I met Odelia in Israel, in Netanya. She served us coffee in our favorite coffee place Shvil HaHalav, the Milky Way. As soon as I saw her I knew I had to paint her – an amazing beauty that she was, exotic and mischievous.

Explaining this to her was a different matter. My Hebrew is very rudimental, and Odelia’s English was not at the level of discussing matters of art. But my mom came to the rescue. With her machine gun Hebrew, taking no prisoners attitude, and general charm – the outcome was guaranteed. I was so lucky to have such an interpreter and advocate of my art. And then I got lucky yet again – the blistering Mediterranean sun gave me a gorgeous play of light and shadow, an opportunity to try chiaroscuro in watercolor.

To say that painting this was difficult would be an understatement. It took nearly 5 weeks, but part of this time I spent in misery, away from my brushes, because I was stuck, didn’t know what to do, contemplated my lack of talent and considering taking on cross-stitching instead of painting. But I wanted to finish more than I wanted to feel sorry for myself, and so I did.

8.5″ x 11.5″ (21.5 x 30 cm) watercolor on paper


  1. Rob Carey April 28, 2011

    It’s brilliant- so well done. And I’m sure the process and what you learned through that was invaluable. The light on her face and hair are radiant.

    • Alex Zonis April 28, 2011

      Thank you, Rob! As I said, it was a struggle for me, I am sure I learned something, but to be honest I am not clear what exactly – I had too many problems here, and I dealt with them using a trial-and-error method. A great method really… when it works. I remember the day when I accidentally lifted a large stripe of tone off the side of her chest – probably 20 layers came off because I overwet the area and rubbed. I thought I was through. But I fixed it. So I guess the lesson here is “Don’t panic! And when you are done panicking – keep on working!”

  2. Lou Agosta April 28, 2011

    Nice work! I especially like the way that the light plays off of the face. Reminds me of Rembrandt, but brighter. Excellent!

    • Alex Zonis April 28, 2011

      Dear One! You always come up with these great comparisons! Last time you compared my work to Velázquez, this time it is Rembrandt – this is hilarious! And Rembrandt’s work seems more dull, right :lol:? I love you too!

  3. lesliepaints April 28, 2011

    This portrait has drama and a radiance added to it that is phenomenal, Alex. It looks as though you captured her as she turned her head and the play of light could change in a moment. That is incredible in itself.
    I hope you don’t decide to cast off your painting. I have experienced the same as you, recently, in pushing through some things I don’t know quite what to do about. I have also read it, recently, on many other blogs, writers and painters and photographers. It has caused me to reflect and wonder if we come to this thing called creating, thinking that we will finally accomplish everything and be able to render what we see effortlessly. I have decided that that would be pretty boring. The challenge of growth fuels me to want to paint better, to define more of what I see and seek that one perfect painting I have always wanted to create. Something tells me that is not possible. I will be painting for a long time. I hope you will, also. I look forward to what you do. Your passion, in turn, fuels me. Oh. The blues? WOW!!!

    • Alex Zonis April 28, 2011

      No-no, Leslie, I am not abandoning painting! But I am still at the stage where self-doubts are frequent and severe. I do not wish for complete clarity and zero effort, this may be boring – I don’t know. But I do wish for more surety and better skill. I guess too much, more knowledge and experience would be oh so helpful. It is only a matter of time and effort, as we all know, but it is hard to get through this time while putting in this effort in order to emerge on the other side – professional. Do I make any sense?

      I love it that you noticed the drama of light in this portrait. That was my goal. I’ve been looking at Rembrandt’s and Caravaggio’s faces and wishing so badly to imitate the drama of the light they have.

  4. eldy April 28, 2011

    This work is stunning…bravo. I can only relate on a very simple level because I do not paint. However, I often remind myself as I work in graphite drawing that it has to go through an ugly stage first before it develops into what it should be. I am so glad you stuck to it and found what it should be. It may be painful and frustrating but isn’t it great to learn something new every day!

    • Alex Zonis April 28, 2011

      Thank you, Eldy! I am very familiar with the “ugly” stage in graphite, know exactly what you are saying. Developing glazes seems to mimic this stage and does it at length because glazes is a slow work and mistakes are costly. I am glad I kept with it as well, I think this portrait is probably one of my best to date.

  5. Shelly April 29, 2011

    Mama your portraits keep getting better and better. This one is amazing. I really appreciate the details; the blue in her shirt, her necklace, the sun on her face. This picture is really amazing.

    • Alex Zonis April 29, 2011

      Thank you, sweetie! I am glad you liked the blues, my friend Leslie also liked them. I was not so sure of them myself, but if the two of you approve – they must be OK.

  6. Carol King April 30, 2011

    Alex, Alex, Alex….This was worth the wait. It’s been a while since you posted even though I know there was your trip to Israel in the mix, but Odelia is BEEEUTIFUL and was worth the wait.

    I love her dark hair with the highlights and the light on her face. The blues are rich and a wonderful contrast against her beautiful dark hair and skin.

    She is truly lovely and you must never doubt yourself ever again.

    • Alex Zonis May 2, 2011

      Thank you, Carol! Odelia is beautiful indeed, and her portrait came out after all. But I think that self-doubts are useful, if uncomfortable. How else do we progress and get better as artists?

  7. Pointy Pix May 1, 2011

    Alex, every new portrait seems to surpass the last!! This is incredible. Thanks for the link to chiaroscuro as I didn’t know that was the name for the effect but as soon as I looked at this portrait I thought how amazing the depth was and how it looked almost 3d – result!! Don’t ever contemplate your ‘lack of talent’ I only wish I was that talentless!!!

    • Alex Zonis May 2, 2011

      Wonderful kind words, Nicola! Thank you! I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the T-word. There is too much talk about talent in the art world, and personally I think that its definition is unclear and its importance overstated. I believe majority of good work is created through hard work and practice, that’s real talent – artist’s tenacity, and will, and labor. Talent?… oh well… What good is it without work?

  8. Joseph Tomlinson May 3, 2011

    beautiful lady and work! You asked in your comment about the paper in the new sketchbook… It is thicker then last years (not moleskine) it appears to be somewhat like a typical (cheaper) sketchbook quality. I haven’t tested it yet. As soon as I do I’ll be posting the image and my take on the paper.

    • Alex Zonis May 4, 2011

      Thanks, Joe! Good to see you visiting. I will wait for your test results and conclusions. I know what you are saying about “a typical (cheaper) sketchbook quality” – makes me concerned about using wet media again. But we’ll wait and see.

  9. lindahalcombfineart May 15, 2011

    Alex, your talent is unquestioned. Don’t ever doubt your ability to solve whatever problems you face. The result is beautiful and I admire your fortitude. And it is so wonderful to see the sparkle in the eyes of this lovely young woman. You captured her spirit.

    • Alex Zonis May 15, 2011

      Thank you, Linda! Especially for the fortitude compliment! 🙂 I suppose fortitude and tenacity are the qualities required in this business of making art.

  10. raji May 15, 2011

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for letting us know your experience and the pain it took to finish this painting. Seeing how well it turned out, I would have never guessed it otherwise. I also learned something how we can coax strangers to be used as model for our future paintings. Thanks again.

    • Alex Zonis May 16, 2011

      Good to see you, Raji! Strangers are great models, much better than family and friends. You don’t have to worry about pleasing them, no smoothing wrinkles and taking off pounds, but the freedom of taking the portrait to whatever vision you have for this person. I really love painting strangers! Thank you for the comment!

  11. asmalltowndad May 17, 2011

    What a absolutely glow of beauty, and your captured it perfectly! She, and the painting is so beautiful!

    • Alex Zonis May 17, 2011

      Thank you, Ryan! The chiaroscuro creates a beautiful glowing effect! Must do more of this technique.

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