A friend asked me the other day if I ever find a model session uninspiring or difficult to paint because the model is not what you'd call a "classic beauty". My short answer is no. For the longer answer, here's why.
A few years ago, I took an afternoon in Los Angeles to see David Hockney's portrait exhibit at the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art. At first glance, these huge paintings appeared strong and somewhat characateurish, but as I spent time there, they became so much more.
"Mumby", David Hockney
I could feel the relationship between the sitter and Hockney, and I imagined what it must have been like in that room the day the model sat for him. Faces were not made beautifully, but I felt that it was the personality he was after, much more than the likeness of the face.
I made a mental note that day that sometimes the most beautiful portraits are much more than "skin deep". There are indeed many beautiful portraits of beautiful people out there, but a portrait of a beautiful unique character can be much more difficult to achieve, and it may say much more about the model than a simple likeness.
Ever since my time with Hockney's portraits, I approach model sittings differently. I take a few minutes to observe the model in silence. I consciously take a few deep breaths and I wait for something about this unique person to introduce itself to me. I want my portraits to communicate how I felt about the model that day, beyond an accurate likeness.
"Friendly and Open"