"Even after decades I find portrait painting a challenge. Getting a facial expression just right is a real task! Everything must work together well in order to get a likeness. Working and re-working many areas seems to be the frustrating norm, but with perseverance there is a big reward. You have a taste of the steps I follow and teach in workshops. These steps apply regardless of what I am painting."

Lisa Ober – An Artist’s Life Seen Through The lens Of The Painting Process

Do I have a treat for you!! Lisa Ober is this month’s guest blogger. I’ve admired Lisa’s work for sometime now. She does these large, often colourful (that appeals to me!), super realism pieces in pastels. I featured “Blue Vases” in one of my monthly round-ups. Click here to see it and while you’re there, notice the size! This is what Lisa had to say about the piece: 

It’s good to do the dishes. In my attempt to load the dishes from the sink to the dishwasher, I noticed a brilliant blue reflection from the vases on my windowsill in the silverware on the plate I was moving. The intensity of the color, the challenge to paint the details in the silverware and water droplets, and the prospect of the complimentary gold background appealed to me. How to make it more interesting? I chose a far larger than life format which gives the painting a abstract quality and carefully arranged the silverware to move the eye through the painting.

And in case you don’t know Lisa’s work, take a look at this beauty!

Lisa Ober, "Palette To Palate," Pastel on Uart 600, 18 x 24 in. SInce I spend the majority of my time working in skin tones, there is nothing like a refreshing explosion of color to keep me interested in a painting and this one was no exception. Technically, it was one of the most difficult pieces in recent memory and that difficulty kept me engaged and in pursuit of a believable but whimsical piece.

Lisa Ober, “Palette To Palate,” Pastel on Uart 600, 18 x 24 in. “SInce I spend the majority of my time working in skin tones, there is nothing like a refreshing explosion of color to keep me interested in a painting and this one was no exception. Technically, it was one of the most difficult pieces in recent memory and that difficulty kept me engaged and in pursuit of a believable but whimsical piece.”

 

And here’s another:

This may be my favorite portrait to date. Larger than life, it has a more contemporary feel to than many of my more traditional portraits.  It was also a personal challenge in that I never touched the paper with my hands. I rather used the pastels themselves to move or shift color over many layers.

Lisa Ober, “The Artist’s Daughter,” Pastel on Uart 400, 18 x 12 in.
“This may be my favorite portrait to date. Larger than life, it has a more contemporary feel to than many of my more traditional portraits. It was also a personal challenge in that I never touched the paper with my hands. I rather used the pastels themselves to move or shift color over many layers.”

 

I was lucky enough to meet Lisa Ober at the last IAPS Convention in June 2015. After that meeting and in subsequent emails, I discovered that not only is she a talented artist, she’s also a delightful human being! 🙂 Recently I asked her to guest blog, giving her some ideas for writing topics. Well, Lisa came up with her own and I know you’re going to love it!!! Before we get to Lisa’s words, let me introduce her further.

 

Lisa Ober Bio

Extraordinary people. Ordinary objects. These are the subjects of Lisa Ober’s pastel paintings. Her goal is to captivate her audiences, encouraging them to explore the subtle nuances that make each person or still life object so unique. Ober is also a workshop teacher, Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America and owner of OA Gallery in Kirkwood, Missouri, a representational fine art gallery in the Midwest. She regularly leads painting workshops across the U.S. in still life and portrait painting.

Lisa demoing at IAPS (this gives you a sense of the size of the piece!) and the final image.  Lisa Ober, "Standing Room Only," pastel on Uart 600, 24 x 18 in "Because I don’t get a lot of time to create still life paintings, I often do them while I am on the road working as a demo artist for Uart Sanded Pastel Paper. I frequently use the iPad for my reference material, especially when I am traveling. I save still life paintings for demos because they are so colorful and inviting. Who can resist taking a closer look at a rainbow of color? You can also see that I tend to work larger than life size. There is a method to the madness. My hope is to highlight the beautiful interactions that occur when color, transparency, and light mingle...and to surprise people with what is actually there, yet goes unnoticed."

Lisa demoing at IAPS (this gives you a sense of the size of the piece!) and the final image. Lisa Ober, “Standing Room Only,” pastel on Uart 600, 24 x 18 in “Because I don’t get a lot of time to create still life paintings, I often do them while I am on the road working as a demo artist for Uart Sanded Pastel Paper. I frequently use the iPad for my reference material, especially when I am traveling. I save still life paintings for demos because they are so colorful and inviting. Who can resist taking a closer look at a rainbow of color? You can also see that I tend to work larger than life size. There is a method to the madness. My hope is to highlight the beautiful interactions that occur when color, transparency, and light mingle…and to surprise people with what is actually there, yet goes unnoticed.”

 

Go to her website to read more and to contact Lisa Ober.

 

Okay Lisa, you’re up!!

~~~~

 

I couldn’t have been more excited and flattered when Gail asks me to write as a guest blogger. I’ve sent students to How To Pastel more times than I can count because of Gail’s enthusiastic way of conveying insights, tips, tricks, and encouragement. Her love of pastel just echoes throughout the blog and I adore that about her. Thanks, Gail!

 

Portrait of an Artist

I build and work my business in much the same way I build a portrait, from rough sketch to completion. Like most artists, my days aren’t entirely filled with painting but rather with other business-related tasks like planning, computer tasks, client meetings, networking opportunities, and sometimes teaching workshops.

Decades ago as a young person dreaming of having a career doing something I loved, I never would have guessed I would wear so many hats: artist, mentor, workshop teacher, gallery owner, marketer, sales person, social media court jester (not queen), graphic designer, web designer, photo editor, and computer tech. And I’m leaving out attention to spouse and kids, friends and family, and most of the gallery work I do because if I included those responsibilities I’d have to write a book instead of a blog post.

Join me as I “paint” a portrait of this artist. You may learn a little about how I paint (if you look at the progress shots of the little girl’s portrait at each stage), and you might just see yourself in the word-painting I create of myself.

 

Step 1: Very Rough Sketch – Laying the Foundation of the Portrait

Lisa Ober, "Sketch"

Lisa Ober, “Sketch”

What are my goals either for a day, a week, a year, or a career? What kind of artist to I want to be? What kind of person? What is important to convey in my work? How do I want to interact with artists, with clients?

No, I don’t sit down and calculate with precision, but I do think and often write down goals and plans for my business. And it is a business. For the detailed stuff, I have a paper calendar. Really. If I don’t see it, it won’t happen or I won’t show up. The calendar is for things like client meetings, appointments, travel dates, returning phone calls. If I lose this calendar I am totally doomed and have to scrap my rough sketch and start over.

For tasks that have a little time flexibility to them, I wish I could say I have a nice neat little notebook. Instead, I text myself lists using an app called Cozi for general to-dos, email myself notes, and jot things down on paper napkins, sticky notes, or empty envelopes (you can see I like commas). I have a pen and scrap of paper by my bed so when something I don’t want to forget hits me in the middle of the night, I scribble blindly in the dark only to discover in the morning that I can’t even read what I wrote the night before. The portrait may need some re-working!

 

Step 2: Putting in the Middle Values

Lisa Ober, Middle 1

Lisa Ober, Middle 1

Applying the middle values is where the real work begins. This is the nuts and bolts business part, and it’s important to the whole portrait. Much of it is enjoyable, but most of the tasks are simply required to keep a business going and they take up most of my non-painting time.

Large portions of my day are spent in this middle place (more than I usually estimate). Middle values include everyday tasks such as checking and answering email from 4 different email addresses, running errands, returning phone calls, preparing for appointments, updating my website, posting or responding on social media. I might need to order boxes for packing portraits, replenish business cards, buy more pastels, or buy more pastels. Did I just say that twice? Yes, you know how pastel artists are :-)!

 

Step 3: Blocking in the Darks

Lisa Ober, Dark Value

Lisa Ober, Dark Value

The darks help shape the portrait. They’re not very exciting but if placed correctly, a rudimentary artist/business person shape will begin to appear. Dark isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just necessary.

For me, this category includes (here come the commas again) photographing new artwork, editing client photos in Photoshop for color and exposure, uploading client photos to Dropbox for sharing, entering competitions, updating my website, paying bills, reviewing my inventory sheet, adding email addresses to my newsletter list, planning newsletters, writing thank you notes, framing paintings, cleaning the studio so I can get into it, learning new apps or programs, preparing or packing for workshops, or reading articles on the business of art.

These things usually don’t involve the fun of dealing with people but rather are important to the substructure of my business and can only be done by me. Some days I can barely get myself to tackle this ever-growing list, but eventually it somehow comes together. Often, things fall through the cracks usually because of unexpected or unrelated priorities. It’s a work in progress.

 

Step 4: Adding the Lighter Values

I love this more lighthearted part! Applying the lights allows the whole three dimensional portrait to take shape right before your eyes. Just these four components – the sketch, the middle values, the darks, and the lights – come together to form a pretty realistic three-dimensional figure!

During this stage I meet with clients (which I love), have lunch with other artists I admire, meet with budding artists to mentor them, jury or judge, or finalize details for a new workshop. I also spend time actually painting! Of course, the painting part is the whole point of all the other steps, right? By this time on most days it is usually around 8 pm and I work until about 4 am. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s quiet and I get a lot accomplished. The real painting part is the reward I use for doing the other more business-related things from the previous steps. It’s a bit ironic that my favorite parts of this stage involve meeting with other people but also working alone.

Lisa Ober, Light 1

Lisa Ober, Light 1

Lisa Ober, Light 2

Lisa Ober, Light 2

Lisa Ober, Light 3

Lisa Ober, Light 3

 

Step 5: Finishing Highlights and Details

This is the “icing on the cake” stage. At this point the foundation has been laid. My portrait has been sculpted and shaped and the rewards are in sight. This is the time for the real fun! I finally get to attend to the details that make the portrait come alive.

Highlights for me can include attending a dream workshop, teaching a workshop, representing a manufacturer of a product I love and use, working in my town’s art community, connecting with admired Facebook friends, receiving an award or special recognition, or getting my work into a magazine or publication…maybe even on the cover (hopefully someday). If I’m really lucky, I might even be asked to write a blog post for someone I admire!

I’ve invested as much as possible in my portrait with the hope of producing quality artwork, managing a small business with sincere effort, and being a kind person. If it all comes together as hoped, I enjoy a career as an artist, learn a lot, and make good friends along the way.

Lisa Ober, Details

Lisa Ober, Details

 

And Finally: The Critique

Portraits are a combination of layers that form the likeness of a person and that is what I have painted here. Stepping back from the portrait, I almost want to laugh. Or cry. True, I have a created a two-dimensional impression of myself, but painted portraits don’t tell the whole truth, whether they are painted with words or with pastels. I left out some of the blemishes and wrinkles. I may have minimized my double chin. My word-portrait isn’t a perfect representation of me.

The lists of tasks to be completed, the requirements of running a business, and many of the rewards reaped are all true. What I didn’t mention is that sometimes I am overwhelmed…to the core. I get off schedule frequently. I often sleep in beyond my two loud alarms because I was up so late the night before. I have running lists of things I’d like to do (or need to do) that never seem to end. I sometimes miss important emails. And I might even ask for extra time to write a blog post that requires me to apologize (sorry, Gail). All in all, I am probably recognizable in my portrait. Have I “painted” you too?

"Even after decades I find portrait painting a challenge. Getting a facial expression just right is a real task!  Everything must work together well in order to get a likeness. Working and re-working many areas seems to be the frustrating norm, but with perseverance there is a big reward. You have a taste of the steps I follow and teach in workshops. These steps apply regardless of what I am painting."

Lisa Ober, “Portrait of Young Girl,” pastel on Uart 400, 24 x 18 in.
“Even after decades I find portrait painting a challenge. Getting a facial expression just right is a real task! Everything must work together well in order to get a likeness. Working and re-working many areas seems to be the frustrating norm, but with perseverance there is a big reward. You have a taste of the steps I follow and teach in workshops. These steps apply regardless of what I am painting.”

You can watch a time-lapse video of this portrait being painted here

 

~~~~

Wow, thanks Lisa. Loved the way you weaved together the process of painting with a look at the business of art. I’m exhausted reading about all the things you do in your life as an artist!

Lisa and I would LOVE to hear from you so please leave a comment below. What was the most surprising thing you learnt about Lisa? How does what Lisa describes as her life as an artist compare to yours? Leave us your questions, thoughts, insights.

 

Until next time,

~ Gail

 

PS. I couldn’t leave without sharing a couple more pieces by Lisa Ober. Here are two animal portraits, one of which was a demo (!).

Lisa Ober, "Clydesdale," pastel on Uart 600, 24 x 18 in. "You would think that the majesty of the Clydesdale would be enough to want to paint him...and it is.  But look at the play of light an shadow.  Who could resist? And what about the metal on the bridle? To hone in on those compelling ingredients, I chose a much tighter crop and less traditional pose than is typical. In this piece I also played special attention to the continuation of the negative space through the leather and the design it created.  Squint and see if you see the design elements."

Lisa Ober, “Clydesdale,” pastel on Uart 600, 24 x 18 in.
“You would think that the majesty of the Clydesdale would be enough to want to paint him…and it is. But look at the play of light an shadow. Who could resist? And what about the metal on the bridle? To hone in on those compelling ingredients, I chose a much tighter crop and less traditional pose than is typical. In this piece I also played special attention to the continuation of the negative space through the leather and the design it created. Squint and see if you see the design elements.”

 

Lisa Ober, "German Shepherd," pastel on UArt 400, 24 x 18 in "This piece was a demo piece for one of my workshops on pet portrait painting. I do very short demos followed by lots of class time. I often barely finish my demo but am always amazed by what my students accomplish."

Lisa Ober, “German Shepherd,” pastel on UArt 400, 24 x 18 in
“This piece was a demo piece for one of my workshops on pet portrait painting. I do very short demos followed by lots of class time. I often barely finish my demo but am always amazed by what my students accomplish.”

 

 

31 thoughts on “Lisa Ober – An Artist’s Life Seen Through The lens Of The Painting Process

  1. Joan Langdon

    I have been a fan of Lisa Ober’s work since the very first time I saw one of her paintings. She has been very generous with her time in replying to emails I have sent to her. I loved this blog. I don’t know how she does all that she does and still create such beautiful art. I also do most of those things but my artwork is in a far different category from Lisa’s (I am working hard at improving). I love pastel but I am not a dedicated pastel artist; I waited many years to have the time, money and space to spend painting and I want to do it all, lol. I work in many mediums and continue to try new things all the time. My first love was pastel and I find myself returning to it frequently, especially for pet portraits. I am now exploring mixed media and incorporating pastel into that too. I have a portrait of my young niece that I want to paint and Lisa’s generosity in sharing her steps has given me what I need to get it going. Thank you Lisa and Gail for sharing so much.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Thanks Joan. I’m not surprised when you mention Lisa’s generosity with her time answering emails – she’s that kind of person! I don’t know how she does it either. Like I said, I was exhausted after reading about everything she does!

      Thanks for sharing your own use of pastels and interesting that you are now incorporating it with mixed media. I’m glad that Lisa’s portrait progression will inspire you in your own portrait of your niece 🙂

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      Thanks Joan and Gail! Joan, be sure to share your portrait with me when you’re finished. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the process. Beware that pastel painting is addictive! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Susan Kerrigan-Harris

    Thanks Lisa. Loved yr blog and working yr life / business with the portrait. Recently I painted a black lady – it was such a joy to use different colours to create skin tones. I use canson paper but might have to give UART a try now.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Susan do give UArt paper a go. You’ll find a sanded paper will give you an opportunity to layer. And I also find that sanded paper reveals the saturation of colour in pastel more than Canson Mi-Teintes does.

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      My pleasure, Susan. Thank YOU! I absolutely agree with Gail. I think you’re going to love UART. And if you mount the paper or buy mounted boards you can play around with watercolor or wet pastel too! That might be fun for your portraits with varying skin tones. I’d sure love to see what you do and hear what you think about UART.

      Reply
  3. Cindy Gillett

    What a delightful blog post…thank you so much Lisa (and Gail) for the insight into one very busy lady. Of course the most surprising thing for me is Lisa’s painting hours…Lisa, you begin about the same time I’m calling it a day! I don’t know how you do it. I always say “If I’m not painting by 10:00 am, then I’m probably not painting today”. You are an inspiration (both of you!)

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      I agree with you Cindy! I too was surprised at Lisa’s painting hours. I am done by midnight and cannot imagine beginning to paint then. Having said that Cindy, I encourage you to start painting even if it’s after 10 am 🙂

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      Hi Cindy! Well I’m replying here at lunch time (8pm). Haha! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Don’t let me fool you; sometimes I am so tired by 9pm that my intentions don’t match the reality of what happens. Happy painting to you!

      Reply
    1. Lisa Ober

      Hi Kerry! Thanks so much! Those Clydesdales are amazing creatures, aren’t they? I will take your suggestion to heart and try to do a similar type of painting progression one day. Thanks again!

      Reply
  4. Marianne Harris

    I’m so impressed with Lisa’s art and really enjoyed this article. What a refreshing way of comparing the painting with the business of art. I’m in the learning stages of both and find the business side very challenging. So much to do with so little time. Thanks to Lisa for writing this post… and thanks to Gail for providing this wonderful Blog Site. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Glad you enjoyed Lisa’s article Marianne. I too loved the way she compared the business of art with the progress of painting a portrait. The business side of art I think is challenging for most artists – something that needs to be done but would rather be avoided. So hang in there!
      Glad you enjoy HowToPastel blogs 🙂

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      Hi Marianne! Thank you for the kindness. I’m glad you liked the approach of the article. Gail is so right when she says that most of us find the business portion of art difficult. The great thing is that unlike when I started painting there are awesome blogs like How to Pastel that can save you lots of time and trouble with great tips and ideas. You can do it!

      Reply
  5. Dana Barunas

    That took my breath away! As others have commented, painting in the night would be a real strain for me. I was also impressed by the variety of subjects Lisa paints so masterfully. Portraits are the most difficult, I find. (That’s why I stick to landscapes.) If you move a tree over a bit, or add an element, it doesn’t matter. But you can’t do that with a face. Everything has to be in the right place. I do love the clydesdale, having an affinity for equines. But the colored glass and the paint dripping on the flatware really wowed me.
    Like I said, LIsa’s talents are breathtaking. Thank you for this blog. I enjoy all of your postings, Gail. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      You are right about portraits Dana. What I loved about seeing Lisa’s portrait progress was seeing how the whole thing came together so beautifully! I too loved the brightly coloured glass and paint on cutlery. Delicious!!
      And you are so welcome Dana! Your comment and everyone else’s makes the work of a blog sooooo rewarding!!

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      Dana (and Gail), thank you both for the generous compliments. Dana, you’re so funny when you talk about moving trees around and it doesn’t matter. It matters and YOU get to decide how to move them! The GREAT thing about that is that you have a lot of artistic freedom and I think more room to be creative. I do sometimes yearn for that. I suppose we often want to do what is unfamiliar. In the meantime, there are wonderful artists who do what you do, so keep up with the fun and beauty and thank you for appreciating a different approach.

      Reply
  6. Kim Martin

    What a unique approach to interweave your life with the painting process. It gives thought to just how connected it all is and highlights the masterful skills required to keep it all going like you do Lisa. You and your art=amazing.

    Hi Gail,
    I am really enjoying your blog and it was a pleasure meeting you at ICAN, the pastel conference in Ontario!!!
    I posted the above comment on Lisa’s fb page and thought I would come over here and join in on the conversation regarding this incredible artist! I had the pure joy of attending three, yup 3 of Lisa’s workshops in Corbeil, Ontario, Canada last summer and I can’t say enough good things about my experience. I am actually more organized in the studio myself these days as I continue to use Lisa’s systematic approach to still life, pet portraits and people. Lisa Ober is truly an inspiration!!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Totally agree with you Kim about Lisa equation! Thank you for adding your comments here as well as on Lisa’s FB page.
      Yes, a pleasure indeed although all too fleeting. It’s always great to put a face, a personality to a name. And wow, lucky you taking all those workshops!!

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      I love it when I find out that two fun and awesome people I know actually know each other! Kim, thank you so very much. As you can imagine, it’s so rewarding to hear that something I might have said in a workshop has helped someone. How nice of you to take the time to post to me personally and to also take the time to comment on Gail’s awesome site. Thank you for making me feel special…just like YOU!

      Reply
  7. Heather Laws

    Her work is incredible. Her dedication and her attention to detail is second to none. I just love that one of the Clydesdale and the one of her daughter…..would have loved to watch the process for both.

    I can certainly understand her practice of working through the night, no distractions. It must take incredible self discipline to maintain such a practice. When does she sleep?
    Thank you for sharing!!

    I would have loved to have taken one of Lisa’s workshops in Corbeil this summer, but, I just can’t make it happen this year. Hope she is back again next year.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Yes, her work is extraordinary, that’s for sure. And yes, seeing the steps that went into the Clydesdale and Lisa’s daughter would certainly be eye-opening I’m sure.

      I too was wondering when Lisa slept so I’ll let her answer that question 🙂

      Hope you have the chance to take a workshop with her Heather. The animal theme certainly fits with your own work!

      Reply
    2. Lisa Ober

      Hi Heather! Thanks for the very nice comments. I write this at 11:30pm as I head to the studio. I do indeed have crazy hours! Working late makes things nice and quiet which is probably why I do it; there aren’t any interruptions, you know? I head to sleep around 5 and usually snooze as late as I can. On most days I don’t set appointments until around 1pm after a wee bit of coffee. Lunch time is breakfast. Dinner is lunch. And midnight snacks become dinner. Haha!

      You know I’d love to have you join me in a workshop. Back to Corbeil next August! Maybe that gives you enough time to plan? It’s a beautiful area.

      Thanks again…and thank you Gail for your sweet responses. I love your blog and videos!

      Reply

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