THE ART OF THE PORTRAIT CONFERENCE 2022 … a personal account.
By Janelle Hatherly
After a two-year hiatus, the PSoA conference was back in person in Atlanta, not Orlando as planned before COVID-19 disrupted the world in 2020. Along with about 500 others, I made the decision to bravely travel again and eagerly made my way to this unforgettable experience that promised to be both exhausting and exhilarating. I’m an Australian member of PSoA, and this was my first time attending the conference.
Since taking up portraiture I have found the PSoA and Instagram my favourite virtual platforms for seeing the best of the best and for connecting with my ‘tribe’. As with other major disruptive events, the global pandemic had some positive outcomes. In isolation, many people turned to creative pursuits and career artists mastered and benefitted from online teaching, exhibitions and sales.
Before I left Australia, I jotted down all I hoped to get out of the conference, but as I sat in the hotel lobby on the day before my pre-conference workshop with Michelle Dunaway, I experienced a mix of emotions. I felt a sense of vulnerability and apprehension that my lack of artistic expertise would be exposed; excitement that I might meet my art heroes such as Quang Ho and Adrienne Stein, Paul Newton, Tina Garrett, Michael Shane Neal and emerging artists like Mattie Rae; and sadness that I hadn’t done this a decade ago when I would have had the opportunity to meet and experience talented greats like Richard Schmid, Daniel Greene, Max Ginsburg and Everett Raymond Kinstler.
It felt good to be ‘real’ again by embracing the unknown and anticipating new experiences and friendships. No virtual experience could have matched Mary Whyte’s powerfully stirring presentation ‘We the People’. This tour de force received a standing ovation. And just as painters select what to put in and leave out of a composition, I was able to focus on what mattered most to me, rather than only what cameras show in demonstrations and workshops. I marveled at how presenters could simultaneously convey poignant pearls of wisdom and deftly demonstrate techniques. Insights into art history were mixed with storytelling and ubiquitous tips on composition, drawing, values, colour and edges.
One faculty member remarked that the advantage of live conferences is the chat bits between formal sessions. Artists are generally private people, working in isolation and to deadlines, and this is a rare opportunity to meet and chat and learn snippets incidentally. An attendee (who had been several times before) commented that this gathering was even more meaningful, as learning of others’ struggles during the pandemic made her own journey easier. One young first-timer couldn’t get over the contrast between this welcoming, encouraging, uplifting, unpretentious environment and the ferocious internet world of social media celebrities and keyboard warriors.
Why is everyone so openly supportive and willing to share? Many of ‘the greats’ spoke fondly of their mentors and were so appreciative of what they had been given, they felt compelled to pass it on. Gratitude turns into generosity of spirit and the greater the openness, the greater the gift of expression. The nature of this fraternity is something very special. Comradery and a shared passion transcends all abilities, achievements and ages, and excellence is aspired to in everything produced.
Witnessing the exhibition of finalists and selection of winners in the International Portrait Competition awards was truly exhilarating as was experiencing the creation and then display of the Face-Off portraits.
Attendees could also actively participate in life drawing sessions and have their own work critiqued. I was fortunate to have Luana Winner and Mark Pugh give me honest constructive feedback on a painting I wish to improve. When it came to bidding on a 9”x 6” painting in the Mystery Art Sale, I chose one that demonstrated some of the techniques I now wanted to include in my work. Well, I won it and to my surprise it was painted by Luana! Harry’s Eyes has travelled home with me to Australia – a meaningful memento.
My luggage also included new art materials I can’t wait to try out, and my camera and diary are loaded with ideas and personal connections I look forward to exploring in the future.
I came to the Art of the Portrait conference expecting to learn ‘how to’ and ‘with what’ but instead experienced a paradigm shift in my thinking and left with an understanding of ‘why’. I now understand why I paint portraits, why edges and light are so important and why simplification is essential. I want to convey ideas and emotions rather than simply copy reality. I plan to paint what I can’t put into words and I won’t let fear or frustration stop me. As a passionate lifelong learner, I have been given permission to stay young at heart forever.
This conference has the potential to change lives, foster mentorships, build friendships and insights. Many thanks to the PSoA board and staff, faculty and volunteers who made this possible!