SHLEBS is the newest project in an ongoing series of personalized portraits I have recently taken on. Based on my friend Shelby, who is a talented actress and writer, (and who also has remarkable sense of style) my aim with this portrait was to mainly focus on and capture the confident/ artistic aspect of her persona. As I discovered, moving along on this personalized project, however, is that a deeper awareness of the subject (which only comes from knowing and seeing them in life outside of a photograph) made for a much warmer and truer likeness than I expected.
**SHELBS 16x20 inches Mixed Media
As with many of my recent character portraits, the basis for SHELBS was derived from an Instagram photo that I noticed on her profile. I was immediately taken by the dramatic lighting and pose in the reference photo and requested almost immediately, if I could be granted access to it as a basis for a portrait. I could not be happier when she gave me permission, and before long, I was off to work on it. I originally conceived of this one as a black and white portrait, and later decided otherwise. I posted it on my website, my Instagram profile and also presented it to Shelby in that incarnation, and it was well received but I always felt it could be taken a little further. Encouraged by my recent success with colour portraits, and given the exciting warmth and colouring of the original photo, I decided to flesh the art out and bring it to life even more.
Shelby usually wears large glasses, (which I adore and I consider one of the most quintessential aspects of her look) but one of the aspects of the reference photo that compelled me was that fact that in this image she is without them. In day to day life I have seen her both with and without them, but in the case of this portrait, it was a chance to show her in a way that was slightly different. I love interacting with artists that work in mediums and disciplines separate from my own (photography, performance art, theatre, animation, music, etc.) because there are fascinating parallels in their creative processes and my own, despite the differences that set them apart. One of the things that made me intrigued to get to know Shelby, (aside from her wonderful personality) is her passion for theatre as well as her talent for it. Getting the opportunity to see her perform or discuss roles she is working on, fed into the inspiration to create her portrait, because the dichotomy of a performer versus the real person is a subject I find fascinating. With Shelby I have discussed how she prepares for roles, how she feels both prior and while performing, and how she channels herself into becoming a character while on stage. I think the fact that I know the real Shelby, as well as being able to see her perform, has allowed me a chance to peer behind the curtain a bit and see the various aspects of what makes her a special and unique individual. In a way, the reference I worked from was more of the Shelby on stage, stylistically dawning alter ego, posing for a closeup or the perfect actor's mugshot. What the camera succeeded in showing was that very thing. I set out to capture Shelby in that separate light, but I was so glad that in my interpretation, a little of that quirky sweetness still came through.
With portraits, there is a relationship between the artist and the subject. It is the artist's job to illuminate the aspects of his/her subject by bringing qualities into focus that only the eye can see. If Shelby were a celebrity, and I was simply trying to recreate a public and iconic figure in the way the camera represents her, (or the public sees her) I believe something would be lost. Instead, I am allowed to amplify and bring to light a truer expression, by virtue of knowing her. The challenge and liberation I'm allowed to feel as an artist, that only comes from basing my characters (whenever possible) on people I know, lends itself to creating portraits that live and breathe beyond their photo references. I love that the reference I based SHELBS on presents her as the confident and ambitious artist that she is, but I like even more that my treatment captures a hint of Shelby's warmth that the camera could not perceive on its own. Within, there's a little of the performer, a little of the modest beauty, a dose of the confidently individual style, but especially, there's an inviting quality that represents Shelby more accurately. It's for that reason in particular that makes this portrait work and shine.
SHELBS is one of my favourite portraits so far, both personally and objectively. Next time, it will be interesting to try another with Shelby with her glasses, and see what other aspects of her personality might come through. This is my first portrait of Shelby, but I doubt it will be the last!