Revealing Nature of Portraiture

Excerpt from a work in progress (follow-up to 1st book which focused on earlier life as an actress). This new book is about becoming an artist and what that was all about. The writing of which I must say, is almost as exciting as doing the paintings themselves.

oil on canvas 16x20 by Nancy Wait 1985

oil on canvas 16×20
by Nancy Wait 1985

Portraits were a treasured way I connected to people beyond the surface. The concentration was intense. If it was my eye that noted shapes and shadows, it was my heart picking up feelings behind the form. The determining factor was always the inner being shaping the outer image. This was possible even from a thin, fragile stick of vine charcoal.

I read somewhere that Ad Reinhardt reportedly warned fellow artist Philip Pearlstein that he was responsible for the souls of all the people he painted. I would have shuddered to be held so accountable.

Still, there was no getting away from the revealing nature of portraiture—both for sitter and artist. I knew the truth of the saying that every portrait is a kind of self-portrait.

oil on canvas 18x24 by Nancy Wait 1983

oil on canvas 18×24
by Nancy Wait 1983

We cannot see deeper into others than we have seen into ourselves. And if we have seen deeply, then we cannot help but witness a similar depth. Getting a likeness, what most would assume was the be all and end all of a portrait, was the least of it.

Who the person was, the nature of their character, was revealed in a myriad of ways over which I had no conscious control.

My hand had a will of its own. My thoughts were of no consequence. I might have studied skin and hair, eyes and noses, but I didn’t actually draw them.

oil on canvas 18x24 by Nancy Wait 2008

oil on canvas 18×24
by Nancy Wait 2008

What I drew was the light reflecting off them, in greater or lesser degrees.


About Nancy Wait

Nancy Wait is an artist a memoir writer, author of "The Nancy Who Drew, The Memoir That Solved A Mystery," and a former actress (stage, film and TV) in the UK under the name of Nancie Wait. She once hosted the blog talk radio shows "Art and Ascension" and "Inspirational Storytellers." Her current project is a second memoir, "The Nancy Who Drew the Way Home."
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2 Responses to Revealing Nature of Portraiture

  1. Nancy Seifer says:

    Dear Nancy,

    Somehow I missed this! So sorry!

    The portraits are extraordinary, as I’ve mentioned in the past. It seems you do capture the soul of the person. And the writing below is splendid.

    I’m so glad to read about how exciting the writing is for you. I hope that continues and that all is well.

    We are fine here. Very busy with work we both love.

    Much love to you,



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