I've wrapped up the final week of my Portrait Project! With this self-created project, I completed six pastel portraits in six weeks. With each one, I allowed myself the freedom to push it in the direction I felt compelled to go. I was bold with color, I was bold with mark-making, and I learned so much more than I ever hoped.
THANK YOU to all the participants! I am extremely grateful for the trust you gave to me. You are amazingly brave people to hand over your photographs and give me the freedom to create. I hope the results bring you joy! While painting these portraits, I, myself, was full of joy. In fact, I frequently felt myself smiling for no real reason except that it made me so happy to feel a connection to each soul I was painting. Thank you!
During the final week, I surprisingly didn't do all that much to the portraits. I thought I would still have a lot of finishing touches to complete, but when I placed each portrait on my drawing board, I realized there wasn't much to add. I'm glad I gave myself the extra time to stand back from each portrait and absorb how it looked. Doing so allowed me the room to not fuss or over-work them.
And now, at last: Here are the photographed, finished portraits!
They are all 11" x 14", soft pastels on sanded pastel card.
As you may remember, Savannah and Penelope are sisters. I intentionally painted their portraits as a set. I'm pleased with how the opposing background and clothing colors work together. Here is how they look side by side.
Portrait work continues...
I have three more portraits on the docket that I consider to be an extension of this project. The twin boys, Noah and Jonah, and another adult, Melanie. I will add an additional blog post to my Portrait Project category page revealing them when they are complete!
If you're interested in having a portrait or another subject commissioned, I invite you to see the information on my Commission Request page and get in touch with me. I look forward to hearing from you!
This week I found out that I will have to wait on painting the twins' portraits due to some challenges with getting reference photographs. Their portraits will come eventually, but they won't be part of the six week time period. I anticipated this happening last week and added another portrait (Abigail) and officially decided to include Matthew's portrait in the group of six.
During week 5, I added more details to Savannah's and Penelope's portraits. I also finished or mostly finished Henry, Matthew, and Abigail.
Here are some detailed photos of the six portraits at Week 5.
All of these portraits will get wrapped up during week six. Then I'll photograph them and I'll reveal the completed set in a week. I'm excited to show you!
Side note: I've added more finished paintings to my portfolio page. Take a look at them here.
My studio is filling up with faces and loads of color! It is truly a joy to be in this space during this snowy-white winter we're currently experiencing in Minnesota.
This week I changed my plan a bit since I wasn't able to start the final two portraits of my Portrait Project as I had hoped. So, while waiting for photos of the twins to arrive in my inbox, I added more details to some of the portraits I already have in progress.
I also chose another subject to add to the project since I was getting antsy without a portrait to start! So, here's my progress on Abigail this past week.
What comes next?
I'm also considering what my next step will be after this Portrait Project comes to an end. I definitely don't want to stop making portraits. I think I'm learning quite a bit, discovering my style, and getting into a groove. I especially love to see the faces as they emerge from a black page.
Please let me know if I can make a portrait for you!
I'm halfway through my Portrait Project! I've discovered that one of my favorite parts of creating a portrait is working out the contours of the face. It's like putting together a puzzle. I feel compelled to keep working on it until all the pieces come together just right -and click!- I've created the likeness of the person. It's very satisfying and challenging all at once.
This week I started two portraits! The two girls are sisters and I want to be sure their portraits work together as a set. It's been a fun challenge to be sure their color schemes jive and their compositions work well as a pair when placed next to each other.
Penelope (and Savannah)
As I mentioned last week, I'm going to hold off on finishing each portrait until the final week of the 6-week long Portrait Project. I want to be able to bounce from one to the next and back again, so I can learn from each one as I go along.
This coming week I'm hoping to start on Jonah and Noah, another pair of portraits! This time the duo is not only siblings, but they're identical twins!
Yes, I'm taking commissions!
Sometimes the pieces just seem to fit together so well. That’s when I know I’m on the right track!
I started my 6-week long Portrait Project just as I was figuring out a new routine that would allow me to include both pastel painting and textile art in my daily schedule. It really was the ideal time for me to get to work on a pastel project! Was it kismet or am I getting really good at hearing my intuition? Whichever it is, I’m glad it’s working for me.
Two weeks into my project of 6 portraits in 6 weeks and I’ve started two. My goal for this project is to use it as a learning experience, a way to discover how I want to work as a pastel artist. (By the way, thank you to the participants who are allowing me to create portraits for them as part of this experiment!)
Since beginning, I’ve already determined that I want to keep each portrait unfinished until later in the 6-week process. It seems to me that the portraits should work together as a group. I want to be able to bounce from one to the next, so I can learn from each one as I go along.
Here’s where I am now.
Other Pastel Work Continues
In the meantime, I continue to work on other pastel pieces to learn, grow, and refine my techniques. Here are some of the other portraits I’ve completed for practice - and because it's so fun!
In the next two weeks I'll start on Savannah and Penelope. Check back for my progress!
I broke things.
It didn't seem like something I'd do. But it felt right.
Since late summer I've been experimenting. Drawing and painting, trying new things, and reveling in the freedom of it all. I've felt this amazing ability to let go of the guilt one usually gets when not doing what one is "supposed to be doing".
I’ve felt taken over by creativity, and I’ve allowed myself to let it happen. It's been a gift.
But, I've got responsibilities, timelines, goals, and a Fiber Art Project Grant. The free-wheeling can’t continue indefinitely. Which, I'm not going to lie, has been a tough fact to face.
Fitting the Broken Pieces Together – in a New Way
For a while I actually thought I would have to give up on my textile art. It was simply too hard to pull myself away from drawing and painting with pastels. That amazing feeling of flow that I’ve been experiencing when I draw and paint, has been a true siren call.
I reminded myself that it wouldn't be in my own best interest to not complete what I had set out to do. Also, did I really want to give back the $5,000 I received for the Project Grant? Did I really want to tell the wonderful people who awarded me that money that I was giving up?
Not at all.
What I needed to do was pick up all the pieces I broke and figure out a new way to put them together. A way that would work for me now, in my new place.
I got serious and wrote down a daily routine for myself that would allow me to fit in all the parts.
The Ah-ha! Moment
Writing it down was the easy part. As I struggled to start my new routine, I realized something huge. The fiber work was feeling really hard. Not because I didn’t like it anymore. No; but because in my mind it felt scary. Unlike when I created textile art in the past, this time the stakes are high: I have a Grant, an upcoming Exhibition, and Very Important People to please and impress.
The pastel work, on the other hand, is just for me. It has an experimental feeling and there are no stakes.
I realized that I needed to take the pressure off my textile work. I didn't want to get started on it again because it felt so risky and I was having a fear of failure. So, using what I learned from my research on creativity – in fact, exactly what got me started on pastels – I decided to re-frame things in my head.
I told myself, the next textile piece I made would be a warm-up. Like when you’re learning a new card game and the first round you play is just to get the rules figured out. No pressure; just explore. Plus, you know that Picasso quote: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” I needed to get to work.
And what do you know. For two weeks now, I’ve had my new routine working. That first week, I created a piece of textile art that I don’t know how I feel about. It’s not so great – but who cares, it was only for practice. The real point of that piece was that it helped me get into the new routine.
I’ve started to realize these seemingly disparate undertakings are all part of my year-long Jerome Project Grant. All of it: researching creativity, breaking my routine, experiencing the freedom of the pastel work, the challenge of getting back to textile work, discovering the necessity of a new routine.
Actually, sorting out all of this has accomplished exactly what I wanted when I originally wrote my grant proposal last May:
I’ve gone through all of this to discover my new studio art practice. Wow.
I'm starting to settle into my new routine. It includes both textile art and pastel painting. Things are flowing easier. I’m feeling inspired by both mediums. In fact, every day I feel like pinching myself because I can hardly believe I got what I wished for: a studio art practice.
It feels good.
The Portrait Project is full! Thanks to everyone who signed up to participate. If you'd like to follow along, please see my Instagram feed. If you'd like to find out more about requesting a custom portrait, go here.
I’m about to start a 6-week long portrait project and I’m inviting you to participate!
You’ll help me to build up a body of portrait work in my own style, with a variety of subjects. In return, you’ll receive a creative, original work of art at a reduced price of about 50% off!
I plan to take on only five portraits for this project, so if you're interested contact me soon, or purchase your spot in the portrait project now. Find all the details below.
Details of what to expect
Each portrait will be of a single subject (one person per piece). I'm requesting full creative license for this project. You’ll need to be okay with letting go and perhaps getting something slightly unexpected.
What Mary will choose:
Price to participate is $150 per portrait (plus tax and shipping, if applicable).
This offer has ended.
Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, I'm more than happy to chat with you!
I'm looking forward to working on a wide variety of portrait subjects!
Individual things can be fine on their own,
but are we missing something?
When separate pieces are designed to work together,
we get another thing entirely: the whole.
I visit a certain large Midwestern town every year or two. This particular town is really just your average American place. It's filled with chain stores, traffic lights, cars, and parking lots. The buildings are all individual businesses. Each one has its own usual look, arranged on its own property, allowing for easy access into each parking lot, without regard for much else. The overall look of the town is haphazard.
When we drive through the town, I always feel sad about the place. I used to think it was because I was being a bit pretentious, with my background in architecture and design. On first glance, I dislike the order-less-ness of it all. The buildings are all over the place. Nothing lines up and nothing goes together. There’s a lot of asphalt and concrete. Green space is absent. I hate all the traffic lights.
Apart from a few grumbles to my husband, I always kept my thoughts to myself. But lately, I've been reflecting more deeply on my feelings about the place. I’ve uncovered what is it about the town that makes me feel sad. It’s not what is in the town, but what is missing from the town, that gets to me. I see all of the lost opportunities. By developing in this aimless way, without regard for an overall plan, so much is lacking. Sure, you can live in a town like this. But what are you missing?
Let’s say you live in this town and you need to do a bit of shopping. You get in your car and drive toward the business area. Multiple stop-lights try your patience as you frown at the rain and wish the light would turn green. Finally, you pull into the parking lot of the store. You park your car and quickly walk across the asphalt expanse to the door. You go in and get your shopping done. On the way back to your car, you see an acquaintance coming out of her car and you say hello. The drizzle prevents you from chatting and you both dash away and get on with your day. As you drive away, you notice a new store and you consider going to check it out. To get to there you’ll need to go through another traffic light, park in another parking lot, and walk through the drizzle again. The thought of all that bother prevents you from stopping. Instead, you drive home through all the stop lights, annoyed at how long it’s taking. You arrive home feeling stressed out and slightly angry and you aren’t sure why. You snap at your spouse.
Consider, instead, a town with a cohesive, overall plan. All the individual parts are still there, but they work together as a system. It's almost magical the difference it makes. Here’s another scenario:
You need to do a bit of shopping. You drive downtown and park your car on the street and walk the half a block to the store. Along the way you pass trees and greenery planted alongside the sidewalk. You breathe in deeply and feel a connection to nature. You notice a new shop and pop in to check it out. You realize this place is the perfect place to find a gift for your hard-to-shop-for relative. You feel happy to have discovered it. As you leave, you see a friend coming out of the cafe next door. You sit together on the bench outside the door, conveniently kept dry from the day’s drizzle by an awning, and chat about your lives. You smile at each other and wave good-bye. You are enveloped with a feeling of well-being from seeing a friendly face, and you’re prompted to say hello to the next person you pass on the sidewalk. He smiles and says hello back and makes a comment about the rainy weather. As you continue on, you feel a warm sense of community at having shared a common moment. You go about your day, get your shopping done, and go home, feeling calm and happy. You don’t even realize why you feel this way. You smile at your spouse.
Sure, we can live without good design, but when it’s there, things are better. Organization, order, and planning get a bad rap. Spending the time up front to to put a plan in place is sometimes seen as a waste of energy and resources. And I get it, when resources are short, corners need to be cut. Design seems the likely corner to trim, because most people do not even notice good design when it’s there. Design’s job is to literally be in the background, to make things run smoothly. The outcome of good design is a feeling of calm, ease, and happiness. And since humans are a social species, that feeling is passed from one person to another. And life is better for everyone.
What do you think? Do you ever notice when some things are combined thoughtfully together, the resulting combination is even better?
How about an orchestra? Each individual player is an excellent musician and each instrument sounds great on its own. But, with a conductor to guide them to play as one, the resulting music is amazing.
What about colors? Yes, the color blue is lovely in and of itself, but when you place a certain shade of yellow next to it, well, together the combination simply sings!
Even pictures on a wall can benefit! Photos and artworks are wonderful on their own. Hang them up any which way and you’ll get to admire some of your favorites. But, take a little time to arrange them thoughtfully in a group, and the whole room benefits beautifully.
What wonderful whole can you create with a little organization and a plan?
How is it possible that I started working with soft pastels just a short five months ago? I feel such an affinity for this medium. I've been drawing and painting almost continuously since I first asked my son if I could use his broken pastels!
Starting a New Habit
When I began, I decided I'd try to spend about an hour a day getting into the habit of drawing, just for fun, nothing serious. But, silly me, I had no problem starting; instead there were many times when I felt that I couldn't stop. I felt this incomprehensible urge to just keep drawing. It was an amazing feeling; like coming alive again.
Click on the photos below to see each finished piece.
I love this line I heard a while back: "There are no mistakes, there's only data collection." If you look at life as a learning process, you're simply collecting data with each thing you do, and there is no such thing as a mistake. Use what you learn and build upon it, one step at a time. Step one isn't a mistake, it's just the necessary foundation for step two.
So, after creating many scenes of nature, a subject I've always felt comfortable with, I decided to keep an open mind and try drawing people. In the past I never felt comfortable drawing people, but, when there are no mistakes, just learning, there's nothing to lose in trying!
A Commissioned Painting
After my return from the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, it was wonderful to have a commissioned painting waiting to be started. This particular request was very meaningful: it would be a very special Christmas gift for a woman who is honoring her 50th wedding anniversary, five years after the passing of her husband.
What a feeling to be trusted with such an important task. My heart was filled with gratitude and I couldn't wait to begin. The photos I received of the couple showed them dancing at their son and daughter-in-law's wedding nine years ago. I could see such love and joy between the two of them in the candid photos, I immediately knew the painting should impart those feelings.
To accomplish this, I decided the dancing couple would be the whole focus of the painting. I did this in two main ways. First, I highlighted the dancing couple by having the two of them be the only element in the painting that continues into the foreground. Everything else fades away into the background.
Secondly, I decided to include a photographer who was off to the side in one of the reference photos. Including her in the painting worked to my advantage. The viewer's eye first gazes upon the dancing couple at the center, then the viewer's eye is drawn over to the photographer with her camera, which in turn leads the gaze right back to the dancing couple. I love the effect.
The blurry twinkle lights, the guests clapping and watching the couple dance, and the dark night outside the windows, all offer an ambiance of magic to the painting.
I'm pleased to report that the gift was well received! The daughter-in-law sent me this note, "I wanted to let you know the pastel was a success! There were lots of tears, mostly good ... We got a text after everyone had left [on Christmas] letting us know that she will treasure it forever. Thank you again for everything!"
I already have two more commissioned pastels to work on in January. What fun! I will also continue to create textile art, as I am working toward my Jerome Grant Project exhibition in May.
I am really looking forward to the New Year ahead. It is promising to to be a year filled with art and learning! I hope your New Year is wonderful, as well!
My Biggest Show Yet
Two weeks ago I was in Chicago, at the One of a Kind Show + Sale. This show had been on my art show wish list for a while, and I'm really proud that I accomplished it this year! About 70,000 people shopped this holiday show and over 600 artists exhibited.
I hadn't felt ready to apply for this large, well-known show until this past spring, when I figured, why not just apply and see if I get in? And, what do you know? I got accepted! Which was thrilling! Even so, I had a hard time deciding whether to go for it or not. It has a very expensive booth fee, and I was still waiting to hear if I received the grant for which I had applied. In the end, my "nothing venture, nothing gained" attitude pushed me to do it.
There were many times over the past six months when I felt that I wouldn't have enough time to make all the items I wanted to bring with me. And I certainly didn't make everything on my to-do list. (In fact, I spent quite a bit of unplanned time learning to draw and paint with pastels. Whoops!) But, it turns out, knowing I was going to do this show so far in advance gave me plenty of time to prepare. I had more than enough inventory with me.
One Week Pre-Show
The best decision I made was to take an entire week before the show to do prep work. Hesitantly, I set aside the remaining partially-completed purses on my work table. Instead, I spent that final week packing and prepping my products, preparing for my booth set up, and accomplishing tasks for my time away from home. It was wonderful; I arrived feeling calm and stress-free. And I didn't encounter any of those "Oh no, I forgot to do/bring " moments.
Top 3 Things I Will Do Again
3. Have a final day sale.
Personally, I do not like sales for handmade products and art. It doesn't make sense to me to have sales, because I try my best to give a quality product at the best price I can, always. And honestly. it can be hard to turn a profit as an artist.
Even so, I felt that a final day sale at a 4-day long show made sense. I wanted to reduce my inventory to take home and I wanted to turn last day lookers into buyers. Since it was just a one-day thing, and only for in-person sales, I felt okay about doing it.
And last, but not least... Thank you to all the kind and friendly people who visited my booth. I am exceptionally grateful for my wonderful customers, new and returning! Your support allows me to keep doing what I love. Thank you!
See you next year, Chicago!
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.
I also enjoy reflecting on the human condition.
In my blog, I write about my musings and my art.
Find my bio here.