Sitting for a Ken Christiansen portrait

Los Osos, California artist Ken Christiansen is a wonderful impressionist landscape painter. His works are prized by locals, and praised by art collectors worldwide.

I have always wanted one, but have not yet made the decision to purchase a painting for my small house with not enough wall space (we rent a storage unit that is packed with framed artwork).

But a few weeks ago Ken sent a postcard inviting some of his friends and clients to sit for a portrait in his home, so my wife and I decided to do it.

Ken Christensen at work on my wife’s portrait. His quick hand and deft [brush]strokes make short work of the pastel portrait.

You can probably bring up an image of the artists at Montmartré in Paris, sketching tourists with pastels as quickly as they can, and your impression is correct. Our friend Ken has spent a considerable amount of time at Montmartré studying the technique of these sidewalk painters. This, while he is spending time in France making large oils of scenery and picturesque towns.

Some of Ken’s pastels sit beside his chair in the room. His hands would flash in an out of the pastel box, choosing a new, more subtle color as he worked.

Ken works in oils, mostly, so I was curious to see how he handled pastels, and I came away from the experience impressed. His impressionist style translates nicely into colorful portraits that are both well drawn and playful. I love what Ken does with colors. Like his many predecessors in the impressionist style, he will occasionally make a field of green grass into purple, or a cloudy sky into a deep gray-green color. Unlike his Dutch predecessor, though, Ken still has both of his ears.

And, also unlike his Dutch predecessor, Ken actually makes his living by painting, an impressive, impressionist feat in today’s digital world.

My wife holds her Christensen portrait after it was completed.

My wife and I arrived on the scene while Ken was finishing another portrait, and we were enjoying Ken’s other work on display when the time came for me to sit for my portrait. He had me sit in a comfortable chair and he sketched the drawing out on a sheet of gray-brown paper. I have never sat for a portrait before, so found the experience a bit intimidating. I was careful not to move as I sat.

The process was fun to experience because I had no idea what was happening on the paper across from me. He would lean to the side, and grab a slightly different color pastel crayon, sketch for a minute or two, then go back for another color. My wife and others in the room had the benefit of seeing what was being created while I did not.

…and this is my portrait. I’m probably not really this color, but I do like the work, and am proud to have been painted by Ken. Images used by permission of the artist.

When he was finished, he turned his drawing around to me, and declared victory! I was very pleased. His illustration is not comical, as many streetside portraits are, but it does take liberties with color and form, characteristics that I appreciate in Ken’s work.

I am now the proud owner of a Ken Christensen portrait, and I enjoyed the experience of seeing it in the making.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and currently Guest Professor at Hochschule München. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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