Friday, January 31, 2014

Sitting Still


Artist Carl Samson and way too many iterations of me
After months of anticipation (and a fair amount of fretting over make-up and hair), I sat earlier this week for a head study done by Carl Samson.  (Samson is the juror of the 9th Biennial National Art Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center and was in town to judge the show.)    The event was a combination educational experience/fundraiser for the VAC.  In order to accommodate a sizable group (50+ audience members), we held the event in the auditorium of the Punta Gorda Branch of Edison State College.  This worked well as the auditorium has both a stage and projection capability, enabling everyone to see Carl's work as the head study progressed.  I didn't realize until I arrived that afternoon that I would also appear on the big screen.  Yikes!

Before the demo began, I asked Carl to be gentle with me, pointing to the wrinkles and other signs of aging that I try so hard to ignore.  "No worries," he assured me. "I will be as gentle as a lamb crossing a dewy field."  (He has an incredibly poetic way of speaking that somehow doesn't sound corny or contrived in any way.) 

Drawing is the first step
And so we were off.  Carl's technique to portrait painting is referred to as "line of sight."  It was quite an interesting process to watch.  As you can see from this picture, the canvas was set up next to me, but the tabouret (my new favorite word -- it's the little stand on which he put his palette) was approximately five feet away.  My chair was seated on a platform so that we were more or less at eye level.  He would gaze at me, select his paint, and then attack the canvas.  With all the back and forth, he said he would probably walk five miles over the course of the three hour demo.  (I offered him my FitBit to count his steps, but he politely declined.)

Before he began to paint, Carl shared with the audience that people often tell him he looks like a conductor when he works.  It didn't take long to figure out why.  Each time that he stepped back, there was a huge flourish of his arms.  From my vantage point, the movement fell somewhere between a maestro at work and the karate kid about to take on an opponent.  Watching him definitely helped me stay focused and amused with the process.

As I mentioned above, the purpose of the demo was for Carl to share his craft with other artists.  Much of what he had to say (like light being form and shadow being atmosphere) didn't make much sense to me.  I did, however, both understand and enjoy his explanation about why an artist should address the weakest point of his or her painting instead of leaving it to be dealt with later.  He analogized to a shepherd herding his flock.  If a sheep gets too far ahead or behind, it is likely to get eaten by a wolf.   So the goal is to keep all the sheep (translation:  parts of the painting) proceeding apace.  Throughout the demo, he kept coming back to the concept of, "The thing that's troubling me most about the painting now is.....", at which point he would work on that area.

Carl Samson and me
As the three hours drew to a close, Carl made small changes to the painting that, according to the audience, made a huge difference.  One of the last tweaks was adding a few highlights to my hair.  (I was glad to find that my time at the hairdresser did not go unnoticed.) 

The study will be on display at the Visual Arts Center during the National Art Exhibition so that visitors can see a work done by the juror. As sponsor of the demo, the painting will make its home with me when the show closes.  I love the study, and am thrilled to have had the opportunity to be painted by an artist who has, among other things, won the Grand Prize at the Portrait Institute's National Portrait Competition.  The fact that it is a memento of my first co-chairmanship of the NAE will make me enjoy it all the more.

To see more of Carl Samson's amazing work, go to www.carlsamson.com.    







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