Concentrating on Portraits: Faces with no Features?

Of all the works I labored over this week, the above detail from a charcoal drawing comes the closest to being an actual “portrait”.  It looks like the model.  In fact, the entire drawing could be called a portrait in that it not only looks like the model, but it conveys the model’s attitude, which I have called “Proud”:


If you are a regular reader of this blog,  you already know that I am taking a course in contemporary portraiting at the NH Institute of Art, with Cameron Bennett.  One of the points that he made in our first class was that anything representing the subject can qualify as a “portrait”–if that is what the artist intends.  (One out-there example brought up by one of my smartypants classmates was Andy Warhol’s tomato soup cans.  She/he said he practically lived on tomato soup; therefore the soup-can paintings could be considered self-portraits.)

So suddenly I feel free to call my anonymous figure paintings “portraits” too.  I’m thinking of the studies I painted from the photos I took at the  Mount Washington Bike Race, discussed and reproduced in several of my posts from last fall.  As you will see below, I’m still working from those photographs, and I’m still trying to work more loosely.  To that end, I have stuck printouts of Carolyn Anderson paintings all over my easel to help me remember how little I need in order to convey eyes, nose, etc.  (Forget the mouth altogether.)  All this fits splendidly into another theme or goal, which was urged upon me by various art teachers to whom I have paid good money to criticize and guide me.  And that goal is to eliminate the detail.  I was never quite sure which details I should eliminate, so now I am on track to eliminate all of them, so that should produce something like progress, eh?

Last week I was struggling with a portrait of Sammi and Noodles, which got way too detailed.  (To see it, go back to last week’s post.)  Thursday night, I went to class bearing that sorry effort, along with my photograph of Sammi, and my drawing from the week before.  (All in last week’s blog.)  But I (wisely, I think) decided to make a fresh start on a new painting of the same subject.   Again I was seduced by the dog Noodles.  (Maybe I should just give up and do nothing but pet portraits.)   The depiction of Sammi was horrible.  I can’t show you how horrible because I smeared it out even while Cameron and I were shaking our heads over it.  He got into the spirit and started moving paint around with his fingers too, in random and varied directions, to show me how Carolyn Anderson would probably have attacked the painting.  (I use the word “attacked” to convey both possible meanings.)  Then at home yesterday I practiced on both versions of Sammi and Noodles, and here they are as they exist today, side by side:

No. 1, version 2

Sammi 2



I’m not satisfied with either one, but don’t you agree that version 2 shows me moving in the desired direction?  I decided it was time to move on and apply whatever I learned to another project.  Here is the result:


I’m feeling good about this one.  The paint is very thick and still very wet, which is why I could not get a decent photograph of it . .  .  also why the colors may be a little too muddy, but I’m not going to worry about that right now.  The important thing is, I conveyed the gestures and attitudes of these three people without painting distinct features on them.  My previous Mt. Washington studies (yes, this too is from that race) had started to become that kind of thing, what with the loosely painted crowds.   Notice the crowd depictions above!    Maybe too abstract?  Hey, I’m feeling my way here.

But back to the portrait, the real thing, that I started you with today, the charcoal of “Proud”.   My favorite thing from this week.  I believe–I could be wrong, but I do believe–that there is no offending detail in that portrait.  I am going to take it in to class this Thursday and see what Cameron has to say.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Gallery at 100 Market Street in Portsmouth; at the Sage Gallery in Manchester; at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester; at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; and at her studio by appointment.

Link to website:

6 responses to “Concentrating on Portraits: Faces with no Features?

  1. “Proud”, Sammi #2, and Fans are terrific. Moving the “paint” around really pays off in giving you more freedom, which in turn nicely eliminates the detail. That’s more contemporary and more pleasing. Good work. As I said before–you’ve come a long way. EP


  2. Yup – you’re definitely moving in the intended direction … but Sam and Noodles may still be too detailed!
    I like Fans … I think it has just enough detail, or rather form, to make it “readable”. Now that you’ve pointed out the very abstract crowd in the background I can make out some figures and faces … maybe you should clarify them slightly more? But to me this one reads as A Day at the Zoo or Waiting at the Zoo because of the elephant. (I’ll let you find him).
    You’re making amazing progress – I don’t think I can EVER let go of the detail. When I try, it just doesn’t work for me!


    • Thanks for the encouragement! You have to WANT to let go of the details first, before trying. Almost like wanting to quit smoking. (What did it take to make me really want to quit smoking? A life changing event.)


  3. The posture and the prorportions of the bodies in fans seems very accurate. That is hard to do like perspective of buildings. Art


  4. “Proud” is a very successful portrait; it SEEMS to look like the person, though I’ve never seen her .
    “Fans” appears so true to life in their postures that I feel sure that if I knew the people, I’d recognize them despite the lack of detail.
    Jackie Flood