Portrait artist Mohan Sonawane shares his wisdom on the art of portraiture, revealing the secrets to capturing the essence of the individual.
CG. Could you kindly recall your artist journey, the pleasures and pains of the path?
Mohan. I never imagined I would reach such heights in art as I have today. Art was my favourite subject as a child, and due to my family’s financial condition, I had to work part-time to purchase my art materials. As I progressed, my art teacher recommended ATD. During that program, I have suggested the JJ School of Art, where I pursued a program for Applied Arts. My time in Mumbai was testing and arduous; I was alone in the vast city and had to fend for myself. Apart from this, commuting took up most of my day, leaving very little time to study. Nevertheless, this period taught me several important life lessons that I cherish even today.
The most unforgettable moment, however, is the time I won a bronze medal during the final year of my under graduation. This path has been strenuous, and I have been rejected several times, but I wouldn’t have reached where I am today if I hadn’t faced those failures.
CG. What/who is your muse? What inspires you to take up the pen/pencil/stylus every day and sketch?
Mohan. Since I did not have strong financial support from my family, I had to work very hard to be self-sufficient. My desire to be independent is the fuel for my work.
CG. Your work primarily consists of portraits. What inspired you to take up portrait painting?
Mohan. Artist Vasudev Kamat’s paintings inspired me to take up portraiture. I create all kinds of art, but portraiture has been my favourite ever since I was in JD Art painting.
CG. Could you kindly share the process behind your photo selection for your portraits? Are there any specific criteria that one must consider when selecting photographs for portrait painting?
Mohan. Photo selection is a critical aspect of portraiture. One must carefully hand-pick a photograph that has sufficient depth and ample lighting. The right picture can result in a vibrant portrait and shine a light on all of your hard work.
CG. How do you design the background and assemble the colour palette for a piece? What are the critical aspects that one must look into while picking colours for a portrait?
Mohan. Background plays a vital role in a portrait because the right background can make your artwork stand out. The colour selection for the background depends majorly on the subject and their skin tone. I shift from light and dark colours depending on the mood and subject of the piece.
CG. How do you determine the best angle and light for a portrait (assuming that there is no photograph to refer to), especially since all of us possess a “good” and “bad” side (in terms of photography angle)?
Mohan. Knowing your anatomy can save you here since an artist well versed in anatomy can create any pose with ease. Depth in the artwork can be brought about through shading. However, a reference photograph can help ease the process.
CG. Apart from realistic portraits, you have also mastered the art of caricatures. What are the similarities and differences in the artistic process for both? Does your process vary in terms of sketching and painting?
Mohan. Be it a realistic portrait or caricature, it is vital to know your anatomy. However, in lifelike portraits, we need to maintain the character, and in caricatures, we need to exaggerate the subject’s features. Therefore, we follow the rules of anatomy rather strictly for portraits. Otherwise, the painting and sketching process essentially remains the same.
CG. Your artworks have a significant variation in style and flair. How do you set a particular style for an artwork? Which is your most preferred style?
Mohan. I decide the style for an artwork based on the character and concept of the work. My go-to is the “one eye” style, which I have followed in several of my works.
CG. How do you choose the subjects of your painting? Could you elaborate on the portrait painting process? What are your preferred software and medium?
Mohan. Before beginning my painting process, I study the subject carefully and harvest ideas during the reference study phase. Quick gesture drawings provide a good understanding of the subject. Then, with the base secure, I proceed to draft the final sketch. Upon completing the final illustration, I work on the base colour for the skin tone and proceed to add darker shades and complete the work with finer details. The result is finalised only after the colour correction process, where I tweak the colours and check colour balance. As for my prefered software and medium, they are Adobe Photoshop and Watercolours, respectively.
CG. Who is your greatest inspiration and/or role model/mentor from the field of art?
Mohan. Artist Vasudeo Kamath is my role model, and his paintings are my source of inspiration. I have learnt a lot about portraiture by studying his works.
CG. Could you share a few words of wisdom with aspiring artists on the art of portrait painting?
Mohan. If you want to perfect the art of portraiture, then develop keen observation and sketch regularly. It is crucial to practice from live studies as much as possible.