The expression, that's the important thing. Last portrait painter I ever met was Fulk Gordianson. Painted a beautiful likeness, but he made everyone look nauseated. A group painting rapidly went from a record of an important civic event to "Beer and Bad Takeaway For the Burghers of Hainault". Last I saw of him, he was chatting up some crows, while he was dangling on a pike over the town square of Hainault. Well, he'll be missed.
Then there's the problem of being too honest. Your basic lord or warlord, warlords in particular..they want a good likeness, they want you to be able to say "Oh, that's Grog the Rancid, is it?" The thing is, they want you to be able to say in the next sentence "I never knew he was such a *good looking* man.." Not easy to do. Particularly not when Grog had one of his relatives standing behind you with an axe at all times, in case the preliminary sketches didn't pass muster.
Calls for a diplomatic touch, an excellent sense of self preservation and one hell of a steady hand.
I've noticed something myself. Dead conservative lot, tyrants are. I mean, they're all for a portrait, sometimes even a family portrait, but get them to go for something avante garde and striking? No, indeed. "If I want my face to be painted in yellow and pthalo green, I'll do it meself."
Of course you will, my lord. Nope..no unusual lines, no Cubism, no Dadaist manifesto, this lot want straightforward portraits with lots of red and gold. Red for blood you see and gold for well..gold. In fact if it's possible to gild the gold, they're all for it. "Put some more gold stuff on the gold, that's the ticket" they say..and "Could you make the gold a bit more goldy?" Because you see they want to emphasize that not only are they recklessly homicidal brutes, they're *rich* homicidal brutes. With *culture*. See? They've had their portraits done. And if they don't like them, they'll toss the artist into a cell and let him rot. Of course, if they like them, they'll toss him into a cell and let him rot as well. Just so he won't do any portraits for anyone else.
But enough about tyrants. This is about art, after all, and it doesn't do to get too political about art. The best portrait I ever saw was Gruyere's "Portrait of a Naked Lady What Has No Clothes On." Stunning that was. Chilling in it's attention to detail. What? oh..the title? Well you can't expect the artist to do *everything*, all right? He did a beautiful picture of a lady who'd gone out and left her dress at home. Complaining about the title seems a bit..petty, in the light of things.
What? Oh, *my* portrait? Well it's lovely. I've never really had a *painting* done, you see. My portraits were always more in the sketch line. Usually with a lot of printing underneath them. Not that I minded. I'm a modest sort of fellow. Usually once the portraits were up it was time to leave town. The attention they generated was just too embarrassing.
The artist? Do I know her? Well of course I know her, mate. She painted my portrait, didn't she? I had to know her for that to happen, didn't I? I can't just pop into her dreams and say "Hello..look, sorry to be a bother, but if you wouldn't mind painting a picture of someone you've never seen before for someone you'll never see again, I'd be awfully appreciative. And please? Don't make the nose too big. Chest. Think chest." No..I got to know her, asked her questions, saw her work, all that. We got on a treat.
Of course, she was a lot more cooperative after I untied her.