Monday, May 6, 2019

A Weekend Away - Portrait Society of America 2019

A week ago, I returned home from my tenth Portrait Society of America conference. Each one has been unique and wonderful in its own way. This year, unlike years past, I was there not as a beginning student, a state ambassador, or a faculty member. I was simply in attendance to take it in and enjoy being surrounded by my family in art. It was a pleasure to cheer on some dear friends of mine who were getting their first moments in the spotlight. I was also there for my twin sister Emily, who has only been painting professionally for about two years, but she now has the hunger and drive that defined me throughout all of my twenties, and her watercolor paintings get better and better by the day. She is currently selling them on her website here, so be sure to check her out and support her if you can!

A former student of mine made a good observation of this year's conference: she said that the Portrait Society seemed to be going through a time of transition. Over the years, it has gradually moved from being solely portrait-focused to covering a broader range of figurative art. I think this is a good thing, because traditional portraiture is no longer what it once was. Art, like culture, is always evolving and changing with the times. The biggest visible change, however, is in the Portrait Society's demographics. Ten years ago you never would have seen children or babies at the conference; this year, at least four or five faculty members brought their young ones with them! Tim Rees wore his baby girl around in a front pack while he sported his usual dapper suit (it was adorable). Next year there will be even more children present because the conference will be held in Orlando. I think it's wonderful and refreshing to see, although I chose not to bring my own kids this time (mama needed some sleep).

I was blown away by the amount of young talent, not just on the faculty but everywhere. There were many first-time attendees. I always take time to help out with portfolio critiques, and this year, the majority of the people I critiqued were there for the first time, which was exciting to see. The quality of work was incredible! For those of you who showed me your work... what a privilege to be let into your life in this way. I look forward to following you and watching you succeed!

Several young people took center stage as award winners in the international competition. Alex Venezia, only 25 years old, won first place in painting for his flawless portrait of his wife. And then there's 21-year-old Stephanie Thomson, a Certificate of Excellence winner, and a young woman I can't say enough good things about! She's got all the passion, joy, talent, work ethic, and love for her art to shoot straight to the top. Oh, and she's a Crossfitter! What?! I want to adopt her as my little sister.

I found myself feeling quite reflective this time around, and many of the remarks given by artist Bo Bartlett in his Sunday morning slideshow hit home for me. Here are just a few of his thought-provoking quotes:

"Art is like taking a trip - you gotta know where you’re going and know how to get there." - Bo Bartlett

"Your art goes as deep as your love goes." - Andrew Wyeth

“It’s like transubstantiation. You gotta get your whole life into the paint. You gotta put your whole being in it.” - Bo Bartlett

“Paintings are never an answer, just open-ended questions. Why to paint? To bring something into the universe that hasn’t existed before." - Bo Bartlett

The Raymar folks used paintings by Quang Ho and myself on some of the posters in their booth... so cool! Here we are posing with some of our favorite products. :-)

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to paint a little, sleep a little, catch up with old friends, and sit back and watch and listen. I had some trouble processing all the feelings going on throughout. I was very happy for the break from kids and home life, knowing that as soon as I returned home I would be greeted by piles of laundry and an empty fridge. There wouldn't be a chance for me to head straight to the easel for artistic release; instead, I'd be back to trying to steal moments away for painting. Yet, I found myself greatly missing my kids, especially my darling 8-month-old boy that up until this point, I'd never spent a night apart from.

I experienced sadness. Inadequacy. Nagging shame and fear that I won’t become a better artist. Frustration over my current situation, envy for the artists who get to paint every day, who get to paint whatever they want.

And yet... there were also so many wonderfully uplifting words of encouragement throughout the weekend. More than a few people came up to me to say they were following my work and that I was doing a great job balancing my art and family. What a gift to hear these well-timed affirmations (thank you, friends - you know who you are!).

Having a blast painting my sister Emily alongside Max Ginsburg. Everyone asked me, "Is it easy to paint your twin because it's like doing a self portrait?" (No.) Below: my painting of Emily on a panel generously provided by Raymar Art.

Below: the Colorado crew: Adrienne Stein, Quang Ho, Andrea Kemp, Raj Chaudhuri, Anna Rose Bain, Emily Olson, Foster Grissim (missing Johanna Harmon :-( )

All these thoughts and muddled feelings (that I'm still trying to sort!) have brought me back to freshman history class when Dr. Willson taught us about the tension between arete (excellence) and hubris (arrogance). There is always this very natural and human desire for greatness, but at what point does it become an unhealthy and destructive form of pride? I saw many different variations of both arete and hubris over the weekend and art is perhaps the most straightforward place one might look to witness these ancient concepts. I'll be honest: right now my own version of hubris manifests itself in the form of insecurity when I’m not painting or appearing to succeed. When I have to be in the shadows, I begin to feel that I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing. I'm going to work on this: character development, and continuing to focus on my word for the year (patience).

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and I'm happy I got to go. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the breakfast I organized for a handful of us artist mamas who needed a safe place to discuss art and motherhood - this was definitely a highlight of the weekend for me!

I was also very thankful to come home to my sweet babies, remembering that I do in fact have the best of both worlds. :-)

P.S. Another great quote from a film I watched on the plane back to Denver: “It’s about being a warrior… This is your path and you will pursue it with excellence. You face your fear because your goal demands it.” - Alex Honnold (from the movie "Free Solo")



  1. Thanks for this. When I attended a couple of years ago, you were the one whose first night portrait blew me away most. I haven't attended since because of some of the feelings you admit to here (plus lower cash flow.) Hopefully we'll cross paths again, bt in the meantime, keep up the great work and working balance :)

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