Monday, June 18, 2012


I am an off-road kind of girl.

Mountains or beaches, you ask? Uh, mountains, please! Hands down I'll choose trees and rocks over water and sand. Trees... oh, how I love trees! I think it's because I grew up in the Midwest, where trees are everywhere, always changing, and always with character and personalities of their own. I grew up on 40 acres of woods. Whenever I needed an escape, and a moment of quiet... I would retreat to the wooded trails.

Thankfully, though Dallas is flat and boring, there is still an oasis nearby.

I pass by this particular tree when I walk my dog. It's rather ordinary, yet majestic - shading the dirt trail at the nature preserve just ten minutes from my house. I have wanted to paint it for a long time, and this morning, I did. There were mosquitoes biting through my jeans, but I toughed it out and was pretty happy with the results. I'll have to get a better photo of it... this doesn't show it, but I really globbed on the paint in the areas where the sun dappled the tree bark. I'm not sure I did it justice, but I hope I came close, at least.

I plan to venture out again later this week for some more happy "off-roading." :-)

 "Dappled Woods" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel - plein air sketch (1.5 hours)

The setting. :-)


Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Memorium: Arthur Thomas

This week, I lost a friend.

I first met Mr. Arthur Thomas in fall of 2003, on the steps of Central Hall at Hillsdale College. It was my first day there as a freshman, but I knew instantly who he was. Earlier that summer, my twin sister and I had done a portrait of him. The college paid us for it, but it was also kind of a "test" to see whether or not we qualified for art scholarships. Mr. Thomas had donated substantial funds to the Hillsdale music department in honor of his late wife, and as is customary at Hillsdale, a portrait of him was then commissioned to acknowledge his generosity.

Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Thomas, by Anna & Emily Holsclaw - colored pencil - 2003

Emily and I worked on the portrait together, and when it was finished, we were proud of our efforts, and excited to begin our four years at Hillsdale. Little did we know that we would become fast friends with the subject of our painting!

When I first met him, he was extremely gracious and sweet. I saw him nearly every day after that, for the next four years of school. He spent most of his time in the music building, donating his time to record all the recitals and musical productions. He would also wander into the art rooms and stop by during painting classes, just to say hi.  A perpetual student, Arthur took classes at the college because he loved to learn. He would join the other students for lunch in the cafeteria ("It keeps me feeling young," he said), and would sit next to Emily and me at nearly every play or concert we went to. Emily was the music major, and Arthur loved to hear her play piano. It's hard to imagine an 80-something-year-old man being such a techie, but he was... he recorded all of Emily's piano recitals, and gave both of us copies on CD. When he wasn't taking classes, helping out in the music department, or socializing with students, he could often be seen zipping around town in his little red sports car.

Always a giver, Mr. Thomas modelled for my portrait class once. I'm not sure whether or not he liked the portrait I did of him, but he purchased it anyway, to help me pay for frames and art supplies.

Portrait of Arthur Thomas - 24x18 - oil on linen - 2006

Art was like a grandfather to me and my sister; he was a constant for us and a source of wisdom and maturity whenever we felt overwhelmed by the pressures of friends and college life.

Above and below: Emily and Anna with Arthur Thomas, spring 2007.

He attended both of our weddings (mine in 2008, Emily's in 2009) and sat at a place of honor along with our own parents.

Mr. Arthur Thomas passed away in Coldwater, MI, at the age of 93. He will always be remembered as a generous giver and a man who loved knowledge, art, and culture. Rest in peace, dear friend. You will always have a special place in my heart.  


Monday, June 4, 2012

Recap: "Face-Off" at the Portrait Society

I spent Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia, enjoying the incredible "Art of the Portrait" conference that is put on each year by the Portrait Society of America. One of the highlights of the event is the "Face-Off" competition, which kicks off the weekend activities with great momentum. Conference attendees get a chance to sit and watch their favorite artists do an alla prima portrait from start to finish, but the twist is that it's not just one artist working... there are actually fifteen of them, all painting at once from live models! Most attendees choose to wander in circles around the artists so they can try and take it all in. The energy and excitement in the room is contagious. Each artist tries to do his or her best possible work in less than three hours, as attendees vote on their favorite at the end, and the winning artist gets to do a demo on the big stage later on during the weekend.

This year's artists included Casey Baugh, Ryan Brown, Ellen Cooper, Michelle Dunaway, Stephen Early, John Ennis, Rose Frantzen, David Kassan, Robert Liberace, Bart Lindstrom, Susan Lyon, Tony Pro, Alexandra Tyng, Mary Whyte, and Lea Wight. Almost all the artists chose to work in oil, with the exception of Mary Whyte, whose signature medium is watercolor, and Susan Lyon, who worked in conte.

 Mary Whyte, working in watercolor
Susan Lyon, using conte for her portrait

As I wandered the room, trying my best to see what everyone was doing, I was astounded by the diversity in the work. Not only did each artist begin their painting differently, but they varied in all other aspects, from canvas or panel size, palette, color and brush choices, and methods of measuring, to even the way they stood or sat in front of the model. Some squinted at the model and blocked in big shapes; others put down anchor points and backed away from their canvas after nearly every stroke.  Some artists, such as Michelle Dunaway and Tony Pro, are used to working alla prima in their everyday work. Michelle zeroed in on the eye sockets and worked out from there; Tony began his painting by blocking in the light and shadow masses with middle values.

Tony Pro and Michelle Dunaway, in the early stages of their paintings.

Some of the others who typically work in a more classical style, such as Ryan Brown and David Kassan, took their usual approach and "sped it up." Ryan Brown began his block-in with a traditional "cartoon," a drawing consisting of two values representing the light and shadow. David Kassan, Alexandra Tyng, Robert Liberace, and several others, began their paintings with light line drawings using warm tones and a small brush. 

David Kassan

Alexandra Tyng and Ellen Cooper 

Stephen Early and Robert Liberace

Rose Frantzen began her painting with oil sticks, "feeling out" the gesture and pose with what might have appeared to most a doodle-like and unorthodox approach. (It works for her!)

Rose Frantzen beginning her painting with oil sticks.

Overall, the quality of work this year was excellent and the finished paintings looked great. There was enough technique being wielded in that room to rival the most prestigious of art schools. Because conference attendees could watch what was going on, it became a great opportunity to figure out who they might wish to study from in the future. After all, each artist had something unique to offer. 

The winner of this year's Face-Off was Mary Whyte, whose beautiful watercolor portrait impressed everyone, especially those of us who mostly work in oil!

Mary Whyte

And here are the rest of the finished paintings:

Bart Lindstrom

Rob Liberace

Stephen Early

Michelle Dunaway

Rose Frantzen

Alexandra Tyng

Lea Wight

Casey Baugh

Ellen Cooper

John Ennis

Tony Pro

Susan Lyon

Ryan Brown

David Kassan

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