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Portrait artist Mohan Sonawane shares his wisdom on the art of portraiture, revealing the secrets to capturing the essence of the individual.

Portraiture by Mohan Sonawane
A digital rendition of the Indian Bollywood actress Shraddha Kapoor

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.

An illustration capturing the likeness of a Sadhu painted digitally

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.

Portraiture by Mohan Sonawane
An illustration capturing the likeness of an Old Man painted digitally

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.

Portraiture by Mohan Sonawane
A digital painting of Freida Pinto

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.

An illustration capturing the likeness of a Rajasthani old man painted digitally

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.

A digital rendition of the actor Aiden Shaw

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.

Portraiture by Mohan Sonawane
A digital rendition of the actor Rowan atkinson in his famous avatar as Mr.Bean

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.

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The enchanting portraits of Anna Dittmann evoke different emotions. It is a right blend of real emotions showcased in a dreamy, whimsical setting using delicate detailing with natural elements. Here, she gives us an insight into her creative process and discusses how one’s passion can be moulded to create striking designs.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Oil
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Chalice

CG: Your illustrations are mystical portraits with delicate detailing which is heavily influenced by natural elements. What fascinates you to utilise these elements in your illustrations?

AD: I love the beauty and unpredictability of nature – it perfectly complements the human face. Most of my work consists of portraits because I enjoy depicting characters and emotions. I often draw inspiration from movement and organic shapes by fusing abstract natural elements. Environment evokes a sense of mystery which is very appealing. Therefore, I tend to create soft pieces with a combination of graphics and realistic elements.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Spore
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Ink


CG: As a digital artist, what aspects of the tool attract you the most? Do you like to work in the traditional mediums as well?

AD: Digital art gives you the freedom to make as many studies/mistakes/finished pieces without wasting materials. When it comes to working with traditional mediums, I have recently enjoyed using pastels, watercolours, and oils for personal studies and I try to incorporate the textures of these to bring a spontaneous effect in my art created digitally too.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Petal
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Camouflage

CG: What are the key points that you take into consideration when developing an idea into a design?

AD: With the portrait as the central aspect of my work, rendering and detailing facial features is the key. I love observing unique features and painting beauty that might not be traditional, but still striking. Through my art, I hope to inspire a sense of otherworldly beauty and mystery. The balance of a realistic figure within decorative surroundings is an aesthetic that I love and often try to apply to my work.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Myriad
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Orb

CG: Your portraits illustrations are realistic and evoke emotions. How do you manage to do so? Are there any specific tools/ elements that you incorporate?

AD: Many of my portraits deal with liberation, release, and the search for a dream state. Perhaps because that’s what art is to me. Painting is therapeutic. I create my works digitally using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and my trusty Wacom Intuos 3 tablet. Mainly use a chalky brush throughout my process, as well as various watercolour textures that I’ve found and made for a traditional feel. Normally, I start with a vague concept in mind and sketch out my idea in black and white. After tweaking the composition, values, and being generally nitpicky, I start seeking out references and refining my sketch. Next, I start throwing in textures and add colour using layer modes. Toward the end, I detail the piece and call it a day.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Dawn
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Bauhinia


CG: How has formal education in Art and Design helped your process or creations?

AD: I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and received my Illustration BFA in 2015. I loved being surrounded by creative people with a similar passion for art, who pushed, taught, and inspired me on a daily basis. I think the greatest benefit was learning more about the business side of illustration through my professors who had practical experience and making connections with other artists. However, I find that art school is really what you make of it and not entirely necessary for an artistic career (aside from those majors that require a degree). In the end, I feel that most growth occurs by the time and effort you’re willing to put in for improvement, as well as being driven by self-initiated projects.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Tigress
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Duo

CG: How important is a colour palette in design?

AD: Over the years, my style has become more muted and monochromatic. I’m drawn to works that have colour restraints and which emphasises the atmosphere. Muted hues can often lead to greater balance and provide cohesion throughout a piece. There’s a delicate vintage quality that can result in limiting a colour palette. The colours I choose are inspired by flora, fauna (particularly insects), and other artworks. Even though I tend to start in black and white and prefer limited palettes, adding hue is my favourite step. After seeing an inspiring colour scheme, there’s nothing I want to do more than paint.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
The-Forgotten-Tale-of-Larsa
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Felis

CG: What aspect of illustrating excites you the most?

AD: I love everything about art and get very excited about every project I undertake. I love all the emotions that art evokes in me; it could be the rush when something is going well or the frustration of working for hours with no fruitful outcome. It is the thrill when I find a beautiful artwork, the overwhelming feeling that turns my frustration into inspiration. I consider myself so lucky that people have given me opportunities to create art both personally and professionally.

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Flood
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Fragment


CG: What is your advice to budding artists?

AD: When you love what you do, the process involved and the experience, it will definitely show in your work! Be disciplined; draw every day even if it is just a little sketch. Introspect and understand the elements that attracts you the most and what you personally enjoy creating. By doing so, your own voice will emerge. Look for possibilities and gain an online presence to showcase your work; never stop making lots of wonderful things (whatever that may mean to you).

Enchanting Natural Portraits
Soul Breather
Enchanting Natural Portraits
Beverley
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