Commissioning a Portrait

“Ben, Anna & Charlie”. Oil on canvas. 27″ x 38″. 2014. Private collection.

There are few things in life as artistically satisfying for me than to have the opportunity to create an heirloom quality portrait for a client. Perhaps it is the exhilaration of observing the client’s emotional reaction to the work that I find so rewarding. But I can’t help but feel that this is the way that I can best share my “gift” with others–by helping people honor and immortalize those they hold so dear.

I can create a pastel drawing or oil painting of your loved one or colleague starting at various price points. Below is an outline of my typical commission process:

  • Personal Consultation: Initial discussion to identify scope of work and client objectives.
  • Subject Observation: Meeting with subject (portrait sitter) to observe & better understand the personality and mannerisms of the individual. If possible, I will sketch and make initial studies from life.
  • Photo-shoot Preparation: Photo-shoot location & date identified along with attire and and other details.
  • Photo-shoot and Review: Photos are taken (for use as painting references), processed and reviewed with the client to identify candidates for the final painted portrait.
  • Painting/Delivery: Typically a year once the painting process begins depending upon the complexity and scope of the work. Note: A 50% deposit is required at the time of booking.

Please contact me directly for my 2017 Commission Prices.


Face Off Heavy Hitters

In clockwise order starting from far left, Face Off artists Elizabeth Floyd, Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious.

The most happening place to be last Friday was at the Principle Gallery in Old Town Alexandria for their annual alla prima portrait “Face Off” featuring gallery heavy hitters; Mia Bergeron, Elizabeth Floyd and Cindy Procious.

What is that you say? You didn’t know about it? Well I guess that just proves you’re not as cool as me. Luckily I am feeling generous today and will give you this brief little wrap up.

Veteran Face Off champions Mia Bergeron and Cindy Procious went toe to toe with a new tenacious challenger, Elizabeth Floyd over 3 hours with plenty of breaks in between for schmoozing and attending to their adoring fans. It was obvious early on that all of them had a good likeness of the model, Mr. Franco Landini, who is the owner of several Old Town restaurants including Landini Brothers and is something of a local celebrity.

Events such as these at the Principle Gallery always attract the hippest artists from the local painting scene. Besides my fabulous self in attendance were Jonathan Linton, Rena Selim, Susan Gallagher O’Neill and Abigail Davis Muncy.

Honestly, next time you should really just come see it for yourself. But until then you will be able to watch it on Youtube and I will post that link here when the Principle makes it available.


No More “Redskins”

"Native American Portrait". Oil on birch panel. 2013. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur.
“Native American Portrait”. Oil on birch panel. 2013. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur.

Here is a portrait I painted from life in Rob Liberace’s class last Spring. The model is a really interesting guy–a re-enactor who makes all his costumes by hand. It is not every day that you get to paint someone dressed up like him!

This painting makes me think of course of the current controversy regarding a suggested name change for the Washington Redskins. For the record–I completely support it. That moniker hails from the days when the colonies closely associated with Native Americans as a way to emancipate themselves from their European fore fathers. But people are not symbols. We have the Bald Eagle and the Stars and Stripes for that. Dan Snyder-get over yourself! We can no longer have an NFL franchise in the 21st Century representing our Nation’s noble capitol with such a degrading name as the Washington Redskins. In this day and age when the “minorities” in this country are quickly outnumbering the majority, your position is at best insensitive. And a worst–racist.

Technique Tuesday: Drawing Revelations with Dan Thompson

Dan Thompson’s “open” charcoal portrait about 30 mins into the pose, drawn from life. Notice how there are no harsh contours, just lots of hatch marks that make up the mass of the drawing.

In August I attended yet another workshop with Dan Thompson. 2 actually, back to back. Both of them on drawing. I see Dan as a cosmic guide on my life long journey as an artist. He leaves little bread crumbs of wisdom to follow on the path to improvement. Most recently he left me with two life changing concepts. The first is the revelation of what “closed” and “open” drawings are. Closed drawings are those with specific contours. They are precise, drawn from the outside in and do not allow much room for alterations. Open drawings are the opposite. They are built from the inside out. They are more mass than contour, they are flexible. They are forgiving. I had never heard these terms before, perhaps because I did not attend a particularly traditional art school. Hearing these terms allowed me to understand my own frustrations with my drawing–most noticeably a tendency for strong contours. To think that I could simply reverse engineer my drawing technique to get at the quality I want in my work was literally mind blowing! And the last revelation I received from Dan’s workshop was to approach each effort in drawing and painting as if making a “proposal”. If you get it wrong, so what! Just alter your proposal. Brilliant right? And it totally takes the pressure off.

Dan Thompson 4 Color Chalk Workshop

Dan Thompson with his diagram explaining the anatomy of the nose and mouth.
Dan Thompson with his diagram explaining the anatomy of the nose and mouth.

Back in December I had the real pleasure of attending my first Dan Thompson workshop at the Art League in Alexandria VA. Dan happens to be teaching another workshop next weekend on March 23 & 24 and believe me when I tell you that it is completely worth your time and money to attend if you can. I had pages and pages of notes from his first workshop on anatomy alone, something I had not expected from a 4 color chalk portrait drawing class.

In full disclosure, Dan and I have some shared history–as in we both attended the Corcoran College of Art + Design back in the 90’s. Dan graduated two years before me but I still remember his amazing realism and sensitive self portraits which stood apart from every one else’s work simply because no one was painting like that at the Corcoran then or even since. Flash forward 18 years post his Corcoran BFA, an MFA from the Graduate School of Figurative Art of the New York Academy of Art and Dan is now a highly respected artist & teacher. In 2006 Thompson co-founded the Grand Central Academy of Art in New York. In 2008, he co-founded the Janus Collaborative School of Art in New York. In addition he has instructed privately at Studio 126 in New York and is on the faculty of Parsons the New School for Design, the New York Academy of Art, The Art Students League of New York, and Studio Incamminati, in Philadelphia, PA. In 2007, Thompson was selected an ARC Living Master Artist. To say I am proud to know this generous artist & gifted teacher is an understatement.

And now without further ado, my notes from his 4 Color Chalk Workshop, straight from my archives of workshop “awesomeness”:

Thompson explaining the rhythmic planes of the face on his écorché sculpture.

Notes of Materials & Drawing Aids

-Uses Othello & Conte pencils in red, black, yellow & white.
-Capitalize on chalk based material early on in your drawing because it is easy to remove.
-Also uses Kremer pigments, Lapis Lazuli, Smalt Blue, Red Ball chalks, vine charcoal & shammy.
-Be careful when working on a toned paper not to lift the ground when erasing.
-Best watercolor wash for paper- raw umber, ultramarine blue & dioxazine purple. Shoot for a cool colored neutral.
-READ the John H. Vanderpoel book, “The Human Figure” published in 1907. A must for understanding proper figure construction based on anatomy.
-“Figure out someone’s technical model for planes of the head & use it!”
-Likes Strathmore 400 artist’s series paper or semi tooth laid paper like Ingres etc. Must be ph neutral and 100% acid free.
-Get yourself a resin cast skull for serious portrait drawing ($250 –Bone Room, Berkley CA.)
-Take an écorché class (without skin) for accurate muscle awareness. Steve Perkins @ Janus School–excellent écorché instructor.

Notes on Anatomy of the Face

-The temporal ridge, where the side of the head meets the front resembles a covered bridge.
-The back of the skull resembles a pentagon in shape.
-Planes in the face follow each other, upward planes flanked by downward planes creating a rhythm.
-The underside of the cranium & jaw is shaped like a woman’s high heel when viewed from the side.
-Occipital bone is the lower point on the back of the head.
-There is a “triple curve” from the outside flare of the nose stepping along the outside of the mouth.
-The eye socket drops in a series of steps & terminates in the the lower eyelid furrow.
-The node of the mouth is the convergence of different muscles.
-Lines or creases form perpendicular to the muscle fiber (look for this).
-You can craft the nose out of a block, “door stop” form of the nose.
-Emphasize the under plane of the nose.
-A common mistake when rendering the nose is to not go past the eye lid with the nasal bone.
-“Alar cartilage” is the ball of the nose, shaped like an olive. It comes from the tear duct, twists & drops into a V shape
-The nose is a lesson in triangles.
-There is a rim in the enclosure of the nostril that often gets overlooked, make sure to include it.
-Develop your own secret figure reference (canon) for what anatomy should look like so that you know when it differs in an individual.
-There are 5 transitional planes in the nose when looking at it in profile beginning with the bridge, curving around the tip and ending in the plane before the lip.
-Ears will get bigger as people age.
-From the side an ear looks like a little capital D within another D.
-The ear comes out from the head like a door suspended open by the “concha” or hollow next to the ear canal.
-The helix is the upper curve of the outer ear.
-The anti-helix is the y shape with the ear.
-Draw in pairs when you can; feet, hands etc. Each completed form helps define the other.

Dan Thompson's beautiful finished 4 color chalk demo.
Dan Thompson’s beautiful 4 color chalk demo.
Detail of Dan Thompson's 4 color chalk demo.
Detail of Dan Thompson’s 4 color chalk demo. Just look at all that amazing mark making he does!

Notes on creating the 4 chalk drawing

-Test out your pencils on your paper.
-Red pencil + stump = warm
-Red pencil +white pencil= cool pink
-Red pencil+ yellow pencil= warm orange
-Red pencil + black pencil= cool violet
-Black pencil + yellow pencil= warm green
-Helpful to have a pencil the same color as your toned paper should you erase too much of the base color away.
-Shellacking makes paper more resilient.
-Look for the simple design in light & dark.
-Think more about what’s there and not adding to what you are seeing.
-Focuses on his “scanning eye” that sees quickly to give him information of the forms.
-Pulls lines through & out of drawing-trajectory.
-Works at life size of slightly smaller.
-Focus on gesture, that way you get into the spirit of the pose.
-Abbreviate what you see to encourage the mobility of the eye around the portrait.
-Keep areas (measurements) open, allows flexibility to accommodate change & correction.
-Flat patterns of dark & light.
-Charcoal vines are great for the initial layout. They make you think broadly, no detail & are very forgiving.
-If you pretend not to “focus” on the model you see big forms better.
-It is useful not to think of features in the beginning, only shapes & their proportions to each other.
-Search for the 2D. Squint to see “flat” shapes.
-Find a fixed variable based on life size and note it down on your drawing. Then allow for “flex” in other directions to improve your drawing.
-Does not lighten his darks in the beginning. Instead keeps them a a false value–all shadow the same tone to help him arrive at the underlying forms.
-Pay attention to the things that artists ignore like the neck & ear. It will make you better than the average artist.
-Be careful when your drawing transitions from the 2D to the 3D. This is where the integrity of the drawing can begin to break down.
-Be aware of your eye level & what impact that has on your drawing.
-Turn the light off to see what your model’s head movement is (and not what the light is doing).
-Highlights should be indicated in a directional manner along anatomy references. They are place holders.
-Often uses two whites when drawing. One is kept really sharp for detail, one more blunt for softening edges.

My drawing from Dan Thompson's workshop.
My drawing from Dan Thompson’s workshop.

To register for Dan Thompson’s portrait painting workshop at the Art League in Alexandria VA on March 23 & 24 click here.

Hope to see you all there!

Art of the Piedmont Auction & Reception

“Trailer Hound” by artists Dana Lee Thompson.

A couple of my portrait drawing packages are being auctioned off tonight at the Art of the Piedmont auction and reception in Middleburg VA to benefit the Middleburg Montessori School which has been educating children in Loudoun and Fauquier County for more than 30 years. I am really proud to be included among many talented artists including Anthony Barham, Misia Broadhead Barham, Donna Clark, Dana Lee Thompson, Antonia Walker and portrait artist Henry Wingate.

The reception is free and open to the public. An inside source tells me the bar closes sharply at 8:00 PM. Should you get there before me–please save me a glass of wine.

WHAT: Art Auction and Reception, “ART OF THE PIEDMONT”
WHERE:Middleburg Community Center, 300 Washington St. Middleburg, VA
WHEN:Friday, February 22nd, 2013 at 5:30-8:00PM (Free to the public, open bar reception with food provided by The French Hound)
WHO: Hosted by Middleburg Montessori School. Contact: 540-687-5210

Liberace’s “The Classic Portrait from Pencil to Watercolor” Workshop, Nov 30 – Dec 2

Portrait drawing created by Robert Liberace on Day One of his drawing & watercolor workshop.

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending yet another of Robert Liberace’s fabulous workshops at the Art League in Alexandria VA, this one on drawing & painting portraits (watercolor). Every time I find myself in one of Liberace’s classes, I am made aware of how much there is to learn about this thing we call “art”. Specifically for me I am interested in learning how Liberace makes his work look so elegant and at the same time so dynamic. Every stroke has its purpose and I am working towards accomplishing that same thing (er… at least attempting to).

Here are the notes and photos I took from the workshop (click on the photos to enlarge). It is my honest wish dear reader, that something in the post will resonate with you (and with me) and we’ll walk away as better artists or at least more enlightened ones. And how could we not when we are privy to the inner thoughts of a modern day master?

Day One, Drawing the Portrait:


  • Mechanical pencils, bic
  • Works mostly in HB, uses harder or softer pencils occasionally to achieve his values
  • Anything beyond 2B gets too dark in his opinion
  • Nibs
  • Watercolor
  • Ink


  • Follow the (Charles) Bargue idea
  • Strong light & shadow
  • Liberace loves TwinRocker paper, Canson “Mi Tientes” too
  • Looks at Ingres for fabric
  • Treat every detail of the picture like a portrait
  • Likes to paint in watercolor on a smaller scale like Fortuny
  • Box out your shadows, map them out then slowly add midtones
  • Ingres faces are almost decorative–like and engraving but with “spots of action”
  • Really study Ingres–get a good book on Ingres’ drawings!
  • Make shapes that are so clear & obvious, terminator shading
  • Add pentimenti flying through there
  • Tieopolo liked to add “marks of 3” in his drawings, very Venetian technique. Sargent employed this as well
  • Looser shadow & animated but still differentiation of light & dark
  • (Tiepolo) Begins with charcoal before ink
  • Simple mass of shadow
  • Fortuny used black, umber & sienna in his watercolors, shadow always finding form
  • Zorn used monochromatic watercolor with opaque white on top for emphasis & highlight
  • If you ever need to steady your drawing or watercolor readdress area with a contour line
  • You can add a little water to a brush and dilute an area of a graphite drawing (works the same way as in a watercolor), good for evening tones or for contours
Watercolor portrait by Rob Liberace.
An assortment of Liberace’s watercolors that students are free to handle & study up close.

Day Two, The Portrait in Watercolor:


  • Begins sketching in pencil, then jumps into watercolor
  • Quick assessment of light/shadow
  • Will often begin by doing a quick “Tiepolo” style study with one tone, maybe throw in an accent
  • Loosely sketch in pencil, then adds a gestural contour in watercolor
  • Adds mass & shadow
  • Try not to be too specific with lines, be more suggestive–“it is what gives that romantic feeling”
  • “Your job is to find out where the light is ending, the more you break that up the harder your job becomes”
  • “Melt” the detail into your shadows if you aren’t so sure where they begin
  • Connect half tones to the shadow & “feather” it out
  • “It is really all about editing what you see”
Liberace’s painting from Day Three of model Steve dressed as a Union soldier.

Day Three, The Portrait in Watercolor:


  • Burnt Sienna,
  • Black,
  • Chinese or permanent white,
  • Cadmium Yellow Light (or similar bright yellow),
  • Cadmium Red ( or similar bright red),
  • Ultramarine Blue.

Optional Palette:

  • Alizarin Crimson,
  • Manganese Violet,
  • Cerulean Blue,
  • Pthalo Blue,
  • Viridian Green,
  • Pthalo or Hookers Green.


  • When sketching his gesture he holds his pencil at the end
  • Puts in markers (enveloping)
  • Blocks in his “axis lines”
  • Liberally throws crimson wash over the whole face & “melts” it out
  • Drops in yellow & violet for the beard
  • Throws in black for the uniform
  • Shadow on face, a warm green made of black & yellow & sienna
  • On the nob of the nose uses a little extra red
  • Drops in extra water for the fold of the eyes–orbital fold
  • Draws eye, ties it in to the shadow then carefully marks the lower lid with it
  • Goes back and forth between different temperatures
  • Will add half tones in when there is not a lot of shadow to delineate form
  • Thinks in planes, color & temperature all the time
  • Ties a lot of the elements of the eye together to simplify
  • Soften edges
  • Loves TwinRocker heavy text, light art weight, calligraphy cream paper
  • On halftones he is careful not to leave heavy block ins
  • “I don’t want to plan things too much. Sometimes watercolorists work to tightly–allow spontaneity”
  • Moves in with smaller brushes
  • Will use watercolor & a bristle brush to scumble areas
  • Puts color in shadows
  • Will refine edges on strokes he doesn’t like so that is will dry as a mass that he can paint on later
  • Really “feathers” a lot of these edges out
  • Likes to see a lot of shape & pattern to a form like Sorolla & Fortuny
  • Will erase at the end with a “perfect pencil” (eraser pencil with brush at the end) & then uses a white charcoal pencil to add highlights with
  • Chinese white paint is used at the end over dry white paint when needed (alla Zorn)
Here is a drawing I did on Day One of our model Steve–dressed as a sailor. My family however decided he had a striking resemblance to someone else and promptly displayed him on our Christmas mantle.

Hope your holidays were as wonderful as ours. Wishing you much artistic growth and success in the New Year!