Anatomy of a Portrait


If at First You Don't Succeed, Try...Well, You Know the Rest...

What does it take to paint a portrait?

I’m not an artist, so I don’t know the answer to that Question.

When I watch artists work, it appears effortless. Somehow they take brush to canvas and with a few flicks of their wrist they are able to produce shapes, shadows and structures that resemble something wonderful. It is amazing!

I never understood just how difficult it is.

Just before Christmas, Number Two Son was commissioned to paint a portrait of Condoleezza Rice. I went with him to the art store. He spent over an hour picking out the right paint, the right canvas, the right brushes and some other needed supplies.

Then he began to paint.

He worked for hours, then days. The portrait looked fantastic. He didn’t like it. So he threw it away.

Again he worked…hours…days…weeks. Again, he didn’t like it. Again, he threw it away. By the time Christmas break was over, he had painted four different portraits.

When he was back at school I would call him every few days to ask how things were going. Each time I called there was something about the portrait that just wasn’t right. He talked with his art teachers. One of them recommended that he switch from oil to watercolor. He started over again. Then he switched back to oil.

The night before he was to present the portrait to Condoleezza Rice I spoke with him on the phone. “How’s the portrait coming, son?” “It’s okay, Dad, I just need to spend another hour or two doing some minor touch up.”

The next morning we drive to Colin’s home. He had stayed up all night. The portrait was still wet. He still wasn’t satisfied with it.

"Be Careful, It's Still Wet"

When he presented the portrait to Condoleezza Rice, she had to be careful to allow the bottom of it to rest on her hand lest she get wet paint on herself. The portrait was fantastic. It looked just like her. She was all smiles. So was Colin but, deep down, he wanted to make it even better.

In the end, this was his seventh attempt to paint the portrait. Some of them are displayed in the photo above. Colin still wishes he could do another one.

Maybe this drive for perfection is the reason this 19 year old kid was commissioned to paint a portrait of the former Secretary of State–Something very few professional painters ever get to do.

The only thing I know for sure is this won’t be his last commission!

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