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2023 Portrait Society of America Conference

By Kate Orr


In May 2023, hundreds of artists gathered at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Reston, Virginia for the annual Portrait Society of America Conference. For me, this is a highlight of the year.


This is the fourth time I've attended the conference, thanks to the generosity of scholarships from friends and from the Portrait Society.


Of the four wonderful years I have attended, this has been the best yet. With over 3,000 entries in The International portrait competition and a ballroom full of hundreds of artists, the excitement was palpable. An outstanding faculty of artists poured their hearts and knowledge into each breakout session and demo.


The exhilarating Face-Off kicked off the conference Thursday evening. With internationally recognized artists clustered in small groups of three, it was fascinating to watch as their processes unfolded. You see so much variety in medium, application, color, and decisions. Seeing how there are so many different approaches, each creating a beautiful piece of art, encourages me to feel the freedom to use a process that I love!


The Next Generation demos followed directly, with Kyle Ma and Stephanie Paige Thomson in one room, and Jared Brady with Celia Liberace in another. It was thrilling for me to go between the two rooms watching my friends accomplish fantastic pieces as their first demonstrations as Portrait Society faculty. As soon as the demos finished, people flooded forward to ask questions and see their art up close.


The best part of the evening was getting to reunite with so many artist friends. It gave me so much joy to see people who I only have the opportunity to spend time with at Portrait Society conference each year, and it was just as wonderful to talk with friends I can visit with more often. Once you begin coming to the conference, every year feels more like a family reunion.


Friday was a flurry of presentations, discussions, and demos. Adrienne Stein and Anthony Ryder started the day with so many helpful insights and incredible demos: Adrienne's bursting with color and Anthony's capturing both structure and character.


Portfolio Critiques and Book Signings had lines trailing down the halls with attendees eagerly anticipating to speak with the respective artists.


Breakout sessions with Louis Carr, Dawn Whitelaw, James Gurney, Susan Lyon, Jennifer Gennari, and Rick Casali made you wish you could be in all five sessions at once!


Of course, Friday wouldn't be complete without the 6x9" Mystery Art Sale - an event you could hardly weave through, it was so packed with people excited to buy a gem.


Robert Liberace and Mary Qian showed their dynamic approaches to painting the figure, and two rooms were opened for live drawing. After seeing so many paintings of him, I was delighted to have a chance to draw the model, John Carrasco. Drawing from life is always a challenge, but when you are surrounded by artists and have a model so full of character, it was a terrific experience.


Saturday was just as enthralling as the day before. James Gurney, Michael Shane Neal, and Mary Whyte shared a panel discussion moderated by Wende Caporale-Greene, answering questions about capturing moving targets and, in James' words, 'painting in the wild.'


Breakout sessions were packed yet again, and I can tell you Suchitra Bhosle and Scott Burdick made a dynamic duo. They shared stories about traveling, described their favorite travel tips and materials, and responded to questions from the audience. Both of their paintings were rich with color and movement.


Rose Frantzen and Jeff Hein playfully bantered as they painted Judith Carducci, quipping with quick wit and lots of laughs shared by their audience. We watched as Jeff sculpted her features from large masses of color and value, and as Rose danced her brush across the canvas with bright, twirling lines. It was fascinating to observe their individual approaches to form and likeness.


The Gala and Awards Ceremony glittered with artists of all ages and backgrounds, dressed to the nines and conversing in a chorus of enthusiastic voices. Cheers and jubilation arose in waves as awards were passed out, culminating with the Draper Grand Prize awarded to Paul Newton! Everyone stood in ovation as Paul accepted this incredible award, joy lighting up faces everywhere you looked. The excitement carried well into the evening, with artists flocking to see the award-winning works again in the gallery.


Sunday morning, attendees gathered to hear Kevin Macpherson's presentation, 'About Face,' where he shared his insights, experiences, and humor. Listening to his words, one thing that struck me particularly was his encouragement to 'paint your life.' Paint what you love and what interests you; it will inform and inspire your work.


After this uplifting presentation, Quang Ho and Ron Hicks delighted artists with their beautiful demos. Both discussed the balance between representationalism and abstraction. To watch as faces emerged from their abstract marks on their canvas perfectly illustrated their concept. They also shared their philosophies in art and personal experiences.


The conference came to a close with remaining attendees heading two ways, either for self-guided tours of the National Portrait Gallery or Mary Whyte's guided tour of her 'We The People' Exhibition at the Army Museum.


As I flew back home to Indiana, reflecting on the last few days filled my heart with gratitude and joy. Memories made, epiphanies shared, and new friendships begun, it's hard to believe so much can happen in such a short time. Whether you have considered attending for years or have only just discovered the Portrait Society, I cannot recommend enough investing in such an incredible experience. The joy, education, and inspiration it will bring you is matched only by the beautiful friendships you will find there.


By attending the conference, not only is your life deeply enriched in countless ways, your art improved, and your career cultivated, you are also helping to secure the future of fine art and portraiture. It is an opportunity you will never regret and forever treasure.

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