Tales from a commissioned artist: III

The Choice of Joy!

What is a portrait? Is it a faithful rendition of a sitter’s face, neck and a portion of the chest? Is it an image of how the subject wants to be seen by the world?…  Or is it a moment in a child’s life as they are asked to look at the camera and stop fidgeting?

My favorite portraits are paintings that express a moment in a subject’s life….. or better yet, a moment captured as a subject lives. Who are we?  How do we express ourselves? How do we move? In what space are we most comfortable?

This painting of Watt Key’s children can barely be called a portrait. One of the 3 children even has her face turned away from us! And yet I persist in calling it a portrait. The eldest daughter demonstrates a model’s instinct for drama as she glances over her shoulder. Her younger sister follows her lead and the boy-child plays the classic “catch me if you can” game with the waves.

They are expressing the joy of living and after 400+ photos and 2 hours I was lucky enough to snap this picture.  The children are fully engaged and without pretext. The warmth of the sun and the cool water combine with the cry of the gulls.  The children crash on the shore and flow back into the bay like the waves. The kids are supreme in their domain here. Capturing this moment is an epic moment in my experience as an artist. I am grateful I was allowed such casual candor in telling this story.

When doing commissions, I take my own photos. My trick is to make the photo session as relaxed and playful as possible and to create or facilitate interaction between the subject and their surroundings.  There are many magnificent portraits depicting the sitter gazing at the viewer and I would never suggest these paintings lack depth, exquisite beauty and drama.

I believe, however, that our greatest contribution to ourselves and others is our frequent expression of joy. So next time you are asked to do a portrait, what would it take to make your clients smile, laugh or cry with joy!


Portrait of Watt Key’s Children, 30″x40″, oil on canvas


  1. Corinne Ramming says:

    Ron: I love all three of these posts; thank you for sharing them. Not only are they fun to look at (and use as screensavers!), they are great advertisements for your work, which just gets better and better.

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