|Gordon Wetmore giving the convocation speech|
On Friday, April 29th, the 2011 Art of the Portrait® conference officially began when the Portrait Society of America's Chairman, Gordon Wetmore, welcomed attendees to the event from his podium in the Grand Hyatt's ballroom. To the cheers of the crowd, Wetmore announced the record-breaking attendance at this year's gathering, and then yielded the stage for another of Tony Pro's animated introductions of the conference's faculty members, award winners, and competition finalists. This opening ceremony was brief in order to facilitate the use of the main stage for the many events planned for the day, and it was in no time at all that David Leffel, the first of the faculty demonstrators, took to the stage.
I had never before had the opportunity to watch a demonstration by David Leffel, and within only a few minutes of his presentation on Edges: The Soul of Painting, I was able to see why his students are so steadfast in their adherence to this master's lessons. The man was funny and charismatic, and his approach to teaching was filled with philosophy more than technique, a characteristic needed to elevate a student's work from fine craftsmanship to fine art. In support of this point, a gentlemen in the audience, whom I was sitting near, related to me that the greatest influence on his art, at least in recent years, was the instruction he received through Leffel and his book, An Artist Teaches; this was saying much, as the person giving this praise was already a well-respected and very accomplished artist, well before Leffel's book was published. Throughout the presentation, Leffel offered various pieces of advice, including his thoughts on why artists should not squint when looking at their subject, all while painting one of his renowned self-portraits.
|Rosemary & Co. Brushes|
|Michael Balsley of Turtlewood Palettes and Don Andrews of Hughes Easels sharing a laugh|
|Silver Brush Ltd.|
There was a fifteen minute break after David Leffel's demonstration during which I made my first visit to the vendor and exhibitors' room. Many familiar companies from previous conferences were there, including Silver Brush Ltd., H.K. Holbein, Jack Richeson & Co., Turtlewood Palettes, Hughes Easels, A Stroke of Genius, Baumgaertner Instructional DVDs, General Pencil Company, Studio Incamminati, Martin / F. Weber Co., and Signilar Art Videos. ColorFin LLC and Natural Pigments returned for a second year, and there were new faces there too, including Dick Bell Book Maven from Wisconsin, and Rosemary & Co. Brushes who came all the way from England to participate in the event. In this environment, it is so refreshing to see the company owners selling their own products and personally making sure their customers are satisfied. I told myself that I would not make any purchases this year, and I almost listened to myself.
After the break, artist Dean Mitchell took the main stage to explain how Everything is a Portrait. A man of very humble beginnings, Mitchell beat the odds and built for himself a successful career as an artist best known for his emotional watercolors of African-American culture. In a slideshow exploring paintings of the artist's family and friends, Mitchell gave to the audience a self-portrait expressed through his portrayals of those people most important in his life.
During the next hour and forty-five minutes, participants had a free period, but this did not mean there was nothing left for them to do. In addition to grabbing lunch, attendees could peruse the vendor area, have their art books autographed by the authors, or have their portfolios personally critiqued by leading artists. And in the middle of this, Art of the Portrait® alumni, those who have attended three or more conferences, gathered to have a group photograph taken by the event's official photographer, Steve Smith. There never seemed to be a pause in the activity.
|Michael Shane Neal|
|Dr. Sylvia Yount, Curator of American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art|
At 2:00 PM, the first breakout session began, in which registrants could build their own schedule by choosing from a list of five different courses. The five options from which to choose were: Lost & Found, a painting demonstration by Rose Frantzen; Balancing the Business and Artistic Side of Art with Michael Shane Neal; Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt, and Thomas Eakins: The Politics of Portraiture, a lecture by Dr. Sylvia Yount; Creating Timeless Portrait Compositions with Bart Lindstrom; and a drawing workshop co-taught by Nancy Guzik and Sherrie McGraw. It was a difficult choice, but I decided to return to the ballroom and watch Frantzen, who is always entertaining, paint a portrait.
|Frantzen's completed portrait demo of artist Michael Mentier|
To allow participants the opportunity to better organize their afternoon, certain choices were offered in both breakout sessions. This reduced the number of conflicts when someone was torn between simultaneously-running options in a single presentation period.
|Michael Shane Neal|
|Lea Colie Wight speaking with workshop participants|
Those returning in the second session were Michael Shane Neal and Bart Lindstrom who each repeated their lectures from earlier, and Nancy Guzik who taught another packed roomful in the drawing workshop, this time, however, working alongside Lea Colie Wight instead of Sherrie McGraw. McGraw alternatively gave a lecture on Abstract Realism: The Artist's Secret, while Thomas Nash rounded out the selections with his demonstration on the main stage titled What it Takes. I stayed to watch Nash, who began a portrait of his wife only after dismissing her from the stage. Unfortunately, Nash, who spent the first part of his presentation speaking with the audience, found himself up against the wire when he began painting, and the organizers were forced to halt his progress to ready for the next event (Nash continued painting, however, and brought his remarkable finished portrait out to lobby later that evening).
|This is about as far as Nash got before his segment came to an end|
Next on the schedule was the return of 6 X 9: Limited Size - Unlimited Talent, a popular event only in its second year at the conference. In this sale, dozens of small-sized paintings and sculptures created by current and former award winners and faculty members are offered for purchase at a flat rate of $250. Potential buyers are given a short time to view all of the works up for sale, and then the art is covered up, and the buyers are asked to leave the display floor until the sale is ready to begin. When the chime sounds, everyone makes a mad dash to the place they last remember seeing the work they wanted, and the art is sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. If more than one person claims a painting or sculpture simultaneously, their ID badges are thrown in a basket, and the lucky name chosen at random wins the opportunity to buy the artwork.
|The 6 X 9 Sale|
|Joseph Todorovitch (photo: G. Herrick)|
Last year, the sale was held outdoors, but this year it was held in a large room adjacent to the ballroom. With so many people clamoring to get the work of a famous living artists for such a reasonable price, the space, at times, felt claustrophobic. It may be time for the Association to think about restructuring the sale to accommodate the number of excited buyers. When next the event is held, I'd like to see it handled with ballots, where each work has a box, and each buyer deposits their ID for a chance at purchasing the art they want. Of course, this may also be the view of a biased person- I've missed out on the paintings I wanted to buy each of the past two years, and I'm hoping for a system that improves my chances for next time!
|Adrian Gottlieb (photo: G. Herrick)|
|Amy Kann and Leslie Adams with their new purchases (photo: G. Herrick)|
|Ellen Cooper (photo: G. Herrick)|
|Susan Lyon (who purchased my 6 X 9 entry), Rob Rey, and me (photo: G. Herrick)|
After an hour break for dinner, everyone returned to the ballroom for the final segment of the evening, Spectrum of Light and Color in the Human Form. In this demonstration, Californian realist Jeremy Lipking painted, in his signature style, a reclining nude on the main stage. For the many people who have been shut out of his popular workshops, this was a great chance to learn from this highly-respected modern master.
|Jeremy Lipking's finished demonstration piece|
Artists often spend long hours working alone, so when they are given the opportunity to socialize with their peers, they eagerly jump at the chance.
|(l. to r.) Nancy Guzik, Casey Baugh, and Amy Kann|
|Closing down the bar|
|The late night gang|
|Teresa Oaxaca and Evert Ploeg|
|Nash, after his demo ended, continued to work on the portrait of his wife|
|Nash's completed portrait of his wife Donna|