On Drawing Portraits from Life

Recently, I have been drawing some charcoal portraits for my project Words and taking it up again – after a break – I noticed various stages/aspects of drawing unique to the encounter that I was not able to pinpoint earlier. Most of all, I clearly realised why drawing people from life was so very special and why it meant so much (for me).

Over a period of a year or so, I have done around twenty portraits for the project – some of the people I knew well, some of them I met only for the occasion of drawing. The scenario is always the same; they sit and look straight at me, I tell them the questions if they didn’t prepare for them as yet, and the drawing begins. The whole process takes about one to two hours depending on circumstances, mainly on my ability to concentrate. 


Right from the start, I try to kind of “map” one’s face, a shape of their head and a hair – paying attention to an overall form sitting in front of me. I do it quickly without any pressure, just drawing for fun; moving slowly from the outline of the head to the actual face, touching briefly the eyes, position of a mouth, a nose – which is always so strangely looking – a collection of shadows. I consciously try not to look too much into details, not to get too confused (e.g.) by an irregular curve of their lips, light triangle under their left eyebrows or a huge “empty” landscape of their cheeks. 

At this stage there is very often – almost regularly – a moment when glimpsing at the person I am drawing I think to myself: Oh God, if he/she saw the image now, they would burst laughing! There is no actual resemblance, proportions are all wrong, everything is misplaced, sketchy image is far from the person in flesh and blood looking at me. 

I do not say it out loud but this thought gets me nervous, all the lightheartedness goes away and I really start to pay a concentrated attention, getting closer to the person and trying to see what is there. 

From that moment on I feel the air a bit heavier than before, there is a distance between me and the other person which slowly dissolves in the process, my original shyness goes away and I do not hesitate to look very closely at selected parts of their face. 

And then, there is that very special moment which always leaves me touched. As they are sitting there with no room to hide, calm and already accustomed to the process, I look at their eyes and our eyes connect; but I am not looking at them, I feel like looking beyond the colour of their pupils. At that very moment I really feel that I see them as they are, which is way more complex than a pure simplification into words. And I forget the drawing, forget the charcoal on a paper, the hand is moving almost by itself, the space between us shorten, those previous layers of “something” melt down and disappear; together we are there as we really are. 

Those moments do not last for long and they do not happen with everyone; they appear and then they might be replaced by more analytical thoughts trying to solve out concrete problems of the image. But when they do happen, they have my special attention and the whole drawing experience is lift up to another level, more serious one. 

After finishing the portrait, no matter how close we were with the other person in the beginning of the session, we are closer now. It seems that the quiet time we spent together got transformed into a secret bond. Something like: Hey you, you remember? 

So what makes drawing portraits from life so special? 

For me, it is definitely the time the person and I spent together, the fact that he/she is looking straight at me unable to “run away” with their eyes, so we are all the time present at the same space; a lack of activity required from them, no tasks to perform, no need to “perform” anything, just to be there and be open; and that sometimes I get fortunate to really see them. 

Lastly, eloquent words of Georgia O’Keeffe that came to my mind while writing this post: “Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”



Why do I think art makes us better people?

One rainy Sunday afternoon before Christmas I happened to be waiting for my friend in Southbank centre in London. While waiting, an amateur mixed age choir stepped on to a stage and began rehearsing for an evening performance.

Out of curiosity and (partly) boredom, I watched them.

I let my eyes rest on their faces, the movement of their hands, opening and closing of their mouths. What I saw was absolute concentration, hours of preceding rehearsals and the struggle for perfection – all their energy was there without trying to impress. Collective effort filled up the space and something changed in the air. People around me stopped doing what they had been doing and witnessed it too. They got softer, touched by the hard work and endeavors of that random choir that was put together just to perform; everyone seemed to become closer to each other, shaking off layers of day to day dust.

I realized how important art was, not only for individuals but for the society as a whole.

People who are in direct contact with art (active art making or passive art receiving) in any of its forms – dancing, painting, music, writing, sculpting, whatever form – seem to be more in touch with themselves. As art was bringing our more compassionate sides to the surface, tapping into our collective emotions and switching on some hidden inner part of ourselves.

For a second the most important thing we notice is its beauty, harmony of lines, tones or words or how to make it all work. It is a selfless activity embraced in artists’ selfishness a reflection of an artist’s inner world shaped by the outside and then communicating it through a piece of work. Pause for reflection.

I think this is what makes art so special. It is all the effort put into it, uncountable hours of mental and also physical work, ideas wanting to be materialized and a long process of getting there.

All this can then be unconsciously seen or perceived by others and it awakes something in us. Not every art has the same effect on each and every one of us, we need to look for which art form affects us, and in what way. Art which speaks to us as individuals. We need to look for our own creative side which calls to be satisfied. It is definitely worth it.

As my mum often says: If someone doesn’t like reading, it just means they haven’t found the right book yet. 

So let’s look for our book and let art do its work on us.

After Rembrandt

Charcoal drawing from Rembrandt

Wrapping up year 2018 – Launch of Dominika Prinz

Leaving a secure office job and going for an art career was the best decision I could make in a given time – in May 2018. (More about a change of my career here: (Dominika Prinzova – How she left law to pursue her passion for art). Now, after seven months, I am ready to share with you the first impressions, experiences and observations I made on the way. Hopefully, they will be of interest.

Here they are: my “little discoveries”:

So many options and possibilities ahead that one can easily be overwhelmed

The first challenge. On one hand it is very exciting not to know what one will do, on the other hand it can become a sort of overwhelming baggage. I remember lying on my bed, feeling a bit anxious and thinking, “What the hell am I gonna do now?”

After some time everything started to crystalize – this crystalizing process happened by testing every possibility, by trying everything that came to mind as a way to get into the art world. This included drawing portraits of tourists in Leicester Square, leaving my business cards and little leaflets on streets and in public spaces, drawing quick portraits of people in pubs, sending emails to galleries, contacting my favorite painters and asking for advice, contacting shops to start selling my landscape watercolors (that I was just about to make if they would ever come back to me :), personal tutoring in my neighborhood, contacting established portrait companies, painting on shoes, thinking about studying art as a main discipline or trying art therapy.

The thing I wanna say is that when one starts with a blank page, there are an abundance of possibilities out there and it is very easy to get lost in them; what has proven to me as a possible way is not to overthink it, simply start somewhere and just do it. Then things unfold quite gradually. For example drawing portraits of tourists in Leicester Square proved to be a dead end option, as the number of licenses is limited, they are quite pricy and the competition within this part of the art market is very high and it is not something I would like to be part of – not even mentioning the fact that I wouldn’t be any good in it. It took me more or less two weeks of research, talking to people and gathering information to realize that this wasn’t the way I wanted to go; then I could let this option go and concentrate on something else.

Being invisible in the eyes of galleries

After testing the waters, I decided that the best strategy would be to try to get a gallery to represent my work and therefore help me with a promotion and the commercial side of my endeavors.

As someone who was new in an art business and who didn’t even have any impressive portfolio to hand as my painting journey had started quite recently, I didn’t get a big applause from commercial galleries – no one was waiting for me with arms wide open. During those seven months I contacted more than 80 galleries in London that seemed to be more or less aligned with my style of work; from that number less than 15 came back to me saying a) they have a full roster, therefore were not looking for new artists; or b) my work doesn’t fit their gallery program. One gallery was interested in seeing more but considering the fact that I have no commercial materials and other factors, their board of trustees never came back to me (I still follow up on them from time to time).

After such a result, my expectations went rapidly down which (after all) I consider to be a good thing; then every reply even a negative one, is a sort of a nice surprise. What I have learned from that is that it might be better to concentrate on a few galleries that had shown a slight interest than to aim for every single gallery in town – finding the right people in the right gallery as opposed to getting any gallery at any cost. Let’s see.

No Competition

This was an eye opening discovery (maybe more on a personal level than on a  professional one though); during those seven months I realized that there was no place for competition when it came to art; if artists are honest to the painting during a creative process, than every painting is as unique as the person who created it – therefore will attract different some sort of an audience. As our way of thinking, life experience and mentality differs in each one of us, so do our creative outcomes; through sharing our diversity we enrich each other and there is no room for competition. I reassured myself in my belief that art brings out the better side of ourselves on the surface and that by making art we benefit society as a whole (will write more about this in future).

Exhibiting work

There are many places and opportunities for people to show their work in London. I started in a cafe, then in the foyer of a commercial building, then a gallery, Christmas fair and a gallery again. I found all those venues myself often via advertised open calls, applied and was lucky to be given the opportunity.

During my search it often came across that many galleries intended to charge an artist for exhibiting their work (after a selection process to keep a gallery level of quality though). Sometimes it can be a certain amount per painting, other times it can be in the form of a few weeks lease of a gallery space. I understand the point – the market is slow and for a gallery it is safer to secure its income by paying artists than by unpredictable clients; having said that, I cannot agree with this strategy (with exceptions). The relationship between an artist and a gallery should be equal in principle and should be about a mutual cooperation – artists provide quality work and a gallery uses its best endeavors to sell them to their clients. If successful, the gallery receives a commission (can be 50 %). This way seems more fair to me than paying an upfront payment to the gallery.

Support from other people and a feeling of responsibility towards them

Since I left my job, I begun noticing even more all supporting voices of people around. People who were genuinely interested in my art journey, offering me their help, coming up with ideas on how to make it all happen, fellow artists saying words of encouragement or friends loyally attending all my exhibitions. Towards those people I started to feel a sort of responsibility – not when it comes to subject of my paintings but when it comes to my persistence. I noticed a change in my attitude; instead of doing all this for myself, I approached it more as a project of ours.

I also noticed that when I wasn’t scared to ask for help or ask for advice from people in a sector (even quite well known), many of them happily came back to me and shared their experience. They gave me their time and offered a helping hand for which I am very thankful – I will try to do the same for other people.

Forget everything and paint

This is the most important thing – painting. It’s been a very challenging year in many aspects but one thing which shone out is that painting didn’t lose its special magic, I still love it, can easily forget the outside world and just concentrate on lines, different shapes and colors. And that’s the reason why I went on to this path – not to paint in my spare time anymore but to make painting my profession; to be able to paint more.

Year 2018 seemed to be much longer for me than previous years, breaking a routine and going somewhere – not actually knowing where – made days feel more intense than before and I am very happy for that. It wasn’t easy and I am expecting more difficult days to come but it was definitely worth it and will just carry on.