Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Art of the Portrait - Recap Day 1

Last weekend was the 18th annual "Art of the Portrait" conference for the Portrait Society of America, held in Reston, VA. This was my 7th year in attendance, but my first year as an official faculty member! The conference always opens with an amazing production called the "Face Off," where 15 artists paint from 5 different live models over the course of three hours, and attendees can circle the room and watch all the action. I had the privilege of being one of those 15 artists. 

I barely slept the night before. Whenever I'm doing something new, I overthink everything. But this year I had the benefit of having my twin sister Emily come along with me. It was such a joy to share this weekend with her. I'm sure she got a little tired of everyone thinking she was me, but since she is also an artist, she could appreciate the event more than most anyone else in my family. :-)

Photo by Judy Takacs Pendergast

We arrived in Reston with plenty of time for setup. As soon as we walked through the hotel doors, I was greeted by a Facebook friend, Juan Ramirez... admirer of Sargent and extremely talented guy. This was his first time at the conference, and he came up to me and shook my hand like I was a celebrity or something (seriously, though, HE is the rock star - you should check out his work here). This was the first encounter of many. I was about to be humbled by the amount of love and admiration that so many people had for me and my work.

Oh, what a delight to see so many old friends (and new ones!) all in one place! There was my now good friend Quang Ho, whose mentoring and friendship I am so thankful for now that I live in Denver. There were Carol Arnold and her daughter Grace (world class art model extraordinaire, and now about a foot taller than the last time I saw her, in the fall of 2013), and their friend Julie Rosa, the newest member of the Putney Painters. There was Scott Jones, owner of Legacy Gallery and someone who has followed my work for years now, and whose company I always enjoy at this event. The first thing he said to me after we said hi was, "I need to meet your better half!" and he introduced himself to Emily while I laughed and enjoyed that he felt comfortable enough to pick on me. :-) Then there was Craig Pursley, my New Hampshire friend who has the best work ethic I have ever seen. There was Judy Carducci, who had a most entertaining story about going to Australia and getting to paint Johnny Depp's father in law, while Johnny watched in awe, because he was interested in painting. There was Michelle Dunaway, one of the most beautiful souls I've ever met, with her big smile and her big heart. There was David Kassan (inventor of the ParellelPalette) and his beautiful fiance, fellow artist Shana Levenson. There were New Yorkers, Dominique Medici, Ricky Mujica, and Max Ginsburg. Max asked me why I hadn't come back to see him since our visit in September. Then he said, since he was painting in the Face Off as well, "If you're next to me, make sure you make a few mistakes so I look good." Then there was Rose Frantzen - my art heroine and big sister in painting! I hadn't seen her since 2012, when I took a one day workshop with her at Weekend with the Masters. She knew me and remembered me well enough to give me a big hug. (She would also come by later to heckle me while I was painting, which I found to be both flattering and terrifying, ha!). Finally, there was Christine Egnoski, executive director of the Portrait Society. She is the one who called me to ask if I would participate in the Face Off, and I heartily said yes (what she doesn't know is that while we were on the phone, I was jumping up and down for joy). I gave her a huge hug and thanked her again for inviting me to do this. I also got a big hug and warm southern greeting from the epitome of a gentleman, Michael Shane Neal. The Portrait Society is a great big family, that comes together once a year to motivate, educate, and encourage one another in this high calling of figurative art making. I am so lucky to be part of this family!

I could go on and on about my pleasure over seeing all these friends (and meeting so many that I only knew from Facebook), but I'll get into the good part, the Face Off. Emily helped me set up. I had butterflies over logistics (and the adrenaline had started up hours ago), but of course the organization has everything figured out ahead of time. I was provided with Gamsol, a table, a light stand (I brought my own light), a garbage can, and paper towels.

We had plenty of time to set up. During that time, we caught up, chatted, laughed, got some coffee, relaxed a little bit. The other artists who participated were: Carol Arnold, Judith Carducci, Casey Childs, Romel de la Torre, Michelle Dunaway, Max Ginsburg, James Gurney, Quang Ho, David Kassan, Robert Liberace, Ricky Mujica, Teresa Oaxaca, Alicia Ponzio, and Elizabeth Zanzinger. We drew numbers randomly to get our spots around the room. I ended up in the middle between Teresa Oaxaca and Judy Carducci, and we would be painting artist Wende Caporale, a stunning and talented woman who happens to be married to Daniel Greene. :-) I loved that all the models were artists this year, and I think attendees liked that, too. It added a fun new dynamic to this already amazing opening event for the conference. I also loved that I got to be next to Judy, with whom I've taken two workshops (back in Dallas) and who has mentored and encouraged me greatly over the years. Judy noticed long ago that I had the passion and drive, as well as skill for alla prima painting, and I know that she put in a good word for me about someday painting in the Face Off. Now, it was finally happening!

We started at 4:30 on the dot. I found myself extremely energized, excited, joyful, motivated, focused. I wasn't nervous at all. The crowd gradually came in and began to circle the room, and the time flew by. Emily dutifully stayed nearby, and answered questions or talked with onlookers while I painted. One woman had come to the conference simply to see ME (can you believe that?) and didn't budge from her spot all night.

I couldn't imagine wearing headphones or trying to block out the sounds all around me, because I wanted to draw from the energy of the room. As I painted I could hear the excitement, I could pick up on little bits and pieces of conversations, and I could banter back and forth with Judy or with someone like Rose, who was 'checking in' on me. Ah, there was the old familiar laugh of Sam Knecht, my first official painting teacher. What a joy to be on faculty TOGETHER this year (more on that in the post of about Friday's events). I broke from my painting just long enough to grab a hug from him.

Before I knew it, the Face Off was over! All the paintings were marvelous, and thankfully, I got a picture of mine with my model Wende before it got snatched off the easel and put away until tomorrow when silent bidding would start on all the finished sketches.

I wished I could have done a better job on my painting (alla prima can be brutal!), and yet, I heard nothing but praise, which was incredibly humbling. I just hope it was good enough for the PSOA to ask me to come back and do it again, because it was every bit as fun as I imagined it would be. :-)

More on the rest of the conference in my next couple of posts!



  1. Wonderful portrait of Wende. You are among the masters.

  2. Brava!!! I was one of those who kept approaching your sister, thinking she was you.


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