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Reflections from a Conference Attendee

Recently, one of our conference scholarship recipients shared with us her written reflection from her experience at the 25th annual The Art of the Portrait conference in May 2023, and it was too good not to share! Below is her reflection:


I was awarded a tuition scholarship for the Portrait Society of America’s 25th annual The Art of the Portrait Conference in Washington D.C. Encouraged by a mentor to join the Portrait Society, I was relatively new to the organization. I had observed the previous year’s conference through social media and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I am a self-taught, representational artist, working in oils since 2019. As a new and emerging artist, I read books, attend workshops, watch instructional videos, visit art museums, and dedicate consistent time at my easel. It was clear to me that there was no better way to accelerate my growth, than to observe and learn from such a phenomenal group of artists. Having discovered my love for oil painting at the age of 40, I am also a wife, small business owner, and mother of four boys. It can be difficult to travel and be away from a business and a large family. This scholarship alleviated some of the financial burden and stress associated with attending and allowed me to participate freely. This was such a gift.


As I write this, I am just a few days home from this experience, and I wanted to reflect on the past week while the emotion is fresh and my mind still buzzing with activity. I traveled and stayed with a friend and mentor. We arrived the night before the conference would begin and prepared for a morning workshop with Mary Whyte. Mary’s presentation and wisdom on drawing on emotion was incredibly moving. Listening to Max Ginsburg and Dawn Whitelaw speak about their lives in art, contemplating the “thin spaces” of backgrounds and composition of a painting left me with a flurry of ideas. I brought a notebook to every workshop, breakout session and presentation, and captured some truly insightful tips in each one. Having followed so many portrait artists I admire on social media, it was heartwarming to see them move among the crowd, friendly and inviting, making small talk, encouraging remarks and taking pictures. A real sense of community was present, and I couldn’t help but feel a little star struck. I participated in two portfolio reviews, receiving helpful feedback and even made a connection with an artist who lives near me for future instruction. The vendor room was thrilling! I was able to handle and feel the many quality products available, the representatives were friendly, approachable, and kind. The artists that collected toward the back of the vendor room, painting live models, were yet another opportunity to watch and learn from world class artists. Seeing the paintings of the top 20 finalists for the Draper Grand Prize was amazing. I visited the beautiful display each day, looking closely at the handling of color, edges, brushwork and design. They were truly, museum quality works. The gala banquet, and mystery art sale, were highlights to the fun-filled four days. I was able to spend my last day in Washington, DC among the great artists of the past at the National Portrait Gallery.


The most moving moment of the convention for me, was when 88-year-old Judith Carducci, herself a portrait painter, quoted from memory a Rudyard Kipling poem, "When Earth's Last Picture is Painted," while being painted by Rose Frantzen and Jeff Hein. I was moved to tears, as she received a standing ovation. My heart was stirred by this mounting feeling that artists, particularly portrait artists, come from a long line of great artists, who also pursued this path, learning, mentoring and encouraging one another. Every one of the great artists was mentored, had pivotal friendships, and had what seemed like an awareness that they were a part of something greater than themselves. This sense of common purpose and passion ushered them into greatness. That idea; that we belong to something greater than ourselves, that what we learn is to be handed down to the next generation of seekers; that generosity continues in the Portrait Society. There isn’t a nature of hidden secrets and guarded techniques, but a spirit of great openhandedness that moves us all collectively into greater purpose, deeper meaning and soulful portraiture. I was so amazed and grateful to be a part of it, to have learned and benefited from living masters, whose own lives had been made richer by the great artists who came before them. To be among passionate companions in the arts was thrilling. I am so proud to be a member of this organization, its purpose and its path. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity, and I will return again and again.


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