Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Choose an Artist to Paint Your Custom Portrait!

In order to feel confident in your choice of artist, you need to do your homework. Whether the painting is destined to become a family heirloom or a hang in a corporate setting for posterity, the process can be a bit anxiety provoking. A custom oil portrait is a luxury item, so you want to make sure you are getting something you love.

In choosing someone to create a portrait, check their website for examples of other work to see how you like their style. If you want a realistic yet brushy, painterly work (for example) do not choose someone who does more photorealistic paintings and vice versa. If budget is an issue, ask your preferred artist about less costly options (such as a drawing, sketch or just the head) instead of a larger piece that incorporates more of the body, detailed background and complicated jewelery or clothing.

Ask the artist for testimonials (or look for them on their website) to see what previous clients have to say about their experience.

An artist will generally have a range of choices at different price points to choose from, depending on the complexity of the idea, size, medium, subject or finish (a sketch would be much less expensive than a complex composition with many details for instance).

It is important for a client to feel confident that they will be satisfied and happy with their painting. It takes some trust to commission something when you don't know exactly how it will turn out. Make sure the artist will include you in the process, showing you photos or sketches of what the painting will look like in general. I always show a number of options (that I know will make a good painting) so the client can choose the general expression and composition to suit how they see the subject.

Once you have carefully chosen your artist and been part of the process of designing the piece, let them do their thing, knowing that your painter guarantees your satisfaction and is committed to creating the absolutely best painting possible.

You also should ask about care after the painting is completed and advice on framing. I always offer to varnish the portrait painting of my human subjects after at least one year (to allow time for all the layers to dry completely) at no cost, as a service to my clients.

Don't miss this interesting article about selfies vs. painted portraits (with some additional tips on how to choose a portrait painter to create your cherished heirloom)!

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

How to Paint an Outdoor Oil Portrait

Katie's Graduation - 30 x 24 oil on lilnen
Portraits in outdoor settings are a challenge to paint. Colors are affected by the light source (in this case the sun). The shapes of light and shadow are constantly morphing when outside, due to the movement of the sun and your subject. With the sun moving quickly, everything changes drastically within half an hour and it is difficult for a subject to hold an exact position as well. For this reason, having a subject pose from life for an entire portrait would be an extremely daunting task. Every day is different, even at the same time of day and, of course, different times of year would be completely different as well. In this case, a week after this young woman posed for me, the pretty purple tree in the upper right corner that we wanted to include was finished blooming, so it would not have been possible to include it even such a short time later.

Experience painting outdoors from life a lot really helps. Making quick decisions, locking in the shadows and painting fast is a habit you need to develop when painting en plein air, especially on a sunny day. I really love getting outdoors and trying to capture a scene from life just for the sake of learning something - the chances of painting something really wonderful are not high in this situation, but the experience is essential. It is a matter of discipline, putting in the hours to eventually achieve mastery - as Malcolm Gladwell said, we need 10,000 hours of practice to get there.

Another problem with outdoor portraits is the propensity of subjects to squint due to the strong light. Obviously you need to have the face in shadow, which destroys the 3-D effect we usually want to achieve. Rather than being about the features (as in a posed, indoor setup) the painting is more about light, atmosphere and color. In this case, catching my subject with a relaxed expression, her eyes wide open and in a pleasing pose with highlights placed in key compositional areas meant a lot of photos - I usually take hundreds in a single photo shoot.

To remember the light key, I usually do a painted study of the colors in the scene. This is not a detailed, finished painting but rather just color notes of light and shadow areas done on a canvas board or piece of canvas taped to a board. I keep this close by my computer monitor later on to refer to when I am questioning my color memory.

Photography is useful in getting the drawing right later on, since posing someone outdoors for hours won't work and I need to get a perfect, accurate likeness of my subject. I never paint from photographs any more as I find using a large computer screen is much closer to reality with a depth and accuracy of color that is second only to life and the bonus is that light never changes. I purchased a screen that can be rotated in order to have a vertical aspect to work from. When I am working on the head, I enlarge it to approximately life size, with my canvas right beside it - in this way I can simulate working from a live sitter.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Watch a Pet Portrait Oil Painting Completed in 3 Minutes!

Watch me paint a cat pet portrait (Oliver) in fast forward, in only 3 minutes while enjoying one of my favorite Mozart tunes. This painting is 6" x 6" oil on canvas.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Fine Art Oil Portrait Commission by Canadian Portrait Artist Laurel McBrine

Oil on Belgian Linen - 24x18 inches

I recently completed this head and shoulders oil portrait of a lovely young woman. I also finished a larger outdoor piece of another beautiful girl, which I will be posting soon, after it is framed and picked up by the family. Both girls are 18 years old. This is a great age to capture a daughter, just on the brink of womanhood.

I find this pose and expression reminiscent of the Mona Lisa as her eyes follow you no matter where you stand to view the painting and she has a mysterious expression with a slight smile.

I like to call my painting style "Brushy Realism" since the portrait accurately captures the appearance of the subject, but it is still very much a painting, with visible brushstrokes and not photographically detailed which, in my opinion, makes it more interesting and flattering.

Close-up of face

Monday, September 21, 2015

Watch rare video footage of Monet and Renoir at work on their paintings!

Here is a rare treat - you can watch video of master artists, some of them actually at work including Degas, Monet, Rodin and Renoir (who is crippled by rheumatoid arthritis yet does not let that stop him from creating his art) in their senior years.

Click here to see this rare video footage!

Friday, September 04, 2015

Pet Portrait Oil Painting

Oliver - 6" x 6" Oil on Canvas

Looking for a unique gift, for yourself or someone you love? Why not commission a fine art portrait of a favorite cat or dog (or rabbit or guinea pig)? This is Oliver, a very smart kitty who opens doors and lets his brother out.

Pet Portrait Pricing (cat, dog or smaller - max. size 8" x 10")

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Since the only photographs I can currently access (while my 30,000+ photos upload to iCloud) are from my phone, I wanted to give you some eye candy while waiting patiently for my report about the PSA conference to continue!

We happen to live a stone's throw from a Whole Foods Market and this beautiful display greeted me that last time I stopped by for almond milk. I just love tulips!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Technical Difficulties

Hi there everyone! I just wanted to let you know that my report on the PSA conference has been interrupted by an unexpected difficulty - uploading my photos to the new "PHOTO" program on my MacBook.

For now, I am unable to access my photos to post here, so please be patient and I will be back as soon as humanly possible to finish, especially for the benefit of those who could not attend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Final Day of Portrait Society of America 2015 Conference

Sunday morning there was a symposium by a group of eminent artists, followed by two drawing demos by Burton Silverman. It is always interesting to hear successful artists talk about their journey and offer pearls of wisdom.
Sculptor Rhoda Sherbell with Daniel Greene

Everett Raymond Kinstler and artist/author Samuel Adoquei

Mr. Adoquei talked about inspiration. He has a couple of wonderful books available, including The Origin of Inspiration which applies to any creative field. If you do not have Mr. Adoquei's books, make sure to add them to your library!

Mr. Greene showed a number of his series of art auction paintings and shared how he created them. He also offered a great tip about storing leftover paint - he said to be careful with freezing paint, since bloom can occur due to moisture that remains on the surface of the paints.

Mr. Kinstler talked about how painting is a means to communicate and how important it is to have passion and imagination. He recommended that we should assess our paintings by asking how much we can remove that is not contributing to what we are trying to say.

I did not get a photo of the wonderful work shown by the other artists, but here are a couple of the newer works by Mr. Kinstler. 
Painting by Everett Raymond Kinstler
Drawing by Everett Raymond Kinstler
The final presentation was by master artist Burton Silverman, who created two drawings while talking about, "finding your own voice". He said that mistakes are very helpful. Making corrections helps you find out if you have really gotten to the heart of what you want to say. If you make a correction, you need to see what that does to the other decisions you have made. Change allows for imaginative speculation and lets air in.

When speaking of sincerity in art, he said that, "children are rotten", (which got a huge laugh from the audience) and so perhaps the angelic, dressed in white, image that is often seen may not be the only choice.

Mr. Silverman also spoke about how we can learn, even steal, from each other in that we can employ similar techniques. Community is important.

Burton Silverman
Burton Silverman's grandchild in his sketchbook
Delightful drawing from Burton Silverman's sketchbook

For the first drawing he employed a soft graphite pencil in a holder, a stomp and a kneaded eraser. Practical tips included using a pencil holder to use those pencil stubs you may have lying about tour studio. 

He mentioned that General's HB is harder than his preference and seems to be holding a bit of a grudge after mentioning a bad experience with customer service many years ago, which I found rather amusing. He complained about something being wrong with some pencils and didn't get a reply. Note to art material manufacturers - don't tick off a master artist!
Drawing #1 by Burton Silverman

For the second drawing, Mr. Silverman used a Wolfe's carbon pencil, that is a little harder than General's, so more controllable, with more subtle definitions. He also employed a little color in the cheeks for the second drawing. 
Drawing #2 by Burton Silverman

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Art of the Portrait 2015 - Saturday, May 2, 2015

On Saturday morning, at the annual Portrait Society of America conference, held this year in Atlanta, we watched Quang Ho and Mary Whyte paint the same subject in oil and watercolor.

Quang and Mary painting live!
This demo demonstrated to me (as a former watercolorist) how much more free and easy you can be with oils, since mistakes can be easily covered up. Quang Ho, the oil painter, quickly laid in the essentials and then refined his painting. I was a couple of minutes late getting to my seat and he had already fully massed in the face and beard.

With watercolor, you must have a definite plan in mind as you need to preserve your whites. You also need to let areas dry and a knowledge of just the right time to go in again is essential, as you can easily mess things up with colors running into areas you do not want them. Progress is necessarily slower, but the results can be really beautiful, with transparent colors glowing.

A side-by-side near the start
Approaching the finish line

Mary Whyte
Quang Ho
At lunch, many artists (including myself) took advantage of the Portfolio Critique service. I love to get as many opinions as I can when I attend The Art of the Portrait conference. This is such a great opportunity to get feedback and advice from experienced painters. I always walk away with new insight, even if the advice is not always the same. What I usually do in that case is look at the work of the artists that are in opposition and choose to believe the one who paints more like I do (or more like I want to). Of course, sometimes everyone says something similar, in which case it is good to sit up and pay close attention to that particular problem. We can all improve in our work and should be eager to keep learning and progressing in our abilities so we can produce top notch art.

It was fun browsing the trade show during lunch and breaks.  I purchased a few much needed (kind of kidding) brushes and received a few free samples. There were also lots of drawing and painting demos going on in the tradeshow hall.

Trade show oil painting demo with model
I also took advantage of the chance to meet Richard Ormond at the break. I had not thought to bring along one of my many books on Sargent (authored by Mr. Ormond) so I got him to sign my program instead.

On Saturday afternoon we watched Daniel Greene, who continued a painting of art materials dealer Jack Richeson that he started at last year's conference. He basically proceeded as usual, sharing his palette and then measuring, adjusting and refining in his precise and methodical manner.

Jack Richeson by Daniel Greene 2015
As the program came to a close, it was time to get ready for the evening's festivities. I met some really nice artists at dinner, including my seat mate to the right, Lisa, who very generously insisted on sharing some of her bottle of red wine with the table. Her family lives in Northern California and make their own olive oil. She ended up leaving before I had a chance to get her last name, so, Lisa, if you read this, send me an email and thank you for the drink!
My neighbour, Lisa's plate
The gorgeous Chris Saper (and friend) channeling Madame X

Michael Shane Neal's portrait of Richard Ormond is unveiled to applause
After the winners of the competition were announced (master artist Max Ginsburg won the grand prize, Jennifer Welty was The People's Choice - click here to see more) and awards handed out, we had an exciting portrait unveiling! I wish I could have gotten a good shot of the portrait of Richard Ormond, but the glare made it impossible. Another exciting development was the announcement of several new signature members of the PSA, including my friend Edward J. Reed (Ted), who also cleaned up in the portfolio category again this year.

Dessert is always outstanding - this was a pecan tart with chocolate, berry and whip cream garnishes 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Everett Raymond Kinstler and Richard Ormond Chat About Sargent - and a FREE BOOK!

First thing on May 1, 2015 (Friday morning) we had the pleasure of witnessing the first meeting between Mr. Kinstler and Mr. Ormond (who is the grandson of Violet, Sargent's youngest sister). The two men are both passionately obsessed with John Singer Sargent, so the conversation was never dull.

The banter between the two gentlemen was delightful. I loved it when they politely contradicted each other over dates - I believe Mr. Ormond joked, "I won't quibble, but ... " about some small detail or other.  I love the expressions used by the British! I think at one point Mr. Ormond referred to himself (as a child) as, "quite a naughty boy" (which I thought was rather funny) and that, as such, he found his grandmother Violet rather fearsome and formidable.

A little known fact about Sargent include that he served as a consultant to museums with regard to buying Old Master's art. He was, along with Henry James, one of two great recorders of the golden age. He said that every portrait should have an element of caricature. He created at least 600 charcoal drawings, which Mr. Ormond is now trying to track down in order to catalogue them for posterity. For a really obscure fact, he sometimes traveled with a stuffed deer!

A few books recommended by Mr. Ormond (in addition to all the amazing, huge volumes produced by Mr. Ormond himself) included those by Evan Charteris (download this one, entitled John Sargent, for FREE here - you are welcome!), John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece by Martin Birnbaum (**see excerpt from the book at the end of this post below) and a third book, entitled, Sargent at Broadway: The Impressionist Years, which was co-written by Stanley Olson, Warren Adelson and Mr. Ormond.

Dawn Whitelaw introduced the two distinguished gentlemen 
Sargent's sister, Emily, was a gifted watercolorist in her own right yet did not exhibit her work. She was modest yet ascerbic, opinionated and intelligent. Emily served as hostess for Sargent, who remained unmarried his entire life.

Sargent was offered both a knighthood and membership in The Royal Academy. He refused both, as at least one of those honors would have entailed giving up his American citizenship.

Mr. Ormond mentioned that Sargent was not malingering, like the rest of his family, who always seemed to be ill with some malady or other. He had the robust strength to travel and participate fully in life. Despite being out and about, with lots of friends, he was apparently a bit of a social disaster. If you were unlucky enough to be seated next to him at dinner, you would have had your work cut out to engage him in much conversation.

Sargent could paint anywhere and anything and find a way to make it interesting. He was a decent man, comfortable with himself and always looking forward. He was cultured, intelligent, private, reserved and diffident. His keen observation resulted in paintings too gorgeous for his own good - he made very difficult paintings look easy.

One thing is for sure - we know where Richard Ormond got his eyebrows! He bears a striking resemblance to John Singer Sargent's father, Mr. Fitzwilliam Sargent.

**Excerpt from A Conversation Piece by Martin Birnbaum:
    “Sargent never surrounded himself with an aura, and violently disliked a note of flattery which he could instantly detect.  DeGlehn’s story of a visit to Sargent with Claude Monet bears this out.  It seems that the two guests remained all day, lunching and dining with Sargent.  Naturally they spent part of their time in their host’s studio, filled at the time with some of the sensational Wertheimer portraits.  DeGlehn was amazed that Monet hardly looked at them and he not only resented the Frenchman’s attitude but mentioned the matter to Sargent.  “But he hates this sort of painting” declared Sargent, to whom, however, Monet ever remained a great friend. Indeed, Sargent himself enjoyed poking fun even at his best works.  “The Idiots of the Mountain” was the way he referred to the exquisite picture known as “The Cashmere Shawl”, all posed for by his beloved niece Rose-Marie Ormond Michel who perished in Paris when the Germans bombed the church of St. Gervais.” 
    (Excerpt from “John Singer Sargent, A Conversation Piece” By Martin Birnbaum,  New York, Wm E. Rudge’s Sons, 1941, 80pp pp40-41  )
I found this quote HERE.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Portrait Society of America Conference 2015 Day Two: Late Night Shenanigans ...

Portrait Society of America artists took over the Hyatt Grand Buckhead hotel lobby on Friday night, with an impromptu life painting session and live music!

Virgil Elliott entertains in the lobby bar

Anna Rose Bain's painting and palette 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Portrait Society of America Conference 2015: Multi-Figure Portraits and Figurative

On Friday afternoon, the conference attendees split up into breakout sessions. I attended a lecture on multi-figure portraits and paintings with Jennifer Welty and Alexandra Tyng.

Highlights of the talk included slide shows of great paintings, a video with compositional ideas, tips on not making the head too big, dealing with incalcitrant children to get the expression you want, moving heads around on different bodies in photoshop and making sure to photograph all your subjects with the same direction of light.

Jennifer Welty and Alexandra Tyng

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Portrait Society of America Conference 2015: Day Two Part 2

Next up was a dual demo featuring Michelle Dunaway and Jeffrey Hein, who have diametrically opposed approaches to painting a model. I hope you enjoy seeing their process, side by side.

At this point in time, I was convinced Jeffrey was seeing a man with a beard rather than a delicately pretty woman.

As you can see, the finished paintings are both beautiful!