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’s thoughts on art, the creative process, soft pastel, the inspiration she finds in travel, what it’s like to be an artist in New York City, and other wisdom for artists as we travel our solitary and sometimes lonely roads.

Posted on July 27, 2013, in 2013, 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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