What makes mona lisa so captivating?

Portrait Painting/Sketching as Storytelling

 

Many people know I have a very classical taste when it comes to art, not just in classical paintings but also as you may have guessed from my Persistence series, classical art forms in both dance and music. But today, I’m going to go in depth about the reason why classical portraiture is so different and special from what is produced today.

As a disclaimer I want to make it clear that I am not against painting/sketching from photographs (I do that alot) but I do not endorse working purely from photographs.

Have you ever wondered why the Mona Lisa is so captivating? People say that the eyes move, and if you look at the greatest portraits in history all of them seem to have life and a gaze that follows you. I’ll never forget that time I went to the Art Gallery of NSW with my dad, he doesn’t really understand much about art, but he couldn’t get over how the gaze of Ruben’s self-portrait. It was so life like - it seemed more intimate and realistic than a photograph. He couldn’t understand why, at the time I knew there was more to it than just techniques and lighting, but I couldn’t grasp how.

Today I believe I have found the answer after making copy after copy of master paintings in my 100 portraits series. What makes a Rembrandt so memorable? What makes a Velázquez so filled with life, when you look at his portrait of Juan de Pareja he feels like someone who exists, someone you could encounter on the streets. It’s the ability to not only paint a likeness, as most people would make you believe what a portrait should be, but also the ability to show you the story of the life behind the subject. Who were they? What were they like? And not, just, what do they look like.

A sketch of Velázquez's  Juan de Pareja  part of my 100 Portraits series on my instagram. It's said that this was actually a practice painting of a slave he did before he did the commissioned portrait of the Pope, but what's fascinating about this portrait is how  n oble the subject looks. There is an internal  b earing about how the subject carries themselves that doesn't make him look like someone of lower social standing.

A sketch of Velázquez's Juan de Pareja part of my 100 Portraits series on my instagram. It's said that this was actually a practice painting of a slave he did before he did the commissioned portrait of the Pope, but what's fascinating about this portrait is how noble the subject looks. There is an internal bearing about how the subject carries themselves that doesn't make him look like someone of lower social standing.

What I learnt from this sketch of Rembrandt was his use of tone treatment. He uses midtones everywhere in the face but the eyes are hauntingly dark. Self-portraits are a very special type of genre when it comes to painters, every time I've done one of myself in front of a mirror I always felt an answering touch on the part of my face that I'm putting onto paper.

What I learnt from this sketch of Rembrandt was his use of tone treatment. He uses midtones everywhere in the face but the eyes are hauntingly dark. Self-portraits are a very special type of genre when it comes to painters, every time I've done one of myself in front of a mirror I always felt an answering touch on the part of my face that I'm putting onto paper.

And how can you possibly get that sort of depth and storytelling from a photograph? Unless that photograph was taken by a cinematographic expert, who knew how to interact and capture an interpretation of the character they saw. But then would that be your vision? Would you see and notice the same things if you met the subject?

Portrait painting/sketching is a conversation between the subject and the artist. It is a conversation without words, it’s a conversation between what the artist can notice and feel and a subject of what the sitter is going through at the time of creation. Everyone has a story, and if you look hard enough you’ll find the soul under the noise. It’s why studying the works of Masters is so fascinating, you’re seeing not only their skill but also the world through their eyes and hearts.

What makes a truly good portrait? It’s portrait that can tell a story, more than just what the sitter looks like. Or at least that’s the criteria I hold myself to.

 

INSPIRATION E MARTË (4) - Robert Greene

 

Since we’re talking about storytelling, this week I want to introduce you all to a personal inspiration of mine: an author of a book I often reread: Robert Greene.

This is the man that really transformed the way I saw the world from when I was just a nerdy little teenager trying to learn about how to pick up someone (romantically) by reading some ebooks, to a sort of...not quite enlightened but certainly more thoughtful young adult that really questioned the motivations and perspective behind certain actions people took. This is the author that penned: The Art of Seduction, The 48 Laws of Power and as you’re probably aware I’m obsessed with his book Mastery.   This is also a portrait done from a photograph so in order to engage with the subject I really had to do research into the life and imagine the story of who they are if they were a breathing person in front of me.

This is the man that really transformed the way I saw the world from when I was just a nerdy little teenager trying to learn about how to pick up someone (romantically) by reading some ebooks, to a sort of...not quite enlightened but certainly more thoughtful young adult that really questioned the motivations and perspective behind certain actions people took. This is the author that penned: The Art of Seduction, The 48 Laws of Power and as you’re probably aware I’m obsessed with his book Mastery. 

This is also a portrait done from a photograph so in order to engage with the subject I really had to do research into the life and imagine the story of who they are if they were a breathing person in front of me.

Do you have a book that you constantly go back to reread again and again? Where every time you reread it just seems to unveil some new perspective that was there when you first read it, but it wasn’t quite the time for you to absorb it; the situation in your life hadn’t aligned enough to create that opportunity for it to resonate with you. As I am going through shifts in my life and creative career I’m constantly butting into new challenges and obstacles that can really disturb me mentally and physically, and in those times it’s really important to have someone or something that can kind of encourage and mentor you through it. For me Mastery was one of those books that I could really rely on to uplift and fuel me.

I don’t know too much about Robert personally, I’m mostly just a fan of his writing, but one of his personal stories that really resonated with me was the story of his life before he found his true calling in life: writing.

It wasn’t until he was 39 when he published his first book the 48 Laws of Power, which became an instant best-seller but before then he was really drifting around from job to job, going through an estimated 80 jobs as a construction worker, translator, magazine editor, and Hollywood movie writer to name a few. (Now I’m doing the maths I don’t know how he managed that...say he started working from when he was 15, that would be an estimated 3 - 4 short-lived jobs per year…)

But as he describes in his books Mastery, sometimes you need to go through all those things that weren’t really quite suitable for you to eventually find something that is perfect for you. I always joke when I’m introducing Greene’s works to friends by describing them as self-help books for people who don’t believe in self-help books. I’m a big fan of his writing because it’s so thoughtful, he really takes an observation and lays it out in clear points backed up with historical stories that are both really entertaining and memorable.

 

INSPIRATION E MARTË - (3) Pivoting from the bottom : Kim Brennan

One of the perks of starting this series is researching into the inspirations of my readers and either learning about someone who is truly admirable or finding a story in the lives of someone I might have known before but never truly understood. Sometimes the story is tinged with dark humour, sometimes it’s relatable, but it is always moving in some way, even if it’s just a little bit.  

This week’s inspiration was volunteered by my brother, Neil, a law student who takes rowing very seriously. So it came with little surprise to me when he nominated his rowing idol Kim Brennan, who won the women’s single scull at the 2017 Rio Olympics and who also happens to be a lawyer. How could one find so fitting a role model??  

My first introduction to her was a youtube video; a replay of her rowing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She moved swiftly and consistently, the muscles in her arms bulging and making the unable-to-do-a-single-pull-up me very envious. But beyond that, I didn’t understand the finer points of rowing and while I knew how hard it must physically be to compete on an Olympic level, I couldn’t really relate. But because I’ve always enjoyed doing portraits of people I feel connected to, I did some further research into her story.

One thing I realised as I was drawing this portrait of Kim Brennan was the incredibly piercing gaze that athletes have. They always seem to be looking into the future and the potential the exists everywhere, this focus is something I love.

One thing I realised as I was drawing this portrait of Kim Brennan was the incredibly piercing gaze that athletes have. They always seem to be looking into the future and the potential the exists everywhere, this focus is something I love.

Kim has always been an athlete but she didn’t take up rowing until she was 20. Prior to taking up rowing she was actually a sprinter and a hurdler who was competing on a professional level. Going by how focused athletes are, it was hard to see how one can transition so dramatically from a sporting arena concentrated on the lower-body strength to another arena that primarily uses the upper-body. What made this 180 pivot? 

A devastating injury would be the answer. At 19 years of age she was told that her desired sporting career was over. What a thing to go through! It would be like a doctor telling me I’ve damaged some nerves in my hands and I can’t draw with any level of finesse anymore, as a teenager I would have thought it was the worst day of my life and at the time Kim thought exactly that. But now looking back and reflecting on the depth of emotional despair she had felt at that point in time, it has become her source of strength, it has become the best part for her.

It has given her not only the opportunity to find a new sport to go into but also the perspective for any future failures and dark pits of emotions. It’s something that once experienced and lived through becomes a nourishing well that one can constantly dip back into as a reminder that they can get through their current obstacle and come out stronger.

SKETCHES: BLESSING THE WAY OF BIRTH AND LIFE with Lana - (2) FRIDA KAHLO

Last Sunday I experienced my first baby shower and blessingways event. I started off the morning a little bit anxious, I’ve done life sketching before but never in such an intimate sphere. I would be entering a circle of love and care but as a stranger, an outsider, there to witness and record. I had prepared my materials the night before to cut down on any clumsiness on the day, I had with me: 2x fine artline pens, 2x medium aquash brushes filled with premixed ink, a roll of pencils and 2x stacks of 216gsm paper (just in case I messed up).

To give you some background, I was a surprise organized by Lana for the Momma to be (we’ll call her M). Lana is a close friend of M, and she had contact me only days before for this customized live sketching session. I was to rock up and sketch the blessingways ceremony (conducted by Lana from the Parents Village) and if M was comfortable, squeeze in a few nude drawings as well. (Luckily, being an petite young woman worked in my favour this time!)

 

Oftentimes we come across a mat of flowers and talks of energy beads and label it as hippie, I’m guilty of this myself. But it’s not until one actually experiences one of these understated rituals themselves that they truly grasp the meaning of them. It was an experience that made me see not only the magnitude of a birth that was coming but also the circle of love and support the new mother had around her, but more importantly it was a ritual that would make her see this without any doubt.

It starts off with Lana setting the tone, expressing that this was a safe place where everyone was not only allowed to be honest and free with the emotions but would be accepted with love. Everyone present would not only be giving support but also receiving it in turn.

A cute little detail in the circle was the presence of the mother with the newborn baby sitting directly opposite the mother to be. She blessed the water with happiness and courage along with her infant daughter.

A cute little detail in the circle was the presence of the mother with the newborn baby sitting directly opposite the mother to be. She blessed the water with happiness and courage along with her infant daughter.

This was the last ritual. Here M, the mother with the flower crown holds a bundle of red string, in which she wings around the wrist of each woman present 3 times. When the bundle arrives back the web of support she has around is made visible to her giving her warmth and strength.

This was the last ritual. Here M, the mother with the flower crown holds a bundle of red string, in which she wings around the wrist of each woman present 3 times. When the bundle arrives back the web of support she has around is made visible to her giving her warmth and strength.

 

The first ritual utilizes Dr Masaru Emoto’s thought experiments with water. Where positive and negative thoughts are experienced by water and over time changes their molecular structure, one prominent among them is the rice experiment. It works quite simply, one separates a batch of cooked rice into three containers label love, hate and ignore, speaking loving and encouraging thoughts to the one labeled love, spewing angry and hateful messages to the one labeled hate and the last jar was to be ignored. By the end of two months the rice in the one labeled love still looked edible for something left out of the fridge for two months but the ones labeled hate and ignore were rife with mold. The most common way to cook rice is with 2 parts water making it around 66% water based; just as Humans are 60% water, and the brain and heart is 73%.

In this ritual, Lana presents a cup of water that is passed around the circle. Each person blesses the water with a loving quality they wish upon the unborn baby, which the mother drinks at its zenith.

My personal favourite was the bead ritual, where a string was passed around the circle and each of the women in the circle would recite qualities that they admire about M and think will help her in birthing the child, adding a bead for each quality. The necklace was then tied up and given to M, being something that she could hold onto during the birth, reminding her of the characteristicsinnate in her and the love and support of her friends present with her.

Although I was only present in the capacity as an artist, I was touched by this gentle yet strong show of friendship as everyone opened up about what they loved about each other and allowed themselves to be vulnerable. I had only known them for two hours but I feel so privileged to be there for such an intimate moment that could only be cultivated by the trial of time. As I scribbled onto paper hoping to record the connection, I was strongly reminded by my own circle of friends who are constantly with me whether present or not. I was reminded by how they were there in times of need and how their belief in the person I am carried me through.

If you're an expecting mother or know someone who will be, I highly recommend this blessing way service that The Parents Village provides. It's truly empowering to witness and I can only imagine that it is even more so to be involved in the circle. 

 

 

To end this entry, I will be presenting the Inspiration of the Week, nominated by Lana: Frida Kahlo, a woman who coincidentally also sports a flower crown on her head.

Here, it might surprise you because I've talked so much about the bold, direct gaze of Frida, but here, her gaze is actually depicted away from the audience into her inner world. This is simply because I love creating portraits of greater intimacy. where the sitter does not feel a need to put a face on to deal with their outer world.

Here, it might surprise you because I've talked so much about the bold, direct gaze of Frida, but here, her gaze is actually depicted away from the audience into her inner world. This is simply because I love creating portraits of greater intimacy. where the sitter does not feel a need to put a face on to deal with their outer world.

Most of us know Frida Kahlo as the Mexican artist with the monobrow, which she depicted consistently in her self-portraits. As a child who first saw her paintings on a poster up in the art classroom wall, I was not impressed. I had a monobrow myself, which while I was not bothered by, it wasn’t my standard of beauty either and there was too much yellow in my opinion (I have an irrational dislike of the colour yellow, it probably won’t surprise you that when I first saw Van Gogh I wasn’t too impressed either lol, though it’s since become one of favourites). But as I revisited her story when I was older, I saw past the bold, cool glare that she is always challenging the audience with and I saw a character of great emotional complexity and sensitivity.

It reminds me of a small anecdote Carlos Fuentes once made on their first meeting of Frida Kahlo.

Right in the middle of the overture in an Opera production, played in The Palace of Fine Arts, New Mexico a noise invaded the theatre that silenced even the orchestra. When everyone’s attention turned to the balcony where the noise came from they were greeted by the regal entrance of Frida Kahlo bedecked in jewels, necklaces, rings, bracelets and everything in between, all jangling with their own tune. To the casual observers it was all too ostentatious, but if you knew her and her story, then maybe you would be able to guess that they were there to distract attention from the weakness of her body. Frida had survived polio as a child, she had survived a bus accident in her adolescence that left her pelvis fractured and speared by an iron handrail. But just as her gaze was always firm to hide the thoughts inside, she dressed and carried herself in a way that made transcend her physical world.

Inspiration e Martë - (1) The Underdog Story: the Wright Brothers

I started an Email Newsletter not long ago but I have a confession to make. Now that I've had some time to unwind and look through all my previous emails...I can see how much more I have to work on...in terms of everything! XD

So in order to make this Newsletter more entertaining and engaging for you, I've decided to start a series that's more constant and inspiring. I'm an avid reader who really loves historical figures, stories and mythology. You may also know that I'm pretty obsessed with the idea of Mastery and persisting to that point.

Each week I’ll be sending out an email on Tuesday called Inspiration e martë. E martë means Tuesday in Albania, a small country next to Greece and Macedonia. The direct translation is "Of Mars". Each email will talk about one historical figure I love and what's inspirational about them. :) Accompanying it I'll also attempt a framed sketch of the historical figure. 

 

This week, my source of inspiration is a duo: the Wright Brothers

Everyone loves a good underdog story and what duo can emulate that more than the Wright Brothers; Wilbur & Orville? They were going up against all the odds. Who would possibly have bet on two young men who had not even received highschool diplomas, and whose funds came solely from their bicycle business?

And yet they had succeeded where all others before them failed; they had accomplished the long held dream of humanity - to take to the skies untethered. 

Orville Wright, 29/05/2017  Inspiration e Martë Series #1 Pencil Sketch

Orville Wright, 29/05/2017
Inspiration e Martë Series #1
Pencil Sketch

Wilbur Wright, 31/05/2017  Inspiration e Martë Series #1.5   Pencil Sketch

Wilbur Wright, 31/05/2017
Inspiration e Martë Series #1.5
Pencil Sketch

 

Building the first aircraft that would hover off the ground for a record breaking minute (almost, 1 second off), they were up against doctors and experts in the fields of engineering and aeronautics. At the time it was a race to see who could do it first, who would be the first to soar. The favourite to win the race was Samuel Langley, part of the Smithsonian Institute and granted an enormous government fund with the media tracking him and his team of experts' every progress.

With Wilbur and Orville, they had a team too, but none of them had completed highschool and there was certainly no media attention following them. Their funds were meager and most of the parts for their aircraft prototypes came from spares in their bicycle workshop! 

But they had heart! Every day they would work on their project and test out new frameworks, crashing down hills and breaking prototypes and sometimes bones. They were doing as much as 4 test runs a day! There was no money and little knowledge, but everyone gave what they had; they shared a vision and they were determined to bring it to life.

And on December 17, 1903, Wilbur Wright piloted their first plane at Kitty Hawk for 59 seconds, far ahead of any contemporaries in the field. 

One of the reasons I'm starting this series is so I can train myself up to entering the Archibald, which is one of the challenges that I've been afraid of attempting for so long. I'm testing out a theory here that if I draw enough inspiration (don't you love puns :P), I'll eventually get enough courage and discipline to counter my fears. :)

You can bid on these framed portrait sketches at a value of your choosing with the option of the story inscribed. Right now I'm really trying to grow my email list so I would appreciate so much if you would be able to give me a helping hand by spreading the word out there and getting anyone interested in receiving weekly inspiration to join us. Let's build a more creative community together! <3

I hope my journey brings some joy and inspiration into your life and I would love to hear about any historical/current figures or stories that you've found inspirational in the past. :)

With Love,

Nancy