you greatly in your selection process and efforts in finding your artist, for you and the future generations to benefit.
Recommended Artists to study
*Traditionally, "Fine Art" term is referred to the form of art, created by the artist's Talent and the human Skill. This obviously doesn't include photography, which is produced by a camera. ( I.V.B.)
**According to scientific research, it takes 450 years for Oil paint (Oil paintings) to dry completely, this is why today the beautiful Renaissance paintings look as 'fresh' as if they were painted yesterday.
A photograph starts to deteriorate IMMEDIATELY upon it's taken, and fades visibly in 30- 50 years.
#2. The Ability to Draw from Life
Throughout the centuries, the artists' main goal was to study in the highly acclaimed accredited Academies of art, or under the Master(s), who graduated from such Academies.That was to obtain the highest possible knowledge of Human Anatomy, Perspective, Master Methods of Drawing and Painting. Only after successfully completing these studies, could they pursue a professional career in figurative art including, of course, Portraiture.
Fortunately a handful of schools remained, providing high
quality art education and focusing not only on teaching how
to 'express emotions', but on giving students
the vital Drawing skills. Because of this and due to the Realist Movement and the current return to traditional values in visual art, historical appreciation for Fine Art Degrees is finally coming back..
Standard university art degrees are the 'undergraduate' Bachelor' (B.A.) and Master of Arts (M.A.).
The HIGHEST DEGREE one can earn in visual art education is the M.F.A., Master of Fine Arts, equivalent to the Ph.D in other fields, please read here.
Lady in the pink hat
Igor Babailov in a life drawing session with
General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Military Commander
Pope Benedict XVI
Life Sketch, Graphite pencil
by Igor Babailov
Igor V. Babailov, Honorary Academician of the Russian Academy of Arts (est.1757) painted his first portrait at the age of four and began his formal classical art education at nine (1974-1990). Having studied with leading Masters of painting and drawing at the Surikov Academy of the Russian Academy of Arts (est. 1757), he received the Master of Fine Arts Degree (MFA) and In the direct ‘teacher-student’ lineage of the Russian Academy, Babailov is a third generation student of the world-famous artists Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov.
Information on this page represents the views and principles of the historically famous Traditional school of Art as well as the philosophy and professional approach of the Masters of Portraiture, such as Ilya Repin, John Sargent and Valentin Serov.
If you can draw, you will always be able to paint. It has been recognized by generations of artists, that Drawing is the core of the artists' strength, especially in portraiture.
As part of the teachings of the Masters, the ability to draw and paint from LIFE is and will always be a sign of the true fundamental skill of an artist. However, the popularity of photography has created, if you will, “photocopy artists”, who would only copy photographs which is a very basic level of artistry to begin with. These artists present such copies of photographs as if they were Fine Art portraits, when in fact, they are only representative of a split second in a person's lifetime.
If photographs are used in painting a portrait, it would certainly be to your advantage to find out whether or not the artist has a greater skill than just copying photos. The skill in question is the ability to work from life, which enables the artist to portray the likeness with the most natural and life-like appearance, truly immortalizing the person and creating the portrait, which goes far beyond its photographic references.
DRAWING TEST: Ask the artist to draw a black & white sketch of you, your child or whomever the portrait subject is - on the spot, and of course from life. That could be done simply on white paper with a graphite pencil right in front of you. Do not worry, it won't take forever. The experienced and skilled Artist should be able to complete a life-like and a full of character sketch within 30 minutes.
Remember, just like all the Masters of the past, the pro will always be proud to demonstrate their skill in drawing from life without any hesitation. The 20th century master portrait artist Pietro Annigoni once said: "If one can draw, one can always paint".
Another way to be assured of the artist’s qualifications and the artistic credentials is to see more samples of their work, than only those shown in the artist’s portfolio. That could also prevent you from any surprizes and an Oops! situation later on.
As a preliminary portrait stage and part of the artist's portrait procedure, there maybe a life-study involved. Whether it is drawing or painting, skilled artists usually deliver a faster result without jeopardizing quality, simply because they do not waste their time on fixing mistakes. Below is an approximate time which experienced and skilled Fine Artists will require to complete portrait studies entirely from life in different mediums, relatively fast, yet full of likeness and fine details.
DETAILED portrait studies from life by an experienced artist
Medium Size Time required
Graphite Pencil Sketch ( approx. size 14" X 11" ) - up to 30 min. Pastel Portrait Study ( approx. size 20" X 16" ) - approx. 1.5 - 2 hrs. Oil Portrait Study ( approx. size 20" X 16" ) - approx. 2.5 hrs.
#4. Academic education
It is as important and fundamental in realistic art as the alphabet is to learn a language!
As I mentioned earlier, in the past several decades (since about 1960-s) classical art education was basically ignored in many art schools. As a result, after completing art programs, graduates could not really draw, because the in-depth Renaissance teaching methods were not taught. This is why, university art degrees, along with their titles, presented in the artists's portfolios since that time, were often not considered by others to be an important criteria of the artists' credentials.
Works by Igor Babailov,
while at the Academy
#5. Budget and Investment
Price comparison is naturally a priority consideration, but make sure that you compare 'apples to apples' ! Since having a portrait painted is usually a once in a lifetime experience, every credential should be considered, including the artist's ability to work from life. If you're thinking to hire an artist to copy a ready-made image of a photograph, you may as well just enlarge that photo and save yourself a lot of money... However, remember: photographs don't last, as they start fading immediately after they are taken.....
If you are thinking of a true luxurious Fine Art Portrait in the tradition of the Masters, to pass it on to your descendants and future generations, look beyond the price tag, as in the long run our descendants are going to inherit what we purchased for them. So why not go for the best! Please keep in mind though, because of today's common unawareness of what the portrait painting should be, a 'photocopy artist' may ask almost as high price for a portrait as the skilled Artists would. Once again, the way to be assured in the true qualifications of 'your' artist would be by offering the DRAWING TEST (please see Essential #2).
It is known that with time, the works of Fine Art*(please see below) increase in value, and this is naturally applied to portrait painting**(please see below). For your information, ninety percent (90%) of the Metropolitan Museum collection are life-painted commissioned portraits. If the artists' officially commissioned portraits include those of business and political leaders and celebrities, whose names stay in history, the artists' names who officially painted them go into history with their subjects. The value of such artists’ works are guaranteed to be on the higher level at any time and in the future.
Another way to asses the quality of work you're possibly interested in is to see the artist’s ability to paint hands. It has been recognized by generations of artists to be as challenging, if not even more, as painting the portrait itself. Again simply look at the larger number of the portrait samples where the hands are included and listen to your heart.
#7. Listening to your heart
Direct Teacher-Student Lineage
Direct Teacher-Student Lineage
To ascertain the presence of this vital skill for a successful portrait painting, you might wish to consider the following: a simple DRAWING TEST.
Master of Ascending Realism
Again, these days you may hear from some artists: “I paint, but I would rather not draw.” .. Why?.. Because any weakness the artist may have in portraying proportions or tonal values or in the anatomy details, can easily be exposed in black & white drawing. In painting however, they may get away with those mistakes, as the color or "painterly" brush strokes can distract the viewer's eye from those mistakes. As an excuse not to draw in front of a client, such artists may even try to undermine the importance of drawing, saying that to draw would be a low thing to do for their "professional level". This is total nonsense!
The curriculum of any true Academic school in all times was always based on perfecting the skill of drawing, as a fundamental for strong painting. That would remain to be the goal of any Master painter throughout their professional career. The famous 17th Century Nicolas Poussin said: “Drawing is the skeleton of painting, the color is its flesh.” The most contemporary American artist Norman Rockwell
stated: "You build the house before you paint it."
Consider this. When we were school children in kindergarten, we copied images from books, comics strips, etc. It really did not require much skill at all to copy a ready made image or a photograph. But in the context of painting portraits professionally in the tradition of the Masters, high artistic skills and ability to realistically create (not just to copy pictures)must be the uncompromising criteria for every "professional" portrait painter!
This is where the true artistic skill is revealed.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN COMMISSIONING A PORTRAIT PAINTING
by Igor V. Babailov, Hon RAA, KStA, MFA