Tracy Ference's art career began at her neighbor's kitchen table.
"I have always enjoyed drawing, coloring and creating things with my hands for as long as I can remember," she says. "When my three children were young, we were living just north of Houston in The Woodlands, Texas. I had the most wonderful neighbors, and they both were oil painters. While talking one night, my neighbor mentioned that she had just attended a painting workshop. I said that I would love to learn how to paint but chose to attend a traditional college over art school. She said that she would teach me, and that is how it began.
"I went directly to the library and checked out every book I could find about art and then went to Michael's for some supplies. For the next several months, my neighbor taught me about painting every Thursday afternoon in her kitchen. I read every book I could find and began drawing at night when the kids went to bed. I was determined to learn all that I could. I found that I was drawn to portraiture more than any other subject. I realized that in order to pursue portraiture, it couldn't be a hobby. It had to be an everyday pursuit of learning this art form ... and this is what I set out to do ... and am still pursuing."
Her pursuit runs out of her studio at William King Museum now. "I moved to Abingdon 18 months ago. I feel very fortunate to have found a wonderful studio space at the William King Museum. I took about a year to just paint and get my family settled."
Before settling in Abingdon, Va., her family, husband and three children, lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. Ference, who didn't attend art school, attended workshops throughout the country. She studied with Quang Ho, Robert Liberace, Judy Carducci, Wende Caporale, Romel De La Torre and Tony Pro to name a few. "I feel that it is important to find good teachers and keep reaching for the next level."
"I have always thought of myself as a student, forever learning about art and portraiture. Teaching may be in my future, but for now I am painting full time. It has been a blessing having the opportunity to have a studio at the museum. I am surrounded by artistic people and beautiful works of art in the various galleries. The exhibits are always changing, so I feel that I have a never-ending supply of inspiration."
She used the inspiration and joy in her surroundings to give back to the museum when she decided to create portraits as a benefit for the museum. "I accepted five portrait commissions and donated the proceeds back to the museum. Over the past year, I have seen how much the museum does for the art community, the children (through their classes and summer camps) and their outreach program. I loved being able to give back to the museum in a small way."
Ference describes her portraits as "realistic and somewhat impressionistic. I love when you look at a painting from far away and you see the subject clearly, but when you get close to the painting you see bits of unexpected color and beautiful edge work. In my mind that is what I want to achieve. I am inspired by all of God's creations, from rocks to grapes to people of all ages. I find when I am painting I begin to see the intricacies of form and subtleties of color. The great masters that have painted throughout history are my greatest teachers. Nikolai Fechin, the Russian Impressionists, Anders Zorn and John Singer Sargent are some of my favorite artists."
She says that she's always working on a portrait because that's what she loves to do. "I find that I really enjoy the challenge of drawing and painting people. It is fascinating to explore the features of the face and attempt to somehow impart the sitter's personality into the portrait. As you study the face, you can see the underlying structure, and you get a true sense of the complexity in the human form. When not painting people, I really enjoy painting the still life. The accuracy is slightly less important, and I can really study light and color. I found through studying the still life, that I have a new appreciation for nature."
Because she is so interested in infusing her portraits with personality and studies light and color, she prefers to work with a live model.
"I prefer to work from life for my paintings," she says. "There are nuances of color and value that are lost with photography. However, because of the level of realism that I like to achieve, I will work with photographs as well. I prefer to take my own photographs, usually 100 to 200 photos in a sitting. I load the photos and allow clients to give comments and choose a pose they prefer. If the photo will be used for a painting and the sitter is willing, I will do a quick color study."
A portrait commission with Ference starts with a conversation. "When I am approached about a commission, I show clients examples of my work and explain my process. I sit down with them and discuss what they are looking for, and I try to talk to them about what I like to see in a portrait vs. a photograph. For example, a beautiful, toothy smile can make a lovely, spontaneous photograph, but for portraits I prefer a more subdued and thoughtful pose. During the initial discussion, we talk about style, background, clothing choices, special jewelry or other mementos that might be included, medium (painting vs. drawing) and time frame. For many people, this is their first experience with the portrait process, and they are open to new ideas. Most often, the limitation is time. Clients often do not realize the amount of time that goes into a portrait."
When Ference doesn't have a commissioned portrait to complete, she asks friends and family to sit for her, and occasionally she hires models. "I can be a little more experimental with my personal projects. Being an artist requires hours of alone time painting. Being a portrait artist allows the opportunity to bring others into the studio. I have met some of the most interesting people through art."
Most of the people she meets didn't commission their own portrait. "It has been my experience that people generally commission portraits of their loved ones. What a special thing to have a portrait of a child, a beloved pet or a parent. This is a one-of-a-kind, piece of art that can be cherished and handed down through the family. It is great that technology has come to a point where we can take pictures quickly and share them with the world; one click and it's done. Portraiture is on the other end of that spectrum. It is a labor of love that creates a piece of art and history. We are lucky to have access to both."
If you would like to discuss a portrait commission with Ference, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit her at her studio at the William King Museum in Abingdon, Va.