Here's the challenge: the picture I'm working from is very blurry and you can't even see the faces of the people involved, yet I'm supposed tomake it look photorealistic in the sense that it should be high-definition. All that in one night. When I only have a blurry picture to work with and the people expect something vivid and clear, and I have never met either of them before (a third party accepted the commission for me), and I'm also to expand the picture to nine times its original size, how on Earth am I going to draw a crisp portrait?
Simple. Imagination. There are a lot of blanks here, but I know what these people should look like. I see the blurry lines and I make them solid. I see the subtle shades and I enhance them. I see things that I can emphasize to bring it out to greater life and I exploit them, such as the subtle shapes on the surface of a pair of arms as they embrace another person.
Then there's the hair. Hair is almost impossible to get wrong, but it is the longest and most intimidating process in all of drawing. If I'm drawing the curles in my grandma's 1940's hair or if I'm drawing the straight, whitish-blond hair of a younger cousin, it's all very difficult, especially given that the details of hair hardly show up in a picture, especially in the eyebrows. It doesn't always look how you think it should look, but then, with what little I see, I take a step back and imagine how it really is, and I fill in those blanks. The source material isn't forgotten, but I shift my focus so that I may know that what shows up on my empty sheet of paper is dynamic and doesn't just mimick life, but tells the story of life.
When I am done, my art will look hyper-realistic, not because it looks like a photo, but people will look at it and see what they want to see, because they, too, use their imaginations. True visionaries know the imaginations of Man and they tailor their art to work with that, although they don't compromise with the imaginations of outsiders. The artist still has his vision. The trick is seeing a portrait for what it is, not just for what's on the surface but for what's beneath the surface, and the secret to true art is faith that truth will present itself.