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After poring through scores of art books for the many years, it doesn't take me long to spot a good one. When Chris Saper's book arrived from Amazon and I flipped through page after page of stunning illustrations, I knew I'd found a gem!
But it's not a mere coffee table book, though the paintings are beautiful enough to merit that, it's also a guide to deciphering what makes a portrait work. And what doesn't.
After years of painting portraits, I am still confounded by color temperatures. Is that shadow warm or cool. How about that filtered sunlight? I can change my mind a dozen times. Saper's clear and sensible explanations on how to determine color temperature was like being handed a map to the hidden treasure. She shows a before and after that really drives home her points. The section on color harmonies, which includes dealing with the background, clothing and props, is another gem that resolves many issues aspiring portrait artists struggle over. Other portrait books I've read only gloss over these key areas.
Saper's demonstrations employ a variety of races, but she somehow manages to make each one useful even if you think you'll never have the chance to paint people of that race. (But after seeing hers, you'll want to.) It has to do with her explanations for choices of background, poses, props and color balance, and also seeing how well it works out on the canvas or paper.
Most artists, myelf included, out of necessity rely on photo reference material that unfortunately is far from accurate, even though it may appear to be so. Saper skillfully unravels the tangle of pitfalls one encounters here: depth of field lies, value clumping, color distortion. She directs us on how to handle and compensate for these problems. Other books address this, but not with as much insight.