Knowing how to spot a good portrait or artwork

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This guide is a quick primer in what to look for in Art to know what you are getting is a good work and not an amateurish piece.
I will need to credit The Principles of Design website for the additional information provided. I recommend further reading if you are interested in knowing more about art appreciation. Your local library and online resources are filled with this information.

The sad fact about selecting art works to buy is that a lot of the stuff on sale is just a waste of your money - no matter how much many artists or sellers talk up an artwork - 80% is just crap. A trained eye and anyone who knows anything about art can tell you in the first 5 seconds if the work is any good.
So to help you not invest in the above mentioned 80%, the following is for you:

What to look for

1. When buying an original drawing or painting, take a look at how the subject - the main person or object is composed.
Balance - A balanced artwork leaves the viewer feeling visually comfortable. On the other hand, a work that is not balanced creates a sense of visual stress.

The work should be balanced and the subject should not be located in one part of the page or canvas without some sort of counter-balance. This counter-balance can either be another object or series of objects, a block of colour in the background - this is called Informal Balance.
an example of Informal Balance where the black on the left balances the woman on the right
an example of Balance, where the larger people on the right are balanced by the many smaller seated people on the left

Sometimes if there is no balance surrounding the central subject, then you will find that the main part of the subject i.e the face is actually centred on the page.
Another example of balance the subject is centered

Many artworks I see can claim to be balanced, but each time I look at them, they have that 'not quite right' look to them.

Important: The Mirror Test

There's a simple test you can run on an art work to see if its balanced - and all you need is a simple mirror, any kind of mirror.
What you need to do is look at the artwork using a mirror - and you can use it on art images on the net or on eBay, if the image obviously looks 'not quite right' in its mirror image, its pretty much a given that its not quite right.
This test also works with Proportion.

Try the mirror test on these examples I found and you will see how unbalanced they are

I wont name the artists, but in each example you can clearly see how unbalanced they are and if you cant, try the mirror test and see for yourself!

As an artist, you should mirror test your works all the time - I do to track my progress, no matter how good you are, sometimes you do get the smallest part wrong and the mirror helps you correct your mistake.
I still cringe at some of the earlier stuff I did that sits in various loungerooms that didnt pass the mirror test but were given away as gifts, I now destroy any work that wont pass this test rather than have it hung up on a wall.

Taking into consideration the explanation above, take a look to see if the artwork being sold has all its bits in the right place at the right length. What you want to ensure is that if someone is not purposely trying to draw disproportionate features, that you check to see if an arm is too long for the body, a nose is much longer than on the photo shown for comparison, there eyes are not too wide apart, or one ear is not sitting on a forehead while the other is down low near the neck.

2. The second item you should be looking at is
    2.1 Is the drawing or painting traced?
    2.2 Did the artist use a tricky computer program to scan your photo and then resample it as an artwork or drawing and then print it out.

On 2.1 Is the drawing or painting traced? I have seen so many examples of traced artworks being sold as either originals or as part of commissioned portraits, where an artist has simply used tracing paper to draw an outline of your photo so the proportions are correct. The thing with traced portraits is, they will show up an artists lack of skill when it comes down to the finer details. You will see in most traced works that yes they have the proportions correct, the image outline is to scale but when you look at the central items such as eyes, nose, lips and mostly the cheek and chin area, they will try to pass the details off with shading that just doesnt quite do it, in other words it doesnt look like the real person even though you can see their outline.
The other tell-tale sign is that you can clearly see a thicker outline of where the subject has been traced and all the other detail will be sketchy.
While I wont say the example below is traced, you can decide for yourself - hint, check the nose, lips and eyes on the girl on the left, proportionately correct but lacking proper detail.


2.2 Using a tricky computer program - On rare occassions I have seen this, the artist has scanned a photo and then used a program such as photoshop or adobe illustrator to convert a scanned image into a drawn one, and then sneakily try to print off on a laser or inkjet printer and pass it off as an original artwork. Some are even tricky enough to give it a once over with some pencils. But the scam is discovered when you rub out some of the features and see the print which does not go away.

I hope that has helped you in working out what makes a good art work and what doesnt. I am always learning and I hope other artists will not take offence at including their works on this guide, for that reason I have not named names etc.
If you have further questions regarding portraits, copies, artworks in general - feel free to contact me and I will try to assist to the best of my abilities.
I also sell commissioned art works at a very reasonable price. Please contact me for a quote if I have not listed something you desire or if you require a size different to what I am selling.
Commissioned Drawing from your Photo. Hand Drawn Artwork.

Regards,
JFColella
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