Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"Mary Whyte: Observer" by Christine Egnoski

Mary Whyte, Dr. Ralph Brinster, 41.5x21", watercolor
"Sketches and life studies are some of the most valuable tools a serious artist can have", says Mary Whyte.  An acclaimed watercolorist, teacher and author, Mary used these tools as well as others in creating her recent portrait of Dr. Ralph Brinster for the University of Pennsylvania, which portrays the National Medal of Science honoree in his laboratory.  Mary was able to successfully create a compelling composition that tells Dr. Brinster's life story but at the same time kept her subject as the focus.  To prepare for the painting, Mary spent many hours observing Dr. Brinster in his office and laboratories to ascertain a suitable pose and background, identify interesting props, and determine the lighting.  Later, Mary sat with him in his office, sketching him and taking notes as they talked. Mary believes drawings and paintings done on location, from life, can expand one’s visual knowledge about the essence of the model or a particular scene.  Mary adds, “These smaller, abbreviated works will also be charged with your personal emotion, which is an ingredient that can be missing in photographs.  Any kind of life study is beneficial, as it helps us become better artists by understanding the key components to light, color, shape and form.”

Mary also believes that when commissioned to create a portrait, the foremost consideration of any portrait artist should be that he or she is creating a painting and that the painting may also happen to be a portrait is secondary. The success of Mary's portrait is steeped in the fundamentals of composition, color and design. In her painting of Dr. Brinster, she chose to play up the crisp shape of the white lab coat against a dark background and opted to portray her subject standing to give an added sense of confidence and authority.  The strong diagonal of the foreground with the microscope and equipment points toward the figure while at the same time balancing the light shape of the figure. The dark background includes soft suggestions of research paraphernalia, which adds to the work’s narrative.  Mary says her biggest challenge was not letting the gold medal become a distracting ‘bulls eye’ against the white jacket. By placing the model’s hand in proximity to the medal, but more clearly in the foreground, the medal then becomes secondary.

"Every face has aspects that are interesting and worth painting, which was certainly true with this gentleman.  However, equally important is how a person stands, their gestures and how they hold their head and hands."  Mary was able to gather all these important details into one painting that expertly portrays Dr. Brinster's impressive accomplishments and warm demeanor.

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