Hope Cunningham Fine Art

To view more of my work, please visit www.hopecunningham.com

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Cecily 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Cecily in the studio

Today I am posting a painting that I do not consider successful at capturing a likeness of the sitter. I am inviting feedback, so don't feel the need to hold back. There are a lot of things I do like about the  painting; the color composition and brushwork are fresh. What doesn't work in the painting results from my attempts to flatter the model according to my personal aesthetic, losing my grasp of the gesture and not trusting my eyes.

With regard to my personal aesthetic, I am learning that my love for the face in repose is not shared by many consumers of art. All those years spent in life studies in the studio created an appreciation for quiet, reflective gestures in my models. However, as I have mentioned before, the most frequent criticism I get from folks in the studio is, I love it but she looks sad. Personally I cherish my contemplative nature and find myself often turned inward, enjoying my relationship with my Self. Many people, I am learning, do not want to be represented to the world in this way. They want to be viewed as happy and engaged with their surroundings.

My inner jury is out on this point but the issue did underscore my reluctance to paint the ever elusive movements of the mouth. I knew I had to confront this challenge before I could decide if I truly wanted to focus on more prosaic portraits. Dewees Island is certainly providing ample opportunity for learning about painting the gestures of the mouth.

In terms of losing my gestural intention, comparison of the painting and photo makes evident my tendency to turn the face toward a full forward perspective rather than adhering to a 3/4 perspective. The differences are small, but it doesn't take much to lose a likeness or result in a skewed perspective. It's easy to see where cubists got the inspiration to paint the portrait from several different perspectives at once.

Which all culminates in the error of not trusting what I saw. When I was painting the mouth, it just seemed impossibly wide and off center, so I adjusted it to make it appear more symmetrical and less toothy. Big mistake! The asymmetry that I saw was my brain hitting me over the head saying "Perspective Dummy! Its a 3/4 view!" But did I listen? No. We all have very strong cognitive schema that have the potential to sabotoge our drawing skills. Those schema demand a full frontal view. Had I trusted my eyes and not let my personal aesthetic interfere, I would have ended up with a much more honest and accurate (and succesful!) portrait.

Perhaps I will paint it again.......

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Princess

The Princess Original 14X11 Oil Painting

This is my dear friend Marion Cotton. We met nearly twenty years ago in Charleston. She and her husband, Peter, have had a big influence on our lives ever since. Peter and Marion were witnesses at our, oh so illegal, wedding in Santorini, Greece which was probably the most magical and romantic night of my life. (John and I were made legal by the receptionist in my office when we returned to Charleston. She was a notary public). I know that my marriage to John often feels like a fairy tale come true. Must be the same for Peter and Marion because he has made sure that everyone knows her as "Princess".

She inhabits the role with aplomb. I wanted to paint her with a tiara and Peter actually bought her one. No offense, Peter, but it was much too modest. I envisioned one of blinding brilliance that would inhabit half of the panel. Maybe another time. As it was, the most beautiful thing about Marion's pose was the graceful gesture of her head and neck. Marion always wears lots of jewelry; taking off the rope of pearls she was wearing made her feel naked but she was game. Just one more example of how folks actually drop their personae when sitting for a portrait. I think removing the jewelry only made her shine brighter.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Arrie B. Too

Arrie B. Too 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember the paintings I posted on March 13th of Arrie B and Holly Mack, two of the Cotton's grandchildren. Both of those paintings were painted alla prima from the posing model. Arrie B. had a hard time posing and the sitting was frustrating for both of us. I decided that I could do a better job, so I did another alla prima painting using the photograph and original painting for reference. This one is a much better likeness. I may have relied on photographs but the end result says a lot more about this charming little lady.

As I progress through this project, I feel that my paintings are getting better and I am learning from every attempt. The challenge now is that I find myself wanting to repaint several of the portraits. I know this will add a considerable amount of work to the project but I think I will happier with the results. My work is no longer about each individual painting, but about the entire body of work that will be in the "Portrait of Dewees" book. I am also planning on adding a few landscape and wildlife paintings.

It's a big project but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Just like an individual painting, one of the hardest things is knowing when to stop!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Instant Glamour

Instant Glamour 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Caroline Smith radiates a poised and elegant aura. From the first time I saw her I was charmed and curious about who was behind those shades. When she agreed to sit for me, she scheduled an early morning appointment and came in feeling a bit unenthusiastic about having her portrait painted. We tried her in lots of different poses and lighting, with her eyeglasses on and without them. It wasn't until she said that no one would recognize her without her shades that we decided to try posing with her sunglasses on.

She lit up like a hundred watt bulb.

Since she felt so much more comfortable this way, we ran with it. In truth, I am sure its a better likeness because she felt so much more relaxed.

Don't think for a minute that she was hiding out behind those shades. We spent the morning getting to know each other and found that we shared and early and abiding interest in art, psychology and social work. Both of us trained as artists and then as Social Workers. We both engaged in social work early in our careers and eventually returned to creative endeavors. Caroline is an talented and sought after Interior Designer.

What we, and many other women on Dewees, also share is being middle aged.  We tend to maintain a self image based on our youthful looks. Being photographed or painted confronts us with a different reality. What most of us don't seem to realize is that beauty still radiates. Other people see it every day, but we are so hard on our selves. I knew this about myself; it was a surprise to find it others whom I admire so much.

This feeling is not unique to women. Jack Nicholson once said "With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson, without them I'm fat and 60."

I get it.

I wear great big glamorous sunglasses when I go out, too.  When I look in the mirror, I don't wear any glasses at all, because without vision "correction" I think I look thirty and beautiful. Makes me just as happy as the shades. Seems like I'm in very good company on this one.

The most wonderful thing about this project has been the opportunity get a glimpse into others' internal lives. I often feel different, apart, from other people. When I attend to a model in the studio I find that the more I listen, the more I learn how similar we all are. I find myself strengthened, encouraged, and affirmed by these shared experiences.

This is what happens when you take time to really see another person.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Engaged 14x11 Original Oil on Panel

This lovely young lady is Whitney Nagle. She is engaged to be married to Alex Pasquini from my previous post. Whitney liked the idea of wistfully gazing out the window for her portrait. What makes her choice even more interesting is that when her portrait was hung next to Alex's it looks like she is gazing at him. Kind of fun considering their young love.

Most of the portraits I have done for this project have been very direct, frontal poses. I found this one to be especially challenging because of the three quarter view. It changes everything. One cannot rely on symmetry as a check for accuracy and the shapes change quite a bit with the smallest deviation from the pose, I also found painting the eyes looking away difficult. Add to that the very direct lighting and creating volume becomes a challenge. I feel like I learned a lot from this one and hope to do more like it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Naturalist

The Naturalist 14x11 Original Oil on Canvas

This is Alex Pasquini, you will be meeting a lot more members of his family soon. The Pasquini's are an interesting clan. They have a tremendous appreciation for art, perhaps because of their fin de seicle relative Aldo Pasquini who was an master sculptor and painter. I have only been able to find one image of Aldo's work so far, but look forward to seeing more, I think his work merits a page on the online museum ArtRenewal.org. I have encouraged the family to provide me with photos of their collection toward that end.

Alex works in marine conservation. I am encouraged by the number of young adults that I have encountered on Dewees who are passionate about conservation and sustainability, Especially when you consider the professional and financial success of the families that raised them. I have to compliment his parents, both he and his brother were some of the most thoughtful, polite, intelligent, grounded and humble young men it has been my pleasure to encounter. They definitely did something right! In an era of rampant shallow, selfish materialism young people like Alex truly inspire hope for the future.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bright Spot

Bright Spot 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Meet Elizabeth. I was working in my studio at the Huyler House on Dewees when she flitted by my window like a brilliant bird.  I couldn't let her get away so I chased her down the stairs and asked how she would like to have her portrait painted. She was game and immediately came in to sit for photographs.

I have experienced, perhaps, a bit of mission drift. When I started this project my intention was to paint all of the portraits from life. Over time so many folks commented on the stoic expressions and requested more cheerful ones that I started finishing from photos so I could add a smile. Eventually, my pool of willing victims dwindled for extended sittings. I decided that is was more important to paint as many of the people on the island as possible and offered the opportunity to sit for photos only. There was an enthusiastic response and I now have enough photos to keep me busy for quite a while. I am still painting them alla prima, in one sitting to keep them fresh and continue working with wet paint.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mr. Mischief

Mr. Mischief 14x11 Original Oil on Panel

So. You met Susan Mashman in my last post; the lady of "Joie de Vivre". After meeting her husband, Jan, I had an inkling why she was so happy. I think the two of them teamed up with a pact to live life as playfully as humanly possible. Jan was an excellent model, hamming it up with diverse poses as he regaled me with stories of New York life. Considering all the artist's he knows, I was tickled that he took the time to sit for me.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Joie de Vivre

Joie de Vivre 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Did you ever see such a happy, engaging face? With Susan Mashman, I just wanted to lean in and listen very closely to what she had to say. What an energetic and interesting woman; her mind and her face were never at rest. I hope that this image captures some of her charm!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Little Charmer

Little Charmer 14X11 Original Oil on Panel

Wow! How did that happen!? It's been nearly four months since my last post. After finishing up on Dewees Island, I packed up my gear and trucked 2000 miles across the continent to my home in Tucson. There I found a mile high stack of mail and paperwork. I closed my studio at Campbell and Skyline since I have been traveling so much and met with my architect to review plans for the new studio I am building. Heady stuff!

In short order, I was packing my gear back in the truck for round two on Dewees. On my trek across Texas, I stopped in Fredericksburg for the Oil Painters of America show and conference and visited my sister Ann. After that it was off to Austin to see my youngest sister, Robin and Temple to visit with my father. When I finally made it to Charleston I took a few days with my daughter's family before going back to work.

Being on Dewees is even more fun in the summer. There are a lot more folks on the island and the social life here is very rich. I let my blog go because I was just too busy painting and trying to keep up with the action. More on that soon.

This little angel is Marion Cotton's grand-niece, Mary Leonard Moss. The children in this clan have the most interesting and melodic names. Even the nicknames are complicated. Marion keeps it simple though, she just calls everyone she loves "Shug" as in the first syllable of sugar. Gotta love the South!