These are some of the basic rules for drawing a face. It’s the kind of stuff artists pick up in art school, pool halls or wherever creative learning happens.
Once you’ve learned the rules of facial proportion and you begin studying physiognomy, you’ll soon notice that almost no one conforms. For example, Real Change vendor Shelly Cohen’s smile is so big that when he’s really happy — which is most of the time — the corners of his mouth reach beyond the limits of facial conformity. Shelly’s happiness breaks the mold.
In a nutshell, that’s what Real Change is all about. Real Change vendors have become part of the infrastructure of Seattle, and that is worthy of high praise and recognition from the arts community, which led to the creation of the Real Change Portrait Project, a collection of artwork of our vendors by volunteer artists showing at Seattle City Hall in March.
It started as a personal project with just a few prints. In November 2012, I set out to create portraits of several of my colleagues who sell this paper every day. At the time, I was spending my Saturdays learning new skills by working at a studio owned by master printmaker Leigh Knowles in Poulsbo. After a few months working with Leigh, I had produced several monotype portraits of Real Change vendors.
Not many were good. But printmaking takes a lot of patience and practice. Imagine covering a large panel of Plexiglass with ink. Now pick up the panel and cradle it with your non-drawing arm so that you’re looking through it from the dry side. Now reach your drawing arm around to the inky side and wipe away the ink with a rag. It’s mostly a subtractive process. In other words, you first ink everything, then subtract the ink where you want highlights. Push the ink around the Plexiglass until you have a person, then run it through a press. Keep in mind that you’re working backwards and subtractive, and you can get an idea of how difficult and how messy and how fabulously fun the monotype process is.
Soon, with the help of Real Change contributing artist Derek Gundy, we began asking other artists if they wanted to join the project. Many did, including folks such as Robin Weiss and Sam Day, whose work you’ll often see hanging in galleries in Seattle. Some artists worked from photographs, while others, such as Day, worked from life.
When Sam Day painted his portrait of vendor Mike Hall, he set an easel on the corner of First and Main and painted in the rain. The rainwater mixed with oil and created a chilling portrait that captured Hall’s ability to stand on his corner and sell Real Change in any weather. He’s been on that corner for 16 years now. He owns it — even when it’s cold and wet.
The Real Change Portrait Project first showed in Bremerton when there were 12 pieces. It’s since shown in Poulsbo, Port Angeles, Edmonds, Woodinville and Pioneer Square. It’s larger each time it shows; more artists have contributed their time and skills to keep the project growing. It has become an artistic outreach project for Real Change.
The project that we began more than four years ago has grown to almost 40 pieces, created by as many artists using an assortment of media from oil and watercolor to fabric art. There is no skill level required to contribute. A talented 12-year-old named Kolton Hallwirth who now lives in Virginia painted the portrait of vendor Tracey “Katmondu” Williams. A 16-year-old named Jonah Uyyek who now attends the University of California at Santa Cruz created the image of vendor Reggie Thompson.
We are eternally grateful to the many artists who have contributed to the project and to the vendors whose images we have tried our best to capture. The project returns to Seattle on March 1, when it opens at Seattle City Hall.
An opening will be at City Hall on Tuesday, March 1 from 4 – 6 p.m. To learn more, visit our Facebook Event here.