Q: You have sometimes spoken about your early work as a portrait artist. When and why did you start making portraits? Do you still do them?

"Bryan," soft pastel on sandpaper, 22" x 28", 1988

“Bryan,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 22″ x 28″, 1988

A:  In 1989 I was a Naval officer working at the Pentagon and I hated my job as a computer analyst.  Although it was terrifying to leave the security of a paycheck for the uncertainty of an artist’s existence, I made the leap.  In retrospect it was one of the best decisions of my life.  When I resigned from active duty (I remained in the Navy Reserve, which provided a part-time job and a small income; in 2003 I retired as a Navy Commander), I needed a way to make a living.  

Prior to this career change, I worked hard to develop my portrait skills.  I volunteered to run a life drawing class at The Art League School in Alexandria, VA, where I made hundreds of figure drawings using charcoal and pastel.  I spent a semester commuting between Washington, DC and New York to study artistic anatomy at the New York Academy of Art.  I spent another semester studying gross anatomy with medical students at Georgetown University Medical School.  So I was well prepared to devote myself to making portraits.

For a time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper.  However, after about two years I became bored.  I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!”  Furthermore, I had no interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted.   I completed my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back.  To this day I remain loathe to do a commission of any kind.  

Comments are welcome!   

About barbararachkoscoloreddust

Barbara Rachko is a New York Artist, Blogger, and Author who has been meticulously working in Soft Pastel on Sandpaper for 30+ years.

Posted on July 27, 2013, in An Artist's Life, Art in general, Creative Process, New York, NY, Pastel Painting, Photography, Quotes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Barbara, I think within your paragraph is the answer to why people rarely ask me to do a commission (sometimes they’ll ask hesitantly but never actually do it). They can readily see, in the sort of work I do, that there’s no need for direction or additional input. But in my ‘realism,’ there’s much to discourage someone looking for a template likeness (in a portrait or portrait study) since my eye-hand-delivery is not always flattering but is, instead, a deeper drive. That can be a bit scary for most.

    • Carol, as an agency-represented “portrait artist,” strictly defined, my task was to create a photo-realist likeness that more or less captured a person’s own self image. I was well-paid for this and I was good at it. In your work “likeness” does not come into play nearly as much as do other layers of meaning.

  2. when i saw this portrait of Bryan i almost cried. it is so real. i am so sorry for your loss Barbara. you definitely have the knack for portrait work, but i completely understand not wanting to do commissions. me neither. listen to your intuition, girl.

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