It can be argued that the most important part of creating a pencil portrait that truly turns your moment into a masterpiece is choosing the right photograph. Sound stressful? Don’t worry! Here are a few helpful tips about how to choose the proper photograph:
1. Above anything else, choose a photo that you love, one that when you look at it you can’t help but smile. You can follow all of the tips that come after this one, but if you don’t truly love the photo then why memorialize it in pencil? I can tell you that, personally, when I draw a portrait of myself and my husband from our wedding day, I will put some of my artistic brain on hold and go for the one that brings me the most joy to look at.
2. Size matters. When I draw portrait from a photograph, this is my motto: the bigger the better. The more that I can zoom in (when it’s a digital photo, which is ideal) on the corner of a person’s eye – or whatever feature it happens to be – to see just the right shapes and shadows, the better. In the case of a printed photo, size and quality are even more important. As an artist (and a former mathematics major… can anyone say detail-oriented?) I choose to really invest the time to get details correct on the portraits that I draw, but I can only include what I can see. If you take a moment to compare two examples from my portfolio, you will see what I mean:
(In order to see a larger version, please click on each portrait.)
When the Western Center for Journalism commissioned me to draw portraits of the 2012 GOP candidates, I had to choose my photos from the limited selection of those that were available and non-copyright protected. Above you can see the portrait of Congressman Ron Paul on the left, drawn using an 1195×1500 pixel photo for reference. On the right is the portrait of Speaker Newt Gingrich, drawn using a 249×267 pixel photo. Both portraits turned out, in my opinion, quite well; however, the detail in the portrait of Paul is significantly higher than that of Gingrich, whose portrait seems a little softer and not as sharp.
The long and the short of it is that no matter what photo you choose, I will work with you to create a beautiful end result. The question that you need to think about in choosing your photograph is whether it contains the detail that you desire, and, if not, whether there is a similar photo –that also makes you smile just to look at it – which would work better.
3. The darker the photograph, i.e., the more shadow and less contrast, the less detail that I will be able to put into your portrait. Again with the detail! It may sound like a broken record, but at the heart of each tip for choosing your perfect photograph is the visible detail contained within it. We all know what makes a visually pleasing photo – being able to see the people in it. So take the time to look through your photos and find one isn’t too dark to see properly. With digital photos, it is not difficult to adjust the contrast and lightness, so this is not as much of an issue as with print photos. If you are attached to a darker print photo, it can be scanned into the computer and adjusted as well, so feel free to contact me with questions.
4. A photograph that is washed out from too much flash or sunlight is not ideal for the same reasons as a photograph that is too dark. The excess light takes away important shadows that suggest detail and three-dimensional space, which is what really makes a good portrait seem lifelike!
5. Do you have permission to use this photograph? Due to issues with copyright-protected images, I am unable to produce a pencil portrait for you of a photograph that is not yours or which you do not have permission to use. During the order process you will need to check a box verifying that you have full rights to the photo(s) that you upload.
6. In the ideal photograph to use for a portrait, the faces of the people in it will be relatively close together. No worries if there is a little distance though. I can always move things around to make a more pleasing composition if people are too far apart. Example: If a bride and groom had a beautiful photo, but the bride was 5 feet tall and the groom was closer to 6 and a half, I would either drop the groom down or move the bride up (to get the same effect) in order to make a more pleasing composition. **Changes like this will not be made without consulting with you first. I would not want to make such a drastic composition change without customer approval.
7. You can pick and choose head shots from multiple photographs. It is always ideal to just use a single photo due to the authentic interaction between the people in the photo, the consistent light source, etc., but if, for example, you have two children and your favorite picture of your oldest child was different from your favorite picture of your youngest, I could combine both photographs to create one cohesive portrait. If you choose to use multiple photographs, please make sure to explain in detail the combination that you want when uploading. Also remember that when using multiple photos it is very important that the photos be of the same quality – generally the same size, etc. – so that they meld together well in the final portrait.
So what conclusions have we come to? Be mindful of the size and the detail, but in general: If it’s a beautiful photograph, chances are good that it will make a beautiful portrait. Pure Pencil portraits capture memories that will last a lifetime, so make sure that you choose a photograph that you will want to remember forever. As always, if you have questions or want to run a potential photo by me, please just fill out a contact form and I will do my best to answer your questions and let you know my thoughts about a specific photograph.