Recently I came across some old commissioned portraits. Some I looked at fondly, while others I found myself cringing a little bit inside.

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self” – Dean Jackson

We learn as we go.  And there is no right answers. I have shot down some paths and then asked myself why am I doing this or that? And then I retrace my steps and go back. But I have learned to always consider the client.

I came across this one painting that I did for a client at least 20 years ago.  The story behind it is that it was an older gentleman and he wanted a portrait done of his wife.  

I went to their home and he was chatting on and on about what he wanted. He showed me his art collection and why he loved this artist or that and he had some really amazing original paintings. But it was very clear that the wife did NOT want a  portrait painted of herself.  She was too old she said. Moreover, she did not like the idea of a painting of herself hanging in the house.

So I asked her what she loved to do and they both said that her garden was her love. They took me outside to a paradise that she designed, planted and constantly fussed over. So I suggested- how about a portrait of who you are instead of what you look like?

This is what I have learned over the years of working with clients. You have to listen to them.  So we chatted about having her set in her garden, fussing and taking care of the plants, etc. The viewer would recognize her in her setting, but you only saw her from the back, dramatically backlit.

It was the first time I had really thought about a portrait being a “non-portrait.”

The painting was actually very huge.  I think it wound up being over 50” across. I couldn’t do all that detail, keep her likeness, and have her only be an inch high, right? Luckily, they had the space for it.

I found myself painting a lot of the landscape and yet was still very careful to bring the focus to the figure. Notice she has the strongest light on her and the strongest darks too. Her family knew right away who it was and she was happy too.

Working with clients is like walking a tightrope. It is not just the artist and a painting anymore.  There is a third party involved.  And they have the power. (and the checkbook) And honestly, I like the challenge of that sometimes. I have learned a lot over the years and I have definitely made some mistakes along the way… but…

I love my job.

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