Please help me paint a per­son’s head and their re­flec­tion in the mir­ror in the same paint­ing

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Lil­iana Blaszczyk, Poland

Damian replies

Paint­ing a por­trait through the veil of a mir­ror adds its own set of spe­cific tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments to an il­lus­tra­tion, beyond that of paint­ing a com­pelling or at­trac­tive face. It also re­quires the painter to be able to find par­al­lels that re­late the sub­ject to its re­flec­tion.

Of­ten the art work I see ad­dress­ing por­trai­ture in re­flec­tion will de­pict a shot where the re­flec­tion acts as the ac­tual por­trait, and the sub­ject is viewed from be­hind, usu­ally over the shoul­der. This is be­cause the eas­i­est way to get a por­trait from a mir­ror that’s per­pen­dic­u­lar to the sub­ject’s glance is to cre­ate it from be­hind. How­ever, by re­search­ing the sub­ject I dis­cover that by off­set­ting the an­gle of the mir­ror it’s pos­si­ble to in­clude more of the sub­ject’s pro­file into the piece, while re­tain­ing the in­tended por­trait. This act of tilt­ing the mir­ror gives me more el­e­ments than pro­vided by a ‘ back of the head’ shot to unify the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sub­ject and re­flec­tion.

My ap­proach is to match key anatomy points be­tween the pro­file and the re­flected por­trait. I’m mind­ful that proportions de­ter­min­ing the ‘ like­ness’ are uni­form across the por­trait and pro­file, such as the dis­tance from the eye-line to the bot­tom of the nose, and from that to the bot­tom of the chin. With the por­trait in par­al­lel, I use ref­er­ence lines to match the por­trait’s anatom­i­cal land­marks to the pro­file and cor­rect any dis­crep­an­cies us­ing Pho­to­shop’s Trans­for­ma­tion tools. I mir­ror tones and hues from the pro­file to the re­flec­tion, and back again, en­sur­ing that if I paint some­thing in one, it’s also re­flected in the other. Paint­ing el­e­ments that dis­tance the re­flec­tion, such as dis­tor­tion along the bevel, dust and scratches, and an over­all de­sat­u­ra­tion and cool­ing of things in the mir­ror com­pletes the il­lu­sion.

By de­pict­ing the character at an an­gle in the mir­ror, I can re­veal more of her pro­file to the viewer.

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