Monday, August 3, 2015

Chris Saper: Portraiture and the Pursuit of Excellence...a Workshop

Portrait Studies by Chris Saper and Materials table

"I love the discipline of working with clients in a shared vision of the portrait to be painted. There's a satisfying result when I can achieve beautiful skin tones, accurate likenesses, and yet still paint a lovely piece of art." Chris Saper

Stage1,Study of Janet Napolitano
by Chris Saper
Long before I became interested in painting portraits professionally, I was a fan of artist Chris Saper and her teaching style.

I'll briefly share with you more about the work of Chris Saper. Then I'll share the part of my artistic path where I met Chris and most recently attended her workshop, For Love or Money: Portraiture and the Pursuit of Excellence. This workshop was held July 13-17, 2015 in Prescott, Arizona. 

First, more about Chris Saper...

For the past 24 years, portrait artist Chris Saper has painted almost every day. Since starting her commission portrait painting practice in 1991, she has completed almost 400 commissioned portraits nationally. Chris has exhibited at the US Senate Rotunda, The Salmagundi Club, The National Arts Club in New York City and other locations. 
Stage 2
Former Governor of Arizona,
U.S. Sec. of Homeland
Security and  
President of
University of California 

Chris is a passionate artist and prolific teacher. She has served on the Faculty of the Portrait Society of America the Scottsdale Artist's School, the Mountain Artists' Guild in Prescott, AZ, and the Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists

She has authored four books and has published in various journals and magazines. Her books include Classic Portrait Painting in Oils: Keys to Mastering Diverse Skin Tones and Mostly Monochrome. She has also filmed four instructional DVDs on portraiture.  

My Journey with Chris Saper

During my development as an artist, I have encountered many connections to Chris Saper, both as an artist and a teacher. 

My artistic path hasn't been conventional and at first, I painted in my spare time. I was, however consistently looking for ways to improve my skills and preserve my connection to my creativity. I'd been painting for a couple of years when my father died rather suddenly. Until that time, I had painted still life and landscapes. Shortly after his death, for some unknown reason, I painted my first "portrait". 

The "portrait" was of a child featured in a magazine. That was my first painting of a person. It wasn't a masterpiece, but there was something about the painting that felt right. That was when Chris Saper came into my life. It wasn't possible to go back to school full time, but I wanted to explore portraiture. I had seen Chris Saper's books and videos on a website and ordered them.

Finished Study,for larger
painting by Chris Saper 
Over the next few years, I spent time reading her books and watching her videos. All the while, I became more inspired by her teachings and more interested in portraiture. This was the beginning of my steady and persistent journey towards portraiture. 

During those couple of years, I developed many new skills. As I was trying to decide what to do with these skills, I attended my first Portrait Society of America Conference in 2013. (For more information on that conference, see my article here.)

After arriving at the conference in Atlanta in 2013, I went to visit the vendor area to wait for the evening events to begin. While there I stopped at the Hughes Easel raffle table. As I was completing the raffle entry form, a person walked up, stood next to me and began to speak. I knew that voice so was the voice of my teacher on the videos.

Since that meeting, I have continued to be inspired by Chris Saper. She has a sincere desire to help people achieve their personal best. It wasn't until this July that I had the good fortune to attend one of her workshops.

The Workshop

Chris Saper Demonstrating
After enrolling for the workshop, I received the schedule of events. It was going to be a full four days. Chris is a generous teacher and wants to share as much of her knowledge as possible. Prior to leaving for Arizona, I decided to review her videos and books in preparation.

The workshop covered two important branches of portraiture: capturing an accurate likeness and preparing yourself for the business aspect of commissioned portraiture.

Chris has extensive knowledge about both painting and business and has also written a book titled For Love or Money: A Business Handbook for Portrait Painterswhich serves as the outline for the workshop. Although not required for the workshop, it's a good reference book for any library. 

Chris Saper is also a Gamblin Dedicated Workshop Instructor. When we each arrived the first day of the workshop we received a sample bag of Gamblin products, which was a nice surprise to the start of the workshop.

What We Learned From Chris

"It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of working from life, not only when you are beginning, but at every single step of the way throughout your career."Chris Saper

Chris Saper and Models for Day 1 
Over the course of four days, we painted two very different models. We first, focused on drawing skills and values and then reviewed the aspects of a good composition and photography. She spoke about business practices and gave handouts and several PowerPoint presentations. She also answered questions with ease.

I'll share a few highlights from our day-to-day activities. Each day was a mix of painting, lectures and question and answer sessions. The workshop moved at an energetic but comfortable pace.

On the first morning, Chris gave a lecture on lighting, the effects of cool and warm light on the model and their clothing, and the different types of lighting used on the model. Then she gave a painting demonstration. Afterward, we worked from the model for half a day.  

On day 1, two young girls were our models, and on day 3, two older gentlemen were our models. For the portrait sketches, we kept the head size to 7". This size would allow us to work from the photos the next day. 

On day 2  and 4, we painted using our photographic reference. Using photos proved to be useful. They enabled us to correct measuring problems and get an accurate likeness as we kept working with color. 

Major Points From the Workshop

Chris Saper and a Model from Day 3 
Chris emphasizes drawing skills as one of the core areas to focus on to improve their painting skills. Sufficient drawing skills should be the goal for anyone pursuing portraiture. These skills allow one to extract more information from the photos.

With the relevant experience obtained through close observation from life drawing or painting, one will be able to augment a photo. However, she advises that if people rely entirely on photographic reference material, it often shows in their work.

Chris states that working from inadequate resource material may result in major problems. She encourages everyone to purchase a good camera, become proficient with using it, and take her or his photographic reference materials. 

Today, most portrait clients lead busy lives. It may be possible to have a client "sit" for you once or twice. But the majority of the portrait will most likely be painted using photographic reference material. She also teaches a segment on using Photoshop CC to print photos in your desired working size. 


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Concerning the business side, Chris said it takes time often years to build a commissioned portraiture business. She emphasizes using a long-term approach where one uses well-honed skills and experience to attract clients. With that said, developing a business requires a considerable amount of time and effort. 

Chris Saper advised us to start incorporating business practices early on. You will need essentials, i.e., business cards, a portfolio of your original work, well-photographed work, and samples of everything you plan to offer. At the workshop, Chris also advised on framing, price lists, websites, social media, meeting clients, clothing, setting the scope of your commission and preparing for shows and juried competitions plus much more.

The Week's End...

At the end of the week, people were not ready to leave her workshop. She had touched on many subjects, and the class could have lasted many more days. The workshop was a great experience. 

It's interesting how life-changing events often bring new people into our lives. When I began reading Chris Saper's books and watching her videos, I could not have imagined attending this workshop or having a career in professional portraiture. Much has changed since then and this continues to be a lovely journey.  

Chris Saper is a talented artist and inspiring teacher. Through her portraits and teaching, she has been a positive influence for many, including myself. Please visit Chris Saper to learn more about her workshops and upcoming events. 

Thanks for joining me, and please continue to send me your comments. I enjoy receiving your emails, comments on the blog and Facebook. If you like this article, please share this post with your friends or on Facebook.

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Artfully Yours,

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