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2006 International Portrait Arts Festival
The Miracle of the Portrait
Jackman Hall, Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto , Canada December 7-10, 2006




Miracles fill us with wonder and awe. And, during four days in early December, in Toronto, participants in the International Festival of the Portrait, organized by the Portrait Society of Canada and held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, repeatedly came face to face with that miraculous process that is the Art of portraiture.

Conference photo

During three days of impressive demonstrations, we watched as one human face or figure slowly took shape and came to life before our eyes under the masterful touch of Gwenneth Barth, Andrew Benyei, Juan Martinez, Koo Schadler, Dan Thompson, and Yuqi Wang.
We saw clay punched, formed, moulded, teased, caressed by the hands of Andrew Benyei into the recognizable likeness of a living, breathing human face.
Andrew Benyei

Using pastels, Gwenneth Barth started with a triangular shape. Next to it she placed a small square, then another shape, then another. One shape connected to another, one colour patiently, woven into the other, one delicate stroke after another she made the miracle happen.

Gwenneth Barth
Koo Schadler explained the centuries old method of tempera painting which she practices. With feather light touch, her brush caressed layer over layer of luminous, transparent colour onto a panel to reveal the blush on a cheek or the highlights in a curl.
Koo Schadler
With oil colours, through the more value based approach of the academy method of painting, Juan Martinez captured a likeness while Yuqi Wang, resorting to greater use of contrasting tone and colour temperature, created another.

Juan Martinez

Yuqi Wang
Relying only on the expressive qualities of graphite, Dan Thompson constructed his model’s figure by encasing it in envelopes of line and tone ranging from black to almost white. Parallel to Michelangelo’s belief that there was a figure in every piece of stone, waiting to be liberated by the sculptor’s chisel, Dan revealed the invisible figure hiding in the paper by wrapping multiple layers of graphite around it.
Dan Thompson
Illusion being the very essence of magic, every time an artist creates a three dimensional reality on a blank two dimensional surface, a magical event occurs. It was indeed a revelation to observe the many different ways, and different means by which different artists create that three dimensional reality.
Living and working on our separate islands of isolation, too often, we have little awareness of developments in the art world until an event such as this Portrait Arts Festival draws us together to see, to share, to admire, to learn and to grow. For four days we found ourselves immersed in an environment of heightened awareness that brings with it greater clarity of vision and insight. I for one came away with a better understanding of what portraiture is all about, and a clearer view of my own aspirations as a portrait painter, together with enhanced technical means to attain my goals.
Even when some criteria, norms and standards existed, Art has defied definition. Today, at a time when no boundaries seem to exist and all that is required to categorize anything as art is the willingness of some individual to point at something and declare that it is art, it is no wonder that so called artists have little credibility in the eyes of the general public. The art of portraiture is the one domain of art that has remained untouched by the fluctuating trends and convulsions of the last century. Reason being that it is simply impossible to create a true likeness of an individual, in other words a portrait, by slinging paint haphazardly onto a surface. To acquire the skills required to create a portrait involves years of serious training, practice and dedication. It also goes beyond the capabilities of the camera which can, even in the hands of a consummate photographer, only record outward appearance captured in a moment in time. On the other hand, the portrait painter through a process of endless selection of pose, of colour, of accentuation, of exclusion or inclusion, etc. brings a uniquely individual subjective dimension to the art of portraiture that is denied to the camera.
It is through the faces and images left through the centuries by portrait artists that we learn who our ancestors were or how they lived. Masaccio, Giotto, Holbein, Vermeer, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Daumier, Van Gogh, Sargent among countless others provide us with insight into where we are coming from and who we are
Without a doubt, it is largely owing to the efforts and initiatives of Veronica Tsyglan, an accomplished portrait painter and artist in her own rights, chairman and driving force of The Portrait Society of Canada, that this four day event was made possible. Generously sponsored by the Varley gallery in Unionville, it reached its high point with a Gala Dinner and awards distribution at the North York Novotel, the other generous sponsor of this Festival. Surrounded by the works of the 15 Top Finalists and the works produced in the course of the demonstrations, this proved to be a delightful occasion when we were privileged to find ourselves in close communication with fellow portrait painters and with the eminent artists who enriched our knowledge and experience with their demonstrations.


Portrait Society of Canada artists  left to wright:  Andrew Benyei, Yuqi Wang, Juan Martines, Eva Major Marothy Curator of Portrait Gallery of Canada, Koo Schadler, Dan Thompson, Veronica Tsyglan

After dinner the much awaited moment arrived: the fifteen Top Finalists were introduced, and award winners were announced.
Grand Prize to Steven Rosati of Quebec, Canada
First Place Award to Yetvart Garbis Yaghdjian of Ontario, Canada
Second Place Award to Edward J. Reed of Virginia, USA
Third Place Award to Donna Surprenant of Ontario, Canada
People’s Choice Award to Andrew Atroshenko of the Russian Federation
Prize For Best Portfolio to Jean Miller Harding of Ontario, Canada
Honourable Mention Award to:
Marina Dieul of Quebec, Canada
Judith Elsasser of Ontario, Canada
Sam Hester of Alberta, Canada
Hans Holtkamp of Saskatchewan, Canada
Melody Kozmeniuk of Saskatchewan, Canada
Dongmin Lai of British Columbia, Canada
James Ian Mac Dougall of Ontario, Canada
Wei Min Tang of the Republic of China
Guangbo Tang of Ontario Canada
Raphael Tchetyshov of Ontario, Canada

Although the evening marked the conclusion of this particular event, it must be seen only as a beginning. The beginning of greater endeavours, events and activities to promote the highest levels of excellence possible in the art of portraiture in Canada. In 2007 our members can look forward, at the very least, to four Master Workshops and vigorous participation in the Varley Gallery’s second biennial portrait exhibition, “Capturing the Human Spirit”, and opening in November 2007: strong incentives for anyone engaged in the art of portraiture to apply for membership in the Society.
As one of my guests, that evening said, and since then repeated on several occasions, it was a magical evening that brought to its conclusion a wonderful event that left me with the feeling that as long as portrait painters and sculptors will put their hand to clay, wield a chisel and hammer, or handle a brush in order to capture the faces of their era, the miracles shall continue to happen.


“The Miracle of the Portrait” 2006 Conference and Competition in Fine Art Portraiture By: Sabina Theobalds


The 2006 International Portrait Arts Festival held in Toronto on December 7 – 10, 2006 was another success for the Portrait Society of Canada.  Participants from across Canada and the United States attended the 3-day event.

The portraiture demonstrations in the 2006 festival were engaging, lively and interactive, as always.  Participants had the opportunity to converse and share experiences with one another, plus had the opportunity to interact with the master painters and to see the portraits as they developed. 

Alexandria Nicolas, a Toronto-area portrait artist and high-school teacher explained that 2006 was her second visit to the International Portrait Arts Festival and she was extremely pleased.  She confirmed how supportive the other artists are at the festival and described the overall experience as “rejuvenating.”  Alexandria explained “artists are often isolated, so this opportunity to bring people together to gain knowledge and strength is very valuable.  This experience gives you passion as you return to the studio.”

The first of three demonstration sessions held on Thursday December 7 was provided by Toronto sculptor Andrew Benyei.  Andrew’s presentation of the “Portrait in Clay” was a successful session, which included a lively demonstration of how to effectively build form in three dimensions.

Toronto painter and teacher, Juan Martinez presented the “Academy Way of painting portraits” as the second demonstration of the opening day of the festival.  Juan shared excellent information regarding how he sets up the palette and the basic approach to developing a likeness including the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 classical proportions.  The demonstration was interactive and enjoyable.

The final presentation for Thursday December 7, was by American painter, Koo Schadler with a demonstration of “Portrait painting in egg tempera.”  Koo interacted with the audience and shared key renaissance painting techniques.

On Friday, the second day of the festival, Swiss artist Gwenneth Barth presented a pastel portrait demonstration titled “Recreating reality.” Gwenneth shared her approach regarding the use of tone and values in order to block-in and develop the portrait.  She also discussed techniques for controlling the pastel medium to achieve maximum vitality to the flesh tone in the portrait.

Yuqi Wang then presented his portrait demonstration called “the Beauty of Hands in a Portrait.”  While building his portrait, Yuqi interacted with the audience and responded to questions regarding approach, blocking-in of the figure and decisions about tone and form-building.

The final demonstration of the 2006 Portrait Festival was presented by Dan Everett Thompson called “Figure Drawing from Life” on Saturday, December 9th.  Dan provided a powerful demonstration which emphasized the geometry of the body.  Dan shared details of how to block-in the figure, of anatomical reference points on the figure and key relationships between tone, size, tapering and proportion. 

The demonstration process was thorough, complete with interactive discussion and high levels of knowledge exchange.  Each day participants left the auditorium informed and inspired.



Portrait Society of Canada's International Portrait Arts Festival, 2006 by Susan R. Makin


December 7, 2006, I felt like I officially came home to Canada, due to the  Portrait Society of Canada’s Portrait Arts Festival, "The Miracle of the Portrait."  Their biennial 4-day event (initiated in 2001) opened with a rousing version of "Oh Canada,"  which took me by surprise and delight.  Standing up for our anthem, I felt happy to be Canadian, as well as an artist—alert, open to, and appreciative of how the next few days would unfold.  

A dozen individuals (judges, board members, sponsors, and gallery officials) formed a row on the stage at the Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), while the very industrious and talented chairwoman, Veronica Tsyglan, gave introductions and explanations.  Right away, slides were shown from the annual portraiture competition.  There’d been 150 submissions this year, and 15 "top finalists" chosen. 

The quality of the artwork presented was exceptional—and more traditional in technique than contemporary.  I took a deep breath as my own slides appeared—whimsical, expressionistic, and primitive compared to the majority.  Regardless, I didn’t feel as out of place or awkward as I thought I might.  The audience demonstrated appreciation and respect for every piece shared.  

A ballot was in attendees’ welcome packages, and there’d be a one-vote-per attendee first-place "people’s choice" winner (Andrew Atroshenko for "Julie").  Simultaneoulsy, Steven Rosati would be announced as the judges’ top choice at the conference’s closing gala (with a portrait of his son, "Looking Ahead").

The competition’s finalists, as determined by the judges, were:

James Ian McDougall (Ontario, Canada)
Andrew Atroshenko (Russian Federation)
Wei Min Tang (Republic of China)
Edward J. Reed (Virginia, USA)
Donna Surprenant (Ontario, Canada)
Marina Dieul (Quebec, Canada)
Guangbo Tang (Ontario, Canada)
Raphael Tchetyshov (Ontario, Canada)
Melody Kozmeniuk  (Saskatchewan, Canada)
Sam Hester (Alberta Canada)
Dongmin Lai (British Columbia, Canada)
Steven Rosati (Quebec, Canada)
Yetvart Garbis Yaghdjian (Ontario, Canada)
Judith Elasser (Ontario, Canada)
Hans Holtkamp (Saskatchewan, Canada)

Being a "newer Canadian" I was struck by how many other "newer Canadians" were at the festival—as well as among the finalists. 95 people had registered to attend the festival, which was open to art lovers and promoters as well as artists, locally and internationally.  The first Portrait Arts Festival (in 2002) had just 30 attendees, so numbers were climbing slowly but surely.  Tsylgan explained to me that since portrait artists are a small highly skilled group, organizers were very happy with participation statistics. 

The master artists presenting included two from Canada (Andrew Benyei and Juan Martinez), two from the US (Koo Schadler and Dan Everett Thompson), one from Switzerland (Gwenneth Barth) and one from China (Yuqi Wang).  They demonstrated portraiture techniques in clay, oil, egg tempera, pastel, and charcoal, respectively.  This met the society’s mandate to cover as many media as possible, while helping to improve members’ skills and knowledge.

Foreign involvement is vital to the Portrait Society of Canada’s activities and membership.  Tsyglan describes Canada as a "young country" in terms of numbers of artists professionally involved with portraiture.  Therefore, professional development/peer support can’t have borders or boundaries.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the conference, for me, was the ambiance:  the camaraderie, mentorship, community feeling, and lightheartedness.  Portrait painters have an obvious love of people, and are good at connecting with them—offer plenty of direct eye-contact, focus, and attention.  It was very exciting to be surrounded by so many peers eager to share similar vocational desires and frustrations.  

I was very relieved to not be alone in complaining about the lack of time left to actually make art—the "business" of art seeming to take over (especially when your brain isn’t wired that way).  Andrew Benyai, in fact, listed four types of artists:

    1.  Those with technical skills but no creativity.
    2.  Those with creativity but no technical skills.
    3.  Those with both.
    4.  ??  Those with "business skills"…

No matter a portrait artist’s type, all speakers concurred that portraiture is "hot," as proven by recent art auction sales.  John Ryerson, Director of the Varley Art Gallery,  and Bill Pickering, Chair of the Varley McKay Art Foundation (sponsor of the "best in show" prize) talked of their organizations’ commitment to find, support, expose, and recognize portrait artists.  

Eva Major-Marothy, Senior Curator of the Portrait Gallery of Canada, explained its background and mission, describing how it emerged from the Library and Archives of Canada and future relocation options.  She also mentioned a $20,000 acquisitions budget and her specific interest in acquiring artists’ self portraits or portraits of other artists (in any media, including computer art and video).  She pointed out how commission work usually has "3rd party restrictions," suggesting that work might be a lot more creative without these.

Unfortunately, a lot less enthusiasm was evinced for depictions of animalkind as "portraiture" (by both galleries represented at the festival).  I found this surprising in view of the value Canadians attach to the great outdoors and its wildlife—as well as their pets.  Other artist participants agreed, so I wasn’t discouraged with respect to my own animal art-making aspirations.

I’m usually a restless conference participant, but at the Portrait Society’s festival, I didn’t need to check my watch once.  Time just flew by, with so much to see, learn, and process—a great motivator for starting up in my studio first thing Monday morning.  Having recently moved back to Toronto after a four-year absence, I’d been procrastinating.  Now, I couldn’t wait!





Last updated: March 14, 2007