Melissa O Gardy Arkansas 1935

Arkansas, 1935  pencil and gouache on paper  14 x 10″


The portraits I draw come from our shared collective past: old family photos, heroes, social influencers, famous people, and anonymous photos of the unremembered. They make up our current times, and it doesn’t matter if we know them or never heard of them. They’ve done something, been someone who shaped their histories and ours. I like learning each one’s compelling life story, or if there isn’t a record of it, I imagine one. People’s stories mark their faces with expression, making them even more pleasing to look at, whether or not we think of them as beautiful.

Each portrait is started with a layered colorful gouache background, then a circle of colors resembling skin tone is added, and finally a swash of bold color. Using a thick black pencil, I use a blind contour technique, which distorts the form, to outline the head. Finally, I slow down, study the face, and draw it with graphite or colored pencils or a combination of both.

The unexpected line or splash of color encourages viewers to look a little longer, to be curious about that odd ear or jaw, and to find interest in these engaging faces from our past.



Melissa o'Grady head sht

Melissa O'Grady