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What It’s Like Being in a Face-Off

I recently interviewed Dan Thompson and Mary Qian about what it’s really like to take part in a Face-Off! Both artists did their first Face-Off in Atlanta, 2019. The Face-Off is a popular annual Portrait Society of America conference event which kicks off the main conference activities. In the largest hall, 18 artists use their chosen medium to paint, draw, or sculpt six different models for three hours. People love walking around and seeing how the different artists work! Afterwards, these portraits are auctioned off to raise money for the PSoA scholarship fund. It’s an honor to be invited to take part, and I started off our discussion with the obvious question.

1) How did you feel about being asked to be in a Face-Off?

DT: I was flattered and honored. I’d seen some Face-Offs before and knew people who’d been in them. There’s a real sense of energy and buzz, which is great to see.

MQ: I was very excited to be asked! I’ve watched them online for years!

2) Did you prepare for being in the Face-Off in any way?

DT: No, just stayed in practice. As long as I continued to paint and draw consistently from life, I knew I would be prepared.

MQ: Yes, I did. My biggest goal was to speed up! I’m not that fast of a painter. I practiced but maybe not enough!

3) How was it when you first walked in the room and saw your model?

DT: I came in, and I was the first one in my section. The room was large and impressive. Eventually all the other artists arrived but no model until about 30 seconds before we were due to start. Then a beautiful model and artist, Natalia Fabia, walked in, and it was worth the wait.

MQ: My model, artist Mardie Rees, was beautiful! Everyone was telling me how lucky I was. However, sometimes it is easier to paint someone who is not so beautiful, so I was a little worried. But she was a great model!

4) Were you able to tune out the crowds?

DT: I don’t mind the crowds at all. I invited questions, but there weren’t all that many. People mostly just seemed to want to observe.

MQ: Crowds really don't affect me. At home I paint right on the street, where people watch and talk to me, so I really don't mind.

5) Did you experience any Technical Difficulties?

DT: I was working in pencil, keeping it simple. All went fine.

MQ: The artificial light of the set-up threw me a little. I’m a natural light painter, and I was not prepared. Fortunately, one of my neighboring artists lent me a filter for one of the lights, which really helped.

6) Did anything particularly unexpected or heart-warming happen during the event?

DT: The model bought my drawing! I think that was a cool compliment. Also, I enjoyed the camaraderie of my section.

MQ: I came to the conference with a bunch of friends and they sat in the front row, helping me and being supportive. That was so nice!

7) Overall, how did you feel about your performance?

DT: Like most artists, I’m always wishing I could do better, but I was really happy with this experience. Drawing and painting is like an oasis, and I get to go there.

MQ: Honestly, three hours is a little short for me. My result was sketchier than I would usually do, but it came out well. It was a great push for me to go a little faster!

8) Would you do it again?

DT: Of course, I would. It was a fun thing to do, and it’s also great to be part of “the conversation.”

MQ: Yes, I loved it! It was so much fun. In fact, I am doing it again at this next conference!

9) Any words of advice for future Face-Off painters?

DT: Be yourself. Don’t chase expectations except your own. Just be you.

MQ: Other than bring your own light? Have fun, relax, and as much as you can, be yourself. That’s who people want to see!

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