Painting personality

One of the things that I most enjoy about painting animals is trying to make the subject look like a real creature with a life of its own. Here, I’m not just referring to the visual elements of painting that might make something look realistic (like shape, colour, tone, texture, etc.) but to actually capturing something like personality.

When it comes to people, we expect to get a sense of their person-hood from the mood conveyed by their facial expressions and body language. Whereas for animals, and particularly creatures that don’t have expressive mammalian-type features, (such as insects, fish, reptiles, etc.) painting personality can be a real challenge.

The majority of my recent paintings have featured birds, which don’t seem to anthropomorphise well. (Consider this in contrast to the ‘moody hedgehog’ drawing that I wrote about previously!) With the ‘Season-spiration’ paintings, for example, I found myself having to rely on those broader visual elements (colour, texture, etc.) to infuse the entire image with ‘personality’. But I couldn’t seem to paint a personality just for the bird, which is what we might expect in a human portrait.

So I’m wondering: is there a particular way of painting personality when it comes to animals that I haven’t yet grasped; or, does this difficulty has more to do with how people think of animal characteristics anyway? (Comments and suggestions are very welcome by the way!)

I think most people would probably agree that their pets have personalities, but it would also be fair to ask “well, how much personality do you expect a bug to have?”

So maybe the personality that we prescribe to some kinds of animals is just symbolic..?

I like to think that all individual creatures have a personality of their own that isn’t uniform across its species; and because I think it, surely I should be able to paint it. But, right now, I’m just not sure how to paint it…

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