I recently shared an image of this painting of my daughter Helen while it was in progress. She was home from graduate school just relaxing with her Ukulele, and I convinced her to relocate to my in-home studio. This was a great composition that I didn’t want to miss! Here is the finished portrait!
I can’t believe the unveiling of my third portrait for the Supreme Court of Virginia, has come and gone already! These gatherings are always a festive time of celebration and this year was no different. In keeping with its tradition, The Virginia Bar Association (VBA) held its 127th Annual Meeting at the lovely Williamsburg Lodge and Conference Center, and what a special evening January 20, 2017 was for Justice Jane Marum Roush, (and me!) Every Supreme Court Justice, both active and retired, were there in honor of Justice Roush and to celebrate the unveiling of her portrait.
Having the wonderful opportunity to paint a bridal portrait is a gift to any artist who loves to paint portraits. I was able to provide a lasting keepsake for the family, preserving the memory of that special day. The setting is equally significant, showing the bride on the staircase of her childhood home. My thanks to this lovely family for their confidence in my ability to create a design that depicts the beginning of a new life, and will be shared throughout their family for generations to come.
I was honored to be commissioned to paint the posthumous portrait of Michael F. Blair, attorney in the firm of Penn Stuart at the Bristol Tennessee location. Out on the lawn at Penn Stuart on Friday, September 16, a lovely remembrance service took place prior to the unveiling of the portrait. The Blair family was present, along with many of Mike’s friends and colleagues. In honor of Mike, the event was held on the first day of the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival, which always meant so much to him.
We enjoyed a great weekend with Justice Jane Marum Roush, who came to my Raleigh studio for the final sitting for her portrait. The painting will hang at the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond. The unveiling will be on January 20, 2017, so please come back to my website following the event to see the portrait and other photos taken at the unveiling. Justice Roush and her family are very happy with the portrait. She is a gracious and lovely person.
Each commission I accept begins as a collaborative experience. My most recently completed commission has been one of the most memorable. It is an oil portrait of three beautiful young children, two brothers and a sister, ages 10, 7 and 5, who were as invested in the entire process as were the parents. It was never a challenge to engage any of the children when I was at work with them. They were very attentive and in tune.
During our discussion of the importance of preliminary studies, I was asked by the parents if I could work from life with the children. Since the portrait itself was to depict all three of them together on canvas, I thought it prudent to honor their request in the preliminary phase of the process by arranging individual sittings, drawing each child one at a time. This proved to be extremely beneficial to me in seeing their unique personalities.
I began with the eldest of the three. Each sitting was for two hours, with numerous breaks and lots of conversation. My goal was not only to begin a good, accurate drawing of him, but to make him feel comfortable in my presence. Being the first born, he is very conscientious and respectful. Having to be a model for an artist is not an easy job; however, he approached his task with seriousness and dedication. He helped make my job easier. Although we ended each sitting with a few reference photos, the primary part of his drawing was done during those sittings.
Next, I turned to the middle child. Since he is younger, I felt that I would need to be more mindful of break times than with the first. To my surprise, he seemed to enjoy “posing” and the discipline of having to find something to focus on to help him hold his gaze. He even volunteered to be time keeper during his sittings. At times during his pose, I would see his arm slowly rise to the side, and there was his little sister, who had quietly tiptoed into the room to slip him a little treat. He especially seemed to enjoy everything required to complete each sitting, and looked forward to the next time. As with the first child, he was very cooperative, helping to bring me to the completion of an accurate pencil rendering.
It now was time to begin work with the daughter, the youngest of two older brothers. I kept the same time schedule of two-hour sittings, but was certain that things would work a little differently during my time with her. She was excited about it being her turn and looked beautiful in her pink dress with a flower on the shoulder, which was to be an important element in her portrait. Her focus had more brevity than with the boys, and it was clearly necessary that she have something to do while she sat, such as drawing. Since my work consists primarily of painting children’s portraits, remaining flexible and patient are paramount in keeping the children comfortable. I had no problem accomplishing this with this little girl. I simply asked her if she would look up when I asked, and she agreed. It’s amazing how much information I could take in during the fleeting minute I had each time she would look up.
I noticed right away that she would purse her mouth into a “pouty” look of confidence and determination, which proved to be helpful in capturing this specific trait of her personality, a strength that will take her far throughout her life. By the end of our sittings, she had drawn my portrait while I was completing hers. Working from life helped me, as in my work with her brothers, complete an accurate pencil rendering of the youngest child.
My next move in the commission was to create a small color study … an aid in the plan of value and color for the final portrait. The next step was to stretch the canvas for the oil portrait, followed by a painted wash of background color to cover the white on the canvas. In this particular setting, I chose to mix an outdoor green color for the background, since the children were to be depicted in the family garden.
Before I knew it, I was standing before my easel, facing this newly stretched blank canvas that was ready to receive all the rich information I had acquired. In my early years of painting, I would draw the image on the canvas before beginning to paint. I find now that simply marking the placement of the subject(s) and then letting the brush develop the form allows my creativity to flow more freely. As the children began to take form on the canvas, I was able to transfer the fruits of my experience with each of them, free flowing through the brush in hand, translating their unique personalities into color and form. When their presence started to emerge, I knew I was on the right track in capturing the essence of each individual character.
I can’t think of anything more exciting while working on a portrait, than to step away from the painting, as I do, to take that necessary overall view, and to discover that the portrait has taken a life of its own. From here, the painting lets me know when it is complete. Somewhere during this stage, I always offer a preview of the painting. I provide this for my own benefit, as well as for my client. Often I am asked to assist in selecting a frame and make plans to deliver to the frame gallery, instead of its designated home. The preview enables me to see it in its selected environment prior to the framing.
When the framed portrait was home and on the wall, we celebrated its completion and our journey together. I am left with many fond memories of time spent with this family and our trek together in the making of a portrait.
For information about commissioning an oil portrait, visit my Commission a Portrait page.
I have been working with Heather Allen, a very talented art marketing consultant who has just published a new book. Harry and I had the pleasure of attending Heather’s book release party this week. There was huge crowd and the party was so much fun. Heathers book is titled “Let Your Creativity Work for You”. Her book is inspiring and offers practical advice for all artists who are looking for new ways to promote their work. You can order it here.
Raleigh HQ was a great venue for book signing event.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to draw; receiving my first official Jon Gnagy Art Set as a child, then, years later, enrollment at the Harris School of Art in Franklin, Tennessee. Harris School was unique in offering a rigorous curriculum that combined advertising art and fine art.
My painting career began in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1990, when I was awarded the commission to paint a portrait of the retiring artistic director of the renowned Barter Theater. The portrait was unveiled on stage at The Barter, before a full house. I, somehow, thought I would “ease” my way into my portrait career, rather than jumping in with both feet. It was, however, a success and still hangs in the lobby at The Barter. I have been painting commissioned portraits consistently since that time.
I attribute Harris School to my strong skills and belief in the fundamentals of drawing and painting, along with my awareness of how these basic principles apply to any art form and medium. I believe the understanding of values, which give form and depth, is one of the most important aspects of representational painting, along with the crucial requirement of observation.
Of all our choices in subject matter, the human figure intrigues me the most. It is an intricately complex and mystifying subject, and, of course, is most challenging. This art form is the basis of my career and ongoing education. My enthusiasm and energy never seem to run out when it comes to observing the features and colors that are found in the face. My awareness of our uniquely created, individual selves continually heightens my intrigue. The human face also reveals that individual who is inside; the one who gives that face its most unique presence.
I love doing commission work, with all the possibilities that a new portrait brings. I begin every commission with due respect and sensitivity toward my client. At our initial meeting, I show up with no preconceived ideas of the type of portrait it will be; thus, our journey begins together. “Together” is the key word here; I do not travel this journey alone. It has been said to me, more than once, that I am a bit unusual in my approach to portraiture. In the first phase, I invite my client to join me in particular aspects of the decision-making process. I find it beneficial to work in collaboration at the start, so that everyone’s thoughts are being brought to light.
The preliminary work is necessary in designing the composition, as well as offering time to familiarize myself with the subject. Once my ideas have been represented on paper, I bring them to my clients for their perusal, allowing time for discussion. When the composition has been selected, it is time for me to stretch the canvas and start to work on the portrait. Well into the painting, but before completion, I arrange another viewing. This meeting is met with much excitement and enhances the long anticipated outcome.
I am grateful for all these years I have been painting commissioned portraits and especially grateful for the opportunity to provide families and organizations with a work of art that will last for centuries. My desire to grow as an artist keeps me striving for new opportunities to learn the fine art of oil portraiture. I will remain a student as long as I am able to continue this work that is an inherent part of my design.
You can see my professional credentials on the “About” page.