I've been involved with the Society of Illustrators for over 20 years now. For about 15 I've been a member and I've been on the board as house chairman, Scholarship chairman, treasurer and now VP. In that time, I've been really impressed with how much time the board puts in to keep all the various committees going. Some are better at that than others.
In recent years, there has been a real sense on my part that this is my Society, that it must change to survive and I would try to use my time on the board to move the Society forward and see if I can get all my colleagues to join as well. When you are on a board, you find out after a while that there are people who are behind a forward thinking Society and those who pine for yesteryear.
In my many years as a board member, no president has meant more to the Society and it's future than Judy Francis Zankel.
She was and remains so involved and passionate about the Society and has brought more money into the Society than any member ever.
She also is keenly interested in the Society not being a museum of how things used to be, but a museum that reflects current illustration and the future.
Judy honored me by asking me to paint her presidential portrait a couple of years ago after her tenure ended. I did not start right away, but was pondering the possibilities when tragically she lost her husband Arthur Zankel. More time had to pass as now as it did not feel like the right time to do this anymore. She then asked me again to proceed and I shot some reference photos of her. I felt that she still was not glowing as she does, and did not go forward again. I asked her to pose again some months later and with those shots, began a portrait. Still I took forever, since there was not deadline and the ominous thought that this portrait would hang in the Society for the rest of my life.
Judy began to ask about my progress and I knew I had to buckle down when she began to tease me about it.
Judy has done so much for the Society. She is a fashion illustrator and long term member. She was a president for multiple terms because she was so productive. SHe helped initiate an complete a renovation and has had a hand in every great upgrade of the place.
Within the last 10 years Judy married the late Arthur Zankel, and when he passed suddenly, Arthur included the Society in his will in recognition of her love for the organization and the profession.
I love Judy dearly and I can only hope that this portrait captures a hint of her glow.
About the portrait. When considering this task, one has to look at what has been done before. Brad Holland's portrait of Wendell Minor, a profile, Mark Summers did a great portrait of Steve Stroud. There are portraits by James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Dana Gibson, and really, so many other stellar names. The conventional approach is a black and white piece. Many took this as gospel and it lasted 100 years until Jim Bennett and his funny portrait of Al Lorenz broke the black and white barrier. I thought I might turn it back to black and white until I decided that my pose would not be so outrageous and I wanted do put a piece up that was alive.
I started by thinking of George Tooker. He was a series he did of windows. Now George is one of my heroes, not only of the application of brushstrokes, but of design. I wanted to have Judy break the frame in some way; a kind of trompe l'oeil portrait.
Judy is an elegant woman and it wasn't until I sat in front of her with my camera that I discovered how long she is. This meant either I would have too much background, or I would have to not have her hand and arm break the plane of the window. I was pondering moving her hands up in the fashion of Rossetti's 'Proserpine', but I felt moving her hands up was too precious a gesture. I save that for another time. The background was still unresolved. Would I add some clouds and horizon and really break from tradition? These presidential portraits are, ironically, NOT illustrations. No one ever placed anything but the head on a canvas. I decided that the SI logo would be a nice space filling item and if done correctly, would only be noticed upon close inspection.
I may end up not liking this portrait some day. I tend to love things right after I do them and as time goes by begin to find more flaws and pile on the regrets..a realists burden. For now, I think it suits this fine woman and great member of our illustration community.
The Great George Tooker was my inspiration. He not only is an amazing technician, but his ideas and the quiet dignity he captures is amazing.
Being a guy who grew up playing sports, listening to hard rock, and being a bit of a rube, I've really learned so much from looking at other artists. A typical american teen born in the 60's is more likely to appreciate a portrait with three staples across the middle and little else on a woman than any kind of tasteful pose. William Bouguereau, Lord Leighton, and John William Waterhouse are some favorites, but I kept thinking of Rossetti. I think it was because Judy Francis has beautiful long fingers and a long elegant neck. too much real estate between the two and could I move them up? I decided against it.
(For my students) This is a thumbnail! Thumbnails are for YOU, sketches are for CLIENTS.
Here is a pose I did not go for. Everything means something, and I though the curtain was useful to fill the space but made no sense.
Here is the sketch before going to finish.
I did a quick photoshop value study on the sketch and made one final change in the finish. I moved her head back into the frame. The geometry made no sense.
This jacket took forever. I first thought I would draw it as a flat bit of fabric but it was such a challenge that I went for it.