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A Celebration Two Decades in the Making

It is that time of year again to try and recap all of the incredible events and experiences of the Portrait Society’s annual The Art of the Portrait conference, which took place this year on April 19 – 22 at the Hyatt Regency just outside Washington, D.C. – where it all began 20 years ago at the very first conference! To celebrate this extraordinary milestone, nearly 1,000 artists from around the world came together for a weekend of learning and sharing, through unforgettable encounters and lasting experiences.

So Much to See, So Much to Do

With a jam-packed four-day conference, it’s impossible to recount all of the amazing demonstrations, workshops, and panels that occurred over the course of the weekend, but here are a few of the most talked about highlights. Opening night on Thursday began with the crowd-pleasing Face Off event, where 18 artists painted simultaneously in groups of 3. This year our participating artists were Anna Rose Bain, Wende Caporale, Judith Carducci, Rick Casali, Casey Childs, Michelle Dunaway, Rose Frantzen, James Gurney, Jeffrey Hein, Quang Ho, David Kassan, Daniel Keys, Ricky Mujica, Mario Robinson, Mary Sauer, Adrienne Stein, Jennifer Welty and Elizabeth Zanzinger. In keeping with one of our new traditions, we asked fellow artists Linda Brandon, Joseph Daily, Virgil Elliott, Liz Lindstrom, Michael Mentler, and Howard Lyon to take a turn on the other side of the easel and sit as models for the event. There is a long history of artists painting artists, and we are delighted to be a part of that historic practice. Thursday is also the best day to check out the Exhibit Hall where our dedicated vendors are there to answer any and all questions about your favorite products and services.

On Friday morning, after a rousing welcome from Chairman Ed Jonas, artist James Gurney took to the main stage for a demonstration of his unique perspective on visual perception, communication, and tonal design. Next up were Anna Rose Bain and Quang Ho sharing the stage, as well as their differing approaches to the alla primaportrait. After lunch, attendees scattered off to the first set of breakout sessions, where they choose from six different panels or workshops on topics ranging from Building a Reputation in the 21st Century, Using Photography as a Tool, Understanding Color with Daniel Greene, or a unique discussion on the value of recording dreams, with artist Leslie Adams on her project, Handwritten Dreams. And, Friday night ended with my personal favorite of the weekend – the 6 x 9 Mystery Art Sale, where attendees have a chance to purchase small works by noted artists. While it is highly entertaining to watch everyone scrambling to buy these beautiful little paintings, in truth, I love this event because each work is so generously donated by past faculty members and award winners, and the proceeds from the sale go toward our scholarship program to help emerging artists attend the conference for free.

Saturday morning started off early with the Cecilia Beaux Forum’s panel featuring, Anna Rose Bain, Wende Caporale, Judith Carducci, Mary Sauer, and Dawn Whitelaw. This Q&A session about establishing and managing your art career was standing room only, with each of these remarkable female artists offering their practical advice, counsel, and encouragement. Next on the main stage, three legends - Daniel Greene, Everett Raymond Kinstler, and Burton Silverman – came together to share the wisdom of their past experiences and how they continue to look to the future. That morning also included another set of breakout sessions, featuring panels and demonstrations by Rob Liberace, Mary Whyte, Rick Casali, Jeffrey Hein, Daniel Gerhartz, Quang Ho, Dawn Whitelaw, Rose Frantzen and David Kassan. After lunch, noted author James Head shared some fascinating stories and images about the legendary illustrator and portraitist, Howard Chandler Christy, and Daniel Gerhartz returned to the main stage for an engaging demonstration, where he focused on his approach to building form and conveying emotion.

A Night to Remember

The Saturday evening Gala Banquet is for many the highlight of the weekend. It’s hard to say exactly what makes the night so magical – perhaps it’s the rich food and drink, or the anticipation of the awards being announced, or simply the excitement of finally removing those paint-stained clothes and seeing your friends and favorite artists all dressed to impress. This year, a champagne toast added to the night’s celebration and eased our wait to hear the results of the International Portrait Competition. With a record number of entries, 24 talented finalists were selected to showcase their work at the conference and compete for the Draper Grand Prize, which this year included a $20,000 cash prize in honor of our 20th year. This year, that coveted prize was awarded to Daniel Keys for his stunning work titled, Innocence. Finally, an honoring of our newest Signature Status members and a thoughtful keynote address by Richard Ormond, rounded out the official end of the banquet, though I have it on good authority that the celebration continued well into the night!

The last day of the conference is bittersweet for most, as we all prepare to say goodbye and get back to our regular, albeit somewhat less exciting schedules. This year, Paul Newton led the morning’s Inspirational Hour, after which Michael Shane Neal and Richard Ormond shared an illustrated conversation about John Singer Sargent on the main stage. And last, but certainly not least, the always-entertainingJeffrey Hein gave a demonstration on visualizing shape relationships and achieving a likeness even under the most challenging situations. And after the closing ceremonies, many attendees loaded into buses headed for the National Portrait Gallery.

Always Learning, Always Improving

At the Portrait Society, we take ideas and feedback from our members seriously. And for our 20th anniversary a number of new programs were added to the schedule in response to suggestions made by our members over the years. This year, those especially energized artists, who feel that four days just isn’t enough, were able to arrive a day early to participate in one of three pre-conference workshops with Rob Liberace, Michael Shane Neal, or Mary Whyte. Additionally, on Thursday and Friday night conference-goers could attend free 2 ½ hour open drawing sessions where models were provided along with informal instruction by rotating faculty artists. I admit, I expected a moderate turnout for these sessions, because of our already packed schedule, but both nights the rooms were overflowing with artists, sketchpads in hand, and some of the most determined and engaged expressions I’ve ever seen – and once again, I was blown away by the artist’s perpetual energy to create.

It goes without saying that this event would not be possible without the generous donation of time and knowledge given by each our faculty artists – many of whom return year after year. These incredible individuals have helped to build and strengthen the Portrait Society community, and we would not be the organization that we are today without them. Our sincerest thank you to our 2018 faulty: Leslie Adams, Anna Rose Bain, Wende Caporale, Judith Carducci, Rick Casali, Casey Childs, Michelle Dunaway, Rose Frantzen, Daniel Gerhartz, Daniel Greene, James Gurney, Jeffrey Hein, Quang Ho, Edward Jonas, David Kassan, Daniel Keys, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Robert Liberace, Michael Shane Neal, Ricky Mujica, Paul Newton, Richard Ormond, Mario Robinson, Mary Sauer, Burton Silverman, Adrienne Stein, Jennifer Welty, Dawn Whitelaw, Mary Whyte and Elizabeth Zanzinger.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

When individuals come together to form a community, they become something greater than themselves. In fact, the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the passion and commitment of its members. And once a year, it is my privilege to witness the coming together of this incredible community – to watch as our members savor in the company of old friends, delight in the meeting of new ones, and to see them inspire, support, and learn from one another.

Come and Join Us

For those of you wondering if attending our conference is the right move for you, let me assure you it is! This short recap truly only scratches the surface of all that the Portrait Society conference has to offer. Some of the things not mentioned here today: portfolio critiques, artist book signing, silent auctions, prize drawings, impromptu paint-offs in the hotel lobby, and late night chats about art, life, and the many ups and downs of the creative process. If you’re looking for a community to grow with and share your successes and failures – we want to be a part of that journey. And if you already have an active artistic “support system,” then come share your knowledge and those experiences with others. Next year’s conference will take place from April 25-28 in Atlanta, Georgia, and registration is already open. I hope to see you all there!

Krystle Stricklin is a writer and PhD candidate in art history at the University of Pittsburgh, and former Cecilia Beaux Forum Coordinator for the Portrait Society of America.

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