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Difficulty achieving the likeness of a face on a small canvas

I am working on a painting at the moment that is 12"x12" which includes an image of my wife sitting on an outdoor deck with a lot of scenery around her and behind her, meaning, it's not a portrait, per se, rather it's a scene she happens to be in. I am struggling so much right now with achieving a likeness in her face, which, on the painting is only around an inch in diameter. Also complicating things is the fact that I've never done a portrait before so achieving likeness in a face is something I've never attempted. I feel pretty good about everything else in the painting in terms of the realism, including accurately representing her body, but can't seem to get her face anywhere near what she looks like. Any tips on achieving likeness in a face that small on the canvas?  


  • Bucky

    At that size, likeness is about shapes. This is how we recognise friends in a school photo.

    Once the hair shape and shadow shapes are in place a likeness should be apparent. A few tiny extra details completes the illusion.


  • edited August 24
    I wish you could show the picture but 12X12 is not a good size for achieving likeness. Maybe you can use that as a study and use a canvas 24X24. It's almost like painting a miniature painting which is very different. I painted one a 4X4 and it took equal amount of time of any standard face painting.
  • @Bucky, is the canvas rough or smooth? To get a good likeness on such a small area the canvas would need to be very smooth and I guess you would need small, soft brushes. If the surface is rough I think you will have to simplify and be happy with just an impression rather than an accurate portrait. 
  • I agree with dencal. We can recognise faces from a distance or in a photo where the area of their face is small and has very little detail.
  • Thanks, @dencal and @Richard_P. That's very helpful. I did my best to simply achieve the correct shape, hair line, shadows, of her head and face and let go of trying to get the details to an exact likeness. 

    @tassieguy it's a fairly rough canvas so I guess that's also why it was hard to get detail in that size. That's an interesting point that I was not aware of. I will definitely keep that in mind for future endeavors on smaller canvases! 

    @Kaustav I might just consider that idea. I think this painting was perhaps not the right size for this subject matter. 
  • I will be posting it shortly in the "post your paintings" section so you can take a look at what I am struggling with. Thanks again, guys, @dencal @Kaustav @tassieguy @Richard_P  
  • Bucky

    This is a good illustration of how shadow shapes build a likeness. from Artists and Illustrators.


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