The 2017 The Art of the Portrait Conference welcomes returning faculty artist, Susan Lyon. She will participate in the Thursday evening Face-Off, Friday evening demonstration, Saturday breakout session and will on the main stage with Scott Burdick on Sunday morning.
In a past article written for the Portrait Society, Susan shares her personal and artistic processes. She describes the gradual steps she takes in creating a drawing, and her progression during her art career.
I am so happy that the Portrait Society has included drawings into the
competition since I believe this will go a long way in showing artists and
collectors that it all starts with—and sometimes ends with—drawing. I want the
world to see drawings as great examples of fine art, on par with an oil
painting, watercolor, or sculpture.
I am so moved by the simple gesture of a line or the soft edge of a scratchy texture on paper—rendering some parts to extreme finish and leaving empty or abstract spaces to challenge the viewer's imagination with that which has been suggested but unstated.
Most of my drawings take me a long time, even if they don't look it. I put in and take out over and over and over again. I wonder if I will ever learn to get it right on the first take! But I know that this is my process and am resolved to it, frustrating as it may be. Maybe I oscillate back and forth between defining, then softening, and then redefining yet again because I am learning some deeper truth about the form and emotion of the subject through that process. As I draw, I feel myself slowly soaking up the story that I am attempting to convey through the shapes and values that are the simple, but surprisingly powerful, tools I have chosen to communicate with.
It is difficult describing in words my technical process since it is so gradual. I use a light touch and build up the pigment slowly, constantly softening with my finger, a viva paper towel, or a paper stump as I go. The image comes into focus—then I blur it—then I bring parts into focus again—then I soften again—etc. I do this until I reach a point where I can't soften anymore and I have just the right balance of finish and sharp detail in the center of attention. I am still inspired by the challenge of creating drawings especially because I am still learning about that tension between what I should give the viewer and what I should hide from them. Very often in my work, what I decide to take out and simplify is even more important that the things I include since it is that editing that makes for a more powerful statement.
Watching the Flock
I saw this young girl while on a trek in Tanzania, Africa. She was tending to her flock of goats. I love the movement of the fabric and her far-off gaze. I worked with a very soft charcoal that made it hard to keep the darks dark enough if you rubbed them at all. It is always a little bit of a game to find the right fit between the texture of the charcoal stick and the tooth of the paper. Since I tend to soften my edges a lot working with super soft willow charcoal sticks, it can be tricky.
This young girl is also from Tanzania although she is wearing their traditional stiff necklace and tall white hat. She was part of a group of dancers who came to our campsite around dinner time to perform for us. The Masaai can walk up to 40 miles at a time with no thought—they must have heard trekkers where in the area and just showed up. I was so tired from the day's walk that I just sat on the ground while they danced around me. I kept this drawing very simple, leaving a lot of detail out—just focusing on the essential darks to hold the solidity of the figure together.
I also wanted to talk about my progression as an artist in the public eye. For years, I hid behind Scott since he was confident enough to share his work. He was great at doing public demonstrations and clearly speaking his thoughts. I would be asked to participant in paint-outs or demonstrations and I would nervously laugh at the suggestion—somewhere deep down inside I didn't believe I was worthy of that spot light.
The first major demonstration I did was at the PSOA conference two years ago with Michelle Dunaway. Her serenity and calm manner really helped me get up on that stage. I want the next chapter of my life as a teacher to be of service to artists who are facing that same fear of putting yourself out there, so they can reach the full potential of the artists they can and should be.
Conferences like these are a true blessing, but can be overwhelming at times, especially for people like me who live somewhat isolated and whose main connection with other artists is through Facebook. I hope that more people will share their journeys so all of us will become aware that we are not alone in our struggles as we enter our studios and that voice whispers you are not good enough into our heads. It was a great help for me to realize that every great artist has faced that doubt and overcome it over and over again.
I hope that more conferences, websites, books and movies will focus on how we can all lift each other up. Art is not a zero-sum competition and another's success can be the inspiration to finding your own as well.
Too often we concentrate only on the technical aspects of art and forget what the real goal is. Here is a quote from a book called, The Way of Mastery, that puts my thoughts on art well. "How can I look lovingly upon what my physical eyes show me, so that I discern or extract the good, the holy, and the beautiful, and therefore, give them to myself."
With my new sense of transparency, I wanted to talk with other artists about their journey. I hope to participate in a larger effort of artists' bravely talking about why they are artists and why it's important to connect. I don't think it matters how polished or not each individual speaks while conveying their inspiration and struggles only that it is from the heart. My first attempt is a video with my good friend and amazing artist, Michelle Dunaway. The simple video Scott and I made of Michelle and I discussing art and our inspiration is freely available through the below link on YouTube. If you feel inclined, I hope you take a look. To view Susan’s video click here.