Get to Know Your Subject

My whole approach is painting what I see. Creativity for me—as a portrait painter for many years—comes from looking very carefully at the subjects I’m painting and having them talk while we’re working. This way, I get a painting that not only looks like them, I hope, but expresses something about their approach to life—their personality. I don’t want to imply that I have some magic sixth sense or something like that, but there’s no point in having an image that’s flat or dead. You can’t just measure how far apart the eyes are and how far the nose is from the ears and all that and get a perfect portrait. It’s all in how you relate to the subjects and how they relate to you. It’s very much a joint effort. I feel very sure about this.

Esteemed as an artist and beloved as a teacher, Jessica Zemsky has influenced countless painters, old and young. Along with her husband Jack Hines, she runs the Sweet Grass and Sage Gallery in Big Timber, Montana. To see more of Zemsky’s art, visit a href=”” class=noline> You may reach her via email at:

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