Mary Whyte’s Portrait Art Tells Our Stories, Powerfully
Some artists interpret the nature of beauty quite narrowly. It’s physical and defined in very specific terms. Not for me. Beauty is more complicated, faceted. I’m inspired by stories of real people — their character, personality and unique walks of life. That’s what makes the kind of beauty that lingers in my mind. Mary Whyte and I are on the same page. Her portrait art is beautiful first because she is a master at her craft, but also because her work is suffused with stories of people. She unlocks a person’s whole life experience. That’s success to her, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.
A Bygone Way of Life
Mary paints so that you want to know their story. Her watercolor paintings and sketches are often portraits of people who make up the backbone of the American South and whose ways of life are declining or going away altogether—a mill worker and farmer, a shoeshine man, shrimper, milliner, and ferryman among others.
Mary also paints her portrait art in such a way that the figures aren’t just shown as their physical selves alone; you see them in their element, amidst the objects and in the environment of their livelihoods. And the paintings are amazingly done. The watercolor portrait painting techniques she uses to render skin tone and texture astound me, plus her color mixing is so vibrant but controlled. But Mary’s works are also thoughtfully composed to have a strong impact. That power comes from having done a lot of painstaking sketches.
Her Painting Process
Mary isn’t the type to wing it. She believes preparation and study are crucial for successful paintings. Starting with small, quick watercolor sketches, just 3 x 4-inch thumbnails, and then she returns to these again and again as source material, enlivening finished paintings with the nuance she captures in these small format studies. She also uses reference photos, mainly to recall specific details about a scene, and more sketches to determine her composition for each piece.
Real Deal Portraits
As an instructor, there are few better than Mary. She is articulate, passionate, and skilled–and then she makes her approach exciting and accessible. After spending time with Watercolor Portraits of the South with Mary Whyte — available as a DVD or video download — I came away learning the basics of powerful portrait art and how to find beauty that isn’t conventional, but is very very real. I hope it is the same for you! Enjoy!