Friends and Strangers
Nearly every day I paint a portrait of a stranger.
I always ask first, snap a photo for reference, and then paint back in my studio. You can join the project here.
Groups of friends are perfect models, as they are comfortable with each other, even though they usually don’t know me. I almost never learn anyone’s name or occupation or interests or hopes or dreams or frustrations or laments or triumphs or loves or banalities — but I imagine a story for each. The strangers remain a walking fiction. (More about the process here, in slightly dreamier language—originally published by 306090 for Princeton Architectural Press).
Sometimes I sketch with a pencil. Other times with a Cintiq, but my favorite medium is watercolor. With watercolor, the multi-layered, semi-transparency of skin has a chance to bloom through the paper and paint. Thirsty brushes wick-up excess, paper towels blot out highlights, and color blends happen through happy accidents as well as expert (ha!) control.
Painting friends is a different story — I usually get a chance to shape the pose a bit more — moving an arm here or a hand there to catch the light. But to get a really good photo for reference, both model and artist need to act like strangers, to forget what we know and pretend the other person is a total mystery.
If you’re a friend or a stranger, and you’d like your portrait painted, even if you might not ever see it, send me a snap through this form. Nothing illegal or shocking, please. Try to look straight into the camera and think about something interesting. Please only send photos that you actually own — don’t steal/borrow someone’s pic without their permission. Your photo should incite narrative curiosity.
The finished portraits end up in gallery shows and publications and people’s living rooms or sometimes my studio floor. Twenty years from now you might see a picture of a younger version of yourself in a surprising location (Rundown used bookstore? Fancy gallery? Friend of a friend’s favorite Aunt’s apartment in the upper west side?).
In that moment, when you meet your younger self, let’s hope what you see will feel both strange and familiar.
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