When portraits get personal


I have been involved in a group art show in Yilan county, Taiwan this summer. This past weekend, the festival ended on a high note, which was unexpected the way the summer went for me. I shall explain right now.

When the art show opened up in early July, as usual I have high expectations. This was the first show I was actively focusing on portrait drawings. I had no idea if people would be interested in sitting down for me so I can draw them. In this day and age, you might think “Who would sit down for 15-20 minutes when you can play Candy Crush or do something else?” Plenty!!!! Some were kids young as 3. Some were teens or young adults, had quite a few double portraits (2 heads on one paper). It wasn’t a certain demographic, and most were Taiwanese. Though my Mandarin isn’t so good, I knew one phrase “Lye-wa-i-jing-too”, which means “Would you like a drawing” I can’t write or speak it well, so that’s the best you’re going to get today. Forgive me.  But all things considered, I completed over 20 drawings, improved my skills and had some real human connections that will last me a lifetime.  If you don’t grow as an artist from an experience like this, then nothing will.

What did I really learn about doing this art show?  Here’s 5 things that come to mind.

  1. People like attention and are willing to cooperate and collaborate.  As I stated before, people were very patient with me as they sat down for 15-20 minutes, sometimes more, especially for 2 people at the same time.  I never really timed myself, but I knew I had them a bit longer than anticipated.
  2. You must smile and interact with people.  In the past when I did shows in America, I used to really talk a lot, but here in Asia, you need to be more subtle, use eye contact, body language.  It’s important to know when to talk, when to be quiet.  I basically kept my talking simple.  I pointed to my chair and motioned, “Would you like a drawing?”  Only $300 ntd, very quick.
  3. Bring it all to the front.  When you have lots of booth space, if you have a choice to sit in the back or front, go to the front.  Bring your table with art to the front.  Why?  Many people are shy to walk in, maybe it has to do with being intimidated when going into someone’s store.  But if it’s up front, then it’s “safer”.  I’m up closer too, so I believe that also helped show I’m more of an artist of the people than an artist on a throne.
  4. Sense of humor always works.  Portrait drawing is serious business.  You have to be quick and draw a resemblance in a short amount of time.  And there’s so many fears and doubts and other emotional moments going through you,  So I let out my natural sense of humor, had to have fun with the participants to make them feel at ease.  It made me feel at ease too.  It makes the whole experience more uplifting for all.
  5. Leave all your cards on the table.  Not just business cards, but take your smaller original paintings and lay them neatly on the table.  I stacked them in a basket before, but no one was really looking through them.  When all of them were visible on the table, then there was more interest.  I was telling the world I’m not afraid to show you my work, here it is.  It may seem bold, and there are a lot of bold moments, but at the end of the day, you do it because you want to show the world your art and share your gifts.