The Mug Shot

With the exception of just one of the photos above, I swiped most of these snapshots from the FBI's "Most Wanted." And I grabbed a few of the others from police logs.

The "Mug Shot" style, no matter how "cute or lovable the person" is NOT EVER EVER EVER a good reference material for a painted portrait. 

A good portrait painting needs go way beyond a mere head and shoulders. Talent just isn't enough to compensate for an unimaginative and poor quality reference snapshot.

Good portraits are meant to be, first and foremost, GOOD paintings. Be mindful when you choose or shoot reference material or you could end up with a well painted Mug Shot. Cringe.
Good composition needs to be thoughtfully built. 

The artist must carefully consider and plan for interesting positive and negative shapes. For the most part, Mug Shots aren't "interesting" in any way.

And most importantly - a single source of light is essential to define form. Shadows are an important design element and in good portraiture they are seldom accidental.

So here is how an Old Master, John Singleton Copley, transformed his particular little "mug shot" into a magnificent painting. 

Did you spot the head? I included in the group photo collage (above). 

For starters, his sitter is the only one that had proper lighting - no flash bulbs in those days. And Copley knew that clothing doesn't make the person - but it really does make the painting!

Instead of a mere rendering of someone's face, he made an amazingly beautiful painting. It hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Art. They have a large collection of Copley's works and it is worth a special trip to see it.

Copley was soooooo creative! He was no slave to reality and "made up" a lot in his portraits:

Sometimes he "shamelessly borrowed" clothing styles from pictures via engravings that came from Europe. 

He "invented" backgrounds to display beautiful lands that did not exist but suggested that they were "owned" by the sitters. 

He often "dreamed up" drapes and props from thin air. 

And he sometimes "borrowed" furniture - just to serve the compositional elements that the painting demanded.

No wonder Copley is one of the greatest portrait painters (in my opinion) that ever lived. It fairly takes my breath away when I stand in front of one of his works.

If you wish to study and learn a lot about composition, color and the creative use of clothing and props, John Singleton Copley is the guy to look at. 

I suggest that you focus on his early body of works from when he lived in America - and before he fled to England during the Revolution.

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