Portrait Project

I’ve got a terrible hankering to start a new painting. I think I’ll encourage this desire as it’s slightly healthier than my other current hankering — to make a pan of fudgy brownies and eat the entire pan in one sitting.  They’re both pretty damn messy and time intensive, but I think I’d rather have the lasting results of the painting on my wall versus the chunkage on my rumpage.

So the next question is what to paint. Last weekend, I trudged out into the wicked cold with my sniffling self and explored some of the Hoboken Artists’ Studio Tour. I learned two things on my journey. One, I covet the beautiful high-ceilinged, wide-windowed, delightfully desolate studio spaces in the Neumann Leather building…a LOT. Two, I’m hooked on portraits.

At City Hall, I breezed by the jewelers and landscape painters, but stopped short at a fun piece from Darrel George depicting a rowdy couple in a cab. I was mesmerized by the artist’s ability to capture the frivolity of the moment on the passengers’ faces. I was so caught up in the humor of the scene, I actually snorted out loud, eliciting some strange looks from my fellow tourists.

Next I trudged over to the Neumann Leather Building.  To be fair, everything looks better in the Neumann Building.  Something about that dimly lit, white washed maze of halls makes my brain spin with ideas. Every turn leads to a new surprising discovery. Sometimes you find an old piece of leather curing equipment. Sometimes you stumble onto a bank of windows filled with the mayhem of the train yards below. When you’re super lucky, you find the workshop of a brilliant artist.

First I was sucked into the work of Melissa Anderson. Her technical skills are quite pronounced. Some of her portraits could easily be mistaken for photographs. While well done, those weren’t the pieces that really drew me in.  I couldn’t get enough of her depictions of kids.  Somehow she managed to capture all the manic energy and excitement that makes kids vibrate with life.  Looking at a series of a small blond girl dancing, I felt short of breath — as though I’d been trying to keep up with her whirling form myself.

My jaw hit the floor when I rounded the corner into Michelle Doll’s studio space. Three feet inside the door, visible before even entering the room was a staggeringly large painting of a red patent leather, high heeled sandal. I was so distracted by its shine that I almost didn’t notice the subject of the painting—a woman adjusting the shoe strap as she sat on her bed. I was practically skipping with joy as I entered the studio space.

It only got better. The intimacy of the works left me dumbfounded. As with a lot of artists, she’s the subject in quite a few of the pieces.  (Models aren’t cheap, you know.) A two foot painting of her curling her eyelashes hung next to four feet of her putting on a bra in the morning. You’d have to give me about a gallon of wine (AND a roofie or two) to convince me to share such personal scenes with the world. (Is that a weird statement for someone who blogs about personal hygiene habits to make?)

I particularly loved her works depicting her hands. I could spend hours dissecting her use of light to capture every tendon and vein connecting her long fingers to her strong wrists. When I found the works painted on gold leaf, I melted into a puddle of artistic envy.

I’ve seen plenty of pieces that make me want to know the person depicted in the picture, but it’s very rare that I look at a body of work and want to know the artist. Everything about her work says that she’s a fascinating person.  She clearly loves beauty, and I don’t mean the cosmetics industry definition of the word. I’d guess she’s slightly insecure but fiercely determined to ensure that won’t hold her back. She’s a perfectionist drawn to imperfections.  Of course I’m basing this entirely on her collection of pieces in her personal work space. For all I know, she could club puppies and write love poems to Glen Beck in her spare time…but I doubt it.

When I was finally able to tear myself away from her work, I wound my way to the Monroe Center for the Arts.  Which images sucked me in yet again?  You guessed it — people and faces.  Lauren Ennist captivated me with a depiction of a young gal in a black tank top, her hair swept into a ponytail.  The piece was oil on wood, soft and luminescent.  I swear I could see the downy white hair on the subject’s cheek.  Oh if only I had the patience for oil.

I hear you out there—El, is there a point to all of this?  Why yes, I’m so glad you asked!  I’m thinking it’s time for a portrait project.  My most recent painting was a portrait and I loved every second I spent working on it.  Clearly, I can’t get enough of analyzing faces at the moment, so why not paint a whole mess of them?  Problem is I need more faces.  Can I talk you into helping out?

Send me snaps!  Yup, you.  Take a picture of your marvelous mug and send it to me.  Not photogenic?  Who cares!!  Don’t be vain here — harsh light and too much detail is exactly what I need.  I promise the end result will be very different.  Hell, it may not even look like you — I’m not that literal.

Here’s the pic I used as the basis for Loretta Lou — hideous, harsh and full of great detail.  Horrible, I know.  Does that give you courage to send a less than flattering photo to your favorite Elly?

It doesn’t have to be a traditional portrait-esque stance, but it can be if that’s what you’re into.  You don’t even have to include your whole face.  Surprise me!


  1. I didn’t even get a chance to ask you during the whirlwind weekend about this project.
    Are you still painting?
    These are fantastic.

    1. Do toenails count? I’m hoping to get some paint time once this wedding mess is over. I still need faces….hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

Comments are closed.