"Crayons were among my earliest of friends," Steven Reeves, Bristol, Tenn., says. He created his first portrait in the ninth grade, a pastel of his oldest nephew.
His friendship with crayons broadened to include charcoal, pastels and oils, but also vocal and piano performance. His first love is, and has always been, painting. He studied with American Southern artist Abbe Rose Cox, who was once listed as one of the top 10 women artists in the nation. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro.
While he creates landscapes and still lifes, portraits are his passion.
"I am especially enthusiastic about painting portraits. This form of artistic expression is fascinating and provides a rewarding experience. Interacting and connecting with the subject is a great joy and capturing a likeness can create a wonderful challenge.
"Painting portraits is traditionally considered the most difficult task an artist can undertake. I sincerely enjoy connecting with clients and interacting with the subject of the painting, if they are available for the process. The challenge of interpreting a person's face, body, character and energy on canvas can be a monumental endeavor. It pushes me to dig down deep and be the best artist I can possibly be each time I pick up the brush and begin, and there have been times that I have cried over paintings. It can be a cathartic process. I find that the times I have intently painted for eight or 10 hours, I am emotionally and physically drained. I take a break, a good night's sleep, and when I return it is all worth the angst I have felt, because I know I was simply pushing myself to do the very best job possible."
Reeves' style is "what I for a long time referred to as "realistic impressionism.' It was realistic with a painterly feel (showing the brush strokes and blended edges). My work in the last few years is not so impressionistic and predominantly in the style of realism but still seeing the brush strokes and thicker impasto of the lights," he says.
He has a sincere desire to create exceptional and lasting works of art when working with clients. "Making a positive difference in the lives of others gives meaning and memory to my work."
When working with clients he leaves choices up to them. "If my client wants the painting to be straight forward with no "extras' or interpretations, I will concentrate and follow that direction. My experience has shown that my clients are typically trusting of my decisions and my process and have often given me great latitude from which to work. I have been fortunate to work with exceptional clients who were more than open to my input and vision. It is a rare occasion that I have been pigeon-holed and for that I am grateful," he says.
"If at all possible, and it typically is, I work from life and do a color study of my client," he says. "This gives me an invaluable reference for when I complete the portrait. It is important to work from life if at all possible, especially when matching colors. In today's society, it is a rare occasion to find someone who has three hours several days a week to sit for a portrait. I take my own reference photos and, combining that with my color study, I have had great success with the outcome. It is a positive to have the live subject at hand for perfect comparison. Reference materials are great because they can be used at any time of the day or night. The downside of strictly using photographs is the inclination to lose the liveliness and vibrancy of the person."
He says that he has some portraits of which he is especially proud and that he can honestly say that there hasn't been even one he wishes he hadn't started.
"People commission portraits often of family members other than themselves but not exclusively. Having your portrait painted is a wonderful gift. It will last for hundreds of years and is indeed unique."
When he isn't painting a commissioned portrait, he is likely to be found painting a friend or family member. "I do from time to time schedule time to do paintings for family or friends. I do not limit myself in that regard. Why? I do not want to put myself in one box. It is a joy to paint. It is an extra joy to paint someone I know, and I do paint portraits that are for exhibitions and shows so as to show my abilities as a portrait artist."
The hardest part of being a portrait artist, according to Reeves, is marketing. "I'd rather be in the studio painting and leave the business end to someone else." He uses his website, social media and word of mouth.
Reeves also teaches painting and drawing at the Renaissance Center in Kingsport, Tenn. He hopes to start a class in portraiture beginning in April. He is a life fellow of The Portrait Institute and member of various art organizations. Since 2005 he has served as executive director of the Kingsport Art Guild, which promotes arts advocacy in the Tri-Cities area of Northeast Tennessee. He has exhibited his artwork throughout much of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Washington D.C. Additionally, his paintings are in collections across the nation, notably in Texas, Indiana, California, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.