Alicia is another one of the wonderful strangers I met in my neighborhood. Back on a beautiful Sunday in October my husband and I went for a walk and having reached the farthest point were sitting on our favorite bench. A family of three was walking towards us, probably returning from a church – all dressed up and looking very proper. The woman looked remarkably interesting, but even though I had my camera with me I felt too shy somehow to do something about it.
But I must have been still staring, because to my surprise the woman walked up to me and gave me her card. “You look like nice people,” she said, “here’s my number if you need your house cleaned or any other help.” At this point I had no excuse. “Would you let me take your picture for a portrait?” I asked and proceeded to explain this whole business of 40 portraits. The entire family was greatly entertained. “Mama – the art model!” the son was laughing. Alicia herself was so amused by this concept that she doubled over in laughter, my first shot showed a nice brick building behind her. But we all pulled ourselves together and managed to take a few more shots, now with Alicia in them.
Time and again during these months of collecting faces for portraits I have seen this happening. The amazing, wonderful, remarkable people I see cannot comprehend why anyone would want to do their portraits. Is it because they do not realize how beautiful they are? Is it because they are not movie stars, but instead clean houses or work in garages? At my vet’s clinic there is a receptionist who has eyes of St. Frances, but she declined a portrait. “Nobody wants my mug shot,” she told me with conviction. Well, I do! But I couldn’t persuade her.
Alicia and I had a hug and parted friends. I haven’t seen her since, except for this portrait, but I may still. We live in the same neighborhood.
#36 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
I love Kenny! Ever since I came up with this idea of a sketchbook full of portraits, back then when I drew Jeff, I was thinking that I must draw Kenny. Kenny is a neighbor, he lives on the same floor with his wife and Pebbles the dog. So I bump into him often. And even though I don’t always understand what he is saying, our conversations are always delightful and I am looking forward to them. I do get it that Kenny likes people in general and me in particular. Kenny is happy, expressive, unabashed, genuine and very real. A breath of fresh air.
#35 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Terri is my neighbor from 7E. I was riding an elevator with Terri one day and suddenly had realized that Terri was a solution to my problem. As I am getting closer to the finish line of my project I became conscious that I don’t have a single black female in my sketchbook. Otherwise the book is nicely balanced – a real little slice of an American big city, except for this unfortunate omission. It’s not that I don’t know any black women, I have collected a number of references, but there’s always something not quite right with them – mostly my photography skills.
I shared all this with Terri right there in the elevator. “But I need to wash my hair!!!” Terri exclaimed in reply. Of course! A girl must wash her hair before being photographed, even if it is perfect already – everybody knows that.
When we got together for a photoshoot, several minutes into it, I discovered that Terri was a natural model. I asked her not to pose, but to do things she needed to do while I would try to catch a natural expression. So she was washing dishes, repotting a plant, but amazingly at the exact moment of my shutter going off her eyes would be on me. Just like that, naturally. I had not a single bad shot! (Except for the one where my flash reflected from a mirror behind…) I even asked if Terri had modeled before, and it came out that she had – she was familiar with a runway and has shown hair fashions.
Oh, and Terri is not a mechanic, she works for an airline, this is just a shirt she wears at home. I thought it went well with her sassy expression.
#34 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
At the end of SOFA Day 1 Sami and I were sitting on a bench in front of his gallery. Sami was warming up to my collecting faces for portraits.
“Want this guy?” Sami pointed at a dark man studying a display of glass sculptures. “I know him, and he is handsome.” I wanted the guy, but was too tired to do my spiel again after having repeated it a dozen times that day.
Sami stood up and grabbed the man by his sleeve. “Here,” he commanded, “stand over here! She is going to photograph you for a portrait!”
The man took my hand and held it. “Gabriel.” He said in a soft voice. “Like the angel, you know?…” I knew. Immediately. My fashion statement of combat boots and a fleece 6 sizes too large apparently mattered very little.
Gabriel Eid is an art director of Galerie Frédéric Got of Paris. He brought some amazing bronzes to SOFA. Gabriel posed for a dozen of photos for me; and they looked good on the 2.5” display of my camera. But when I looked at them large they did not satisfy. They were average. Reasonable quality and showing likeness, they all were missing his personality.
When I found Gabriel again the next day, this time in his gallery, I got to experience a full blast of French charm. Gabriel speaks in a low voice making you step in closer. In 15 minutes of the second photo session I got more compliments and pointed interest in me and my work than I have had in a month. This can be addictive! I also got my winner shot.
#33 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
I only met Lina very recently, at SOFA. I went to the show with three specific goals in mind: to see Sami – definitely goal #1, to see new art, and to collect faces (portrait references) for my Sketchbook Project. I was still in a process of greeting everybody in the Mostly Glass gallery when I saw Lina at the exhibit opposite.
I waited a while until Lina had no visitors and then introduced myself and my request. Lina wasn’t sure. Usually when I see that, I back off and give people their space. But I wanted to draw Lina’s brilliant presence and abandon of red curls very badly, so I didn’t. I didn’t insist, but I wasn’t going away either. I chatted with her about where she is from – she was born in Egypt but lives in Israel, her art – she makes wonderful jewelry that I wish I could afford. Eventually Lina relented and agreed to be photographed. I knew she would, artists understand fellow artists. Thank you so much, Lina!
P.S. If you look at the photo of Sami and I in the post about Sami, you would see Lina in the background.
#32 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
SOFA Chicago 2010 has come and is gone, but it brought Sami to town. Sami Harawi is an owner of Mostly Glass gallery. Sami and I go back to 2003, when I was doing weaving. It was January 2003. Sami called me out of the blue, took all my weavings and sold nearly all my production within a few months, and wanted more. But this is not a sole reason I love him. I love him because he is such a lovable person. I only get to see him once a year when he brings his gallery exhibit to SOFA Chicago. I then come and hang around his gallery doing my best to distract him from his sales. I stay after the show close and help pack the art. I wrote about this last year, with pictures.
This year I came with a camera too because I wanted to draw Sami’s portrait, as well as anyone else’s who would agree. After collecting several good shots of Sami I told him that I am going to make him look beautiful. Sami grumbled back “If you’ll make me look better than I do, I’d know that you can’t draw!” I took this very seriously.
So, here I have for you – Sami: wrinkles, 5 o’clock stubble and an expression “I need a break, please!” He is tired by the end of day 3 of the show, but still very handsome.
#31 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
And here Sami and I are having a reunion hug on Day 1 of the show.
Shelly the one and the only! Shelly is our favorite daughter. Actually she is our only daughter so there’s no competition :D.
I had this shot for a while. I took it on September 19th on the Chicago River boat ride with David. Remember David? But I was sitting on it for all this time because I have never done hair this complex and was afraid to start it. Now that I am beginning the last quarter of my project I thought – it is time. Time to at least try it – then I will know if I can do it or not. At the very least I would learn something.
It was damned complex big time even though I simplified it somewhat. But I didn’t want to simplify too much because it would’ve lost the wild unruliness of wind-blown curls. I wanted to preserve that, the image is very much in character.
#30 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Meet Eddie Jr.!
Eddie Jr. is a son of Eddie Sr. I was excited to have an opportunity to draw both the father and the son. When I did portraits of my family – Aunt Marie and her 3 children – I discovered that I can feel a family resemblance with my pencil: the lines, curves, dips and rises kept repeating themselves from portrait to portrait in a way that fascinated me. Having Eddie Sr. and Eddie Jr. both working in our garage and agreeing to be my models was a great chance to see if this would happen again.
Eddie Jr. was a great model. Wonderfully photogenic, handsome and good natured he followed my suggestions quickly and gracefully. His only concern was that he should’ve worn a nicer shirt for the portrait. I assured him that shirt matters very little, it is the face that I am after. Then I said that I could take the shirt off in the drawing. For a moment Eddie’s eyes grew big :shock:, then he got it that I was joking and we had a nice chuckle together.
When drawing Eddie Jr. I did experience a family resemblance effect I hoped to see. The lines and marks for eye sockets, brow bones, a bridge of a nose and cheek bones felt familiar from drawing the portrait of his father.
#29 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Meet Eddie Sr.!
Eddie Sr. works in a garage under our building. We have a team of hikers who park and bring up cars in the garage because the space is too small and tight to let amateur drivers, like yours truly, do that. We need professionals. Eddie Sr. parks and delivers my car for me for more than 10 years. It is amazing to see tiny spaces and angles he can fit through. In reverse! I have always liked Eddie. I think he has a wonderful face. Which brings me to an interesting thought.
A few days back a fellow artist Nicola of PointyPix left a comment on this blog. She wrote that I must be living in a very interesting place where I get to meet all these great characters.
I don’t think I live in a very interesting place – it is your regular boring place. Or at least it was until I started this project and began looking for faces to draw. The more I looked – the more interesting people became. I found that if you really look, then you find them – amazingly in the same place where they have been all along.
On the other hand I have to confess to applying a selection to my models. Yes, they are regular people from my regular life, but I realized that I am selecting my subject based on an emotional connection I may feel to him or her, even if they are a stranger. If I don’t have that connection, I am too bored to do a portrait. So it isn’t just anyone.
How do you find and choose your subject? This question is not portrait specific – any subject…
#28 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook
Stacy is my neighbor from 15B. Stacy is a happy person, cheerful, earnest and expressive. She was very pleased to model for me, and we spend some time visiting, chatting and snapping pictures. She is an experienced model. We have another artist in our building, Michael, an art photographer – Stacy sat for him in the past, and so knew what to expect and what to do.
As a result I had a great selection of references: happy Stacy, posing Stacy, glamorous Stacy, Stacy being clever or amused or coy, she is such an actress – so many expressions. But this Stacy the Drama Queen is my favorite. Here Stacy is distressed over the state of Illinois politics. How do you choose between a thief, a liar and a clinically insane? – she asked me rhetorically. Tough choice indeed. When I brought this question to my husband, he chose a thief. Personally I prefer clinically insane, they all are just that to be in politics. But I am getting to be way too cynical here, and we have voted already anyway.
Stacy’s shirt deserves a word. Usually I am quite loose about drawing clothes in my portraits. I change colors and designs, inverse lights and darks, and use clothes to support what is going in the face without a second thought. Last week however we had a little discussion on WetCanvas about taking artistic license to sitter’s clothes. A little factoid came out: one of the very few commissioned portraits by Modigliani – the Amazon – was refused by the sitter, baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villiers, not because of the “distorted” likeness, but because Modigliani painted her jacket yellow instead of red. I was so bewildered by this that I took pains to draw Stacy’s blouse exactly. The psychedelic pattern quickly cured me of my temporary insanity.
#27 of 40. Graphite, Moleskine Cahier sketchbook