Many years ago, I was shopping for groceries. My gut felt raw as I floated around the store in an “out-of-body” trance. I was going through a difficult divorce, and felt empty and forlorn.

There were no relatives nearby where I could seek comfort. I was completely alone. My heart was broken. A clerk, seeing only the superficial face I put forward remarked, “My god, can’t you at least smile?”

I must have looked pretty bad. My first thought was that he had no idea what I was going through. I was certainly in no condition to smile or talk. I tried to fake a smile, but it was impossible. I was in misery and I couldn’t hide it. His remarks had made me feel even worse.

My crooked smile, lopsided eyes, and fun-house features were simply revealing my inner emptiness and utter brokenness.

Later when I became an artist, I realized that you can’t paint misery and hurt unless you understand the underlying emotions that caused the pain in the first place.

For example, grief after a loved one’s death is different from the shattered grief of divorce. 

In a good marriage there are fond memories and the loss can be shared with friends and loved ones who knew well our partner or spouse. After a divorce, you don’t want to share the failure and the tragic details with anyone.

"Brokenhearted" 9 x 12 Pastel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame
Anger between loved ones is different from that between strangers or friends. The emotions cut deeper. The fragility of ego and insecurity add to the exploding feelings. There is often far more to lose. The relationship hangs by a thread unless you can get past anger’s unpredictable course. Forgiveness is almost mandatory. The anger with others is sometimes quickly forgotten. There is no intimacy or long-held expectations that stretch the ties that bind.

Try to create studies of people’s emotional reactions. Distinguish the simple breakdown between different kinds of anger and pain.

These subtle differences may slightly change the tilt of the mouth or a wrinkle in the nose. Emotions may be altered only by pushing one eyebrow upward to change an expression. Glassy eyes may add to the sadness. Body language and the way the hand is used to cover up what others see adds another dimension.

Practice will make these changes better over time. Be observant and find out what happens when slight movement gives your markings life and nuance. Your scenes will have more energy and drama; your story on canvas will become more dramatic, more interesting, and definitely more real.

"Serena Shines" Pastel on Bristol, matted

person’s face is like a road map of the life they’ve lived and the things they’ve experienced. Once you have mastered unhappy faces, go on to those of joy and passion.

The decisions you make about “center of interest” must be made before you put one brush or pencil to canvas; where the face goes so goes the body. Every emotion portrayed must agree with the body language expressed.

"A Joyful Heart" 9 x 12 Patel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame