Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recent Portrait Commissions

Before you scold me for being a workaholic, let me begin this post with a disclaimer. First of all, I am enjoying every moment with my daughter, but she does sleep quite a bit, so that's when I paint (and I wear her in a sling while doing so). I'm like the artist version of Sacagewea. Second, these commissions were both begun earlier this spring while I was still pregnant, so I had a pretty good head start on them.  In the couple of spare hours I have each day, I've managed to complete these commissions, and even take the time to write about them!

Many of you ask about my process with commissions. I wish I could say that I'm a total purist and only work from life, but that just isn't practical when it comes to working around everyone's busy schedules. While I try to maintain my skills by practicing life drawing and painting on a regular basis, I put those skills to the ultimate test when I do a commissioned portrait, because it requires working, at least in part, from photo references.

Pricing, sizing, and color choices aside (all of that info is readily available on my website)... it's important that I explain the process carefully to each of my portrait clients, so that they understand not only my standards as an artist, but so they also see what a special experience it is to sit for a portrait. 

From a practical standpoint, I usually have to turn down working from someone else's photos, preferring instead to work from life so that I can set up the pose, lighting, and environment in a way that is most flattering to the the sitter. From there I can take my own photos, and use Photoshop to match the color and contrast in the photos to my quick sketches done from life (more on that in a moment). Note, it's NOT the other way around (i.e. matching the painting to the photos).

From an experiential standpoint: most people never get the chance to see themselves as a painted image. It can be a fascinating unveiling of the sitter's inner and outer beauty in a way they've never seen before. My goal is always to capture more than just a moment or a snapshot, which is why I usually insist on meeting the sitter and at least getting the chance to paint a quick color study while talking to them and getting to know them a little better. This step is crucial to the painting. Not only am I taking important notes on the model's hair and skin tones under the current lighting situation, but I'm taking mental notes of their unique facial expressions, gestures, inflections, and body language. I'm also genuinely interested in who they are as people. It's a huge privilege for me to invite them into my studio and get to know these unique individuals who come from all walks of life and boast a wealth of knowledge and experience in all sorts of things. I know a lot about a little (art and music!) and little about a lot ( :-)), so I love learning from other people, and hearing about the things they are passionate about. Of the many portraits I've done, I've had the pleasure of getting to know an Air Force colonel, a classical singer, a lawyer, a former U.S. ambassador, a Burlesque dancer... and many more. Then there are the sweet children who pose for me, who haven't chosen careers yet, but are simply passionate and full of life. What an honor it is to be a portrait artist!

Below is the color study I did for recently finished "Meri in Red." Meri is an Armenian beauty with high cheekbones and exotic features. She was a lot of fun to paint! As you can see from the final painting, the color study was less about likeness and more about capturing my impression of her, with the most accurate color and value I could muster in those 20 minutes or so. My feeling was that she is regal, strong, mysterious, and sexy. I think both the color study and the final painting captured those qualities.

"Meri in Red" - 40x30" - oil on portrait linen - Private Collection

"Meri in Red" (detail)

Below is another portrait commission color study, one which I had more time on (about an hour and a half). I was impressed by Erin's beautiful face, luscious red hair, and sweet spirit, and I hoped to capture that in her image. This one was painted very directly (alla prima) to maintain the feeling of freshness and youth.

"Erin" - 24x20" - oil on linen - Private Collection

Above and below: "Erin" (detail)


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