This is my final image for this piece, in the process of revisiting some of my portraits and updating them with the latest shaders and sculpting details. I normally say that my pieces will never look "real", because everything is hand-modeled/hand-carved/hand-painted. I am aware of that. All I want is for them to look "alive", so the better word to describe what I want to achieve is "believable" instead of "real".
Nowadays there are so many tools that will allow you to create "real" looking 3D characters, because they are based on scans from life, for example. Although these are indeed amazing tools, especially in a professional work environment, where you need to create the fastest, best looking characters as possible, in our personal work, as artists, a huge opportunity to learn is missed in that process, imo.
I always thought that CG portraits were quite boring, until I discovered how much you can learn by attempting to reproduce and understand how the organic structures and micro-structures happen in the real world and then apply that knowledge the way you see fitting. It becomes creation instead of simply an exercise of copying. There's A LOT of freedom and artistry involved, at each little stroke.
Because everything is created without scans or blueprints, your own style and conscious decisions end up baked into the work, which adds personality to it, something that's missing in works produced with scan data only, great part of the time.
So portraits became appealing to me when I realized that the entire process is a huge trip. To idealize something instead of copying it. To add your own spin and conscious decisions and preferences when it comes to the form. To understand the extremely important form hierarchy and the fractal effect that happens everywhere. To experiment and learn with each piece, all of that with one main goal in mind: to bring pixels and pixols to life somehow, failing many times during the process, learning, trying it again until life seems to inhabit these virtual concepts.