When the Gibbes Museum opened in 1905, the nation celebrated what Charleston has always understood: the power of art – to inspire our imagination, heal our hurt, and nourish our souls.

Capturing the Spirit through Portraiture

Little Helper (detail), by Alana Knuff

This fall we are delighted to present a full roster of art classes for adults and students in our new classrooms and studios on the first floor. We’re bringing back some of our favorite teaching artists, like Lese Corrigan and Mary Lou Bloise, as well as adding some new talent to our roster of instructors. This week, we chatted with painter Alana Knuff about her own experiences and asked what she hopes her students will take away from her portrait-painting class.

When did you decide you wanted to become a professional artist?

AK: I retired from a career in Capital Project Management in 2008 after spending a vacation in Italy with some artists. That inner voice, kept silent since childhood, shouted “NOW is the time to paint/create.” That trip was the catalyst.

Dignity, December 2012, by Alana Knuff
Dignity, December 2012, by Alana Knuff; Oil on linen; 18 x 20 inches; Courtesy of the artist.

What is it about portraiture that draws you to that genre?

AK: I drew people when I was young. My mother kept those early drawings of Christ, Washington, Lincoln and even her portrait. There is something about facial expression that draws me into the spirit of the person and then I am hooked.

Do you have any funny model/sitter stories?

AK: While checking out groceries, I looked up at the clerk and immediately was drawn to paint her. I said to her “you are a portrait waiting to happen.” She agreed to pose and the portrait won an award. I find that inspiration comes when I least expect it.

Reflection, May 2010, by Alana Knuff
Reflection, May 2010, by Alana Knuff; Oil on linen; 18 x 24 inches; Courtesy of the artist.

What would you tell students who “can’t draw stick figures”?

AK: Everyone can draw. Like most endeavors it takes concentration, repetitive practice, and a new perspective in seeing – exercising the right brain.

What do you hope your students will take away from the class at the Gibbes?

AK: This is an introduction to the basic portrait techniques and tools. After each session they will be encouraged to view the museum’s portraits in a new way.

Anything else you want to add or share?

AK: Teachers learn and students teach. The exchange brings joy to both.

Top Image: Little Helper (detail), October 2013, by Alana Knuff; Oil on linen; 26 x 28 inches; Courtesy of the artist.


Published August 26, 2016

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