Darien artist discusses passion for painting

After a stint in the field of law, a local artist decided she could either keep doing the corporate grind or pursue her true passion in life.

Tina Duryea never expected to make a career our of her art, but after attending school, working at a law firm in New York City and spending time abroad, she realized her true passion was painting.

"The decision to pursue painting happened after some friends said they were going to Maine and invited me to go," Duryea said. "While there we visited the Farnsworth Museum and I loved the paintings. It was then that I realized I could make a living as an artist."

Duryea's first foray into painting involved large portraits of horses because she grew up riding them. However, she quickly realized that it was difficult to show the paintings because of their size. From there she moved onto more compact paintings and focused mostly on portraits of children.

"I started doing children's portraits about a year-and-a-half ago but I'm open to doing portraits of anyone. I started doing children mostly because my friends had kids of their own."

Children's portraits have become so popular that Duryea hasn't had time to branch out into other works yet. However, she said she continues to experiment with other subjects such as landscapes. One experiment resulted in her discovering a new paper, Yupo, which is made from plastic and won't degrade due to the caustic nature of oil paint.

"Where you would normally have to put on a protective layer between the canvas and the paint, I can just paint on the Yupo and the oil paint won't damage it at all. If I wasn't pushing myself to try new things then I wouldn't have ever discovered the paper," she said.

Painting a portrait of a child is not a process that happens overnight. The first step is to meet with the client and take photos of the child Duryea will be painting.

"People sometimes ask me why I don't work from life and I tell them that having a child posing for a portrait isn't as authentic," Duryea said. "I remember when I was 3 years old and an artist was trying to do my portrait and I wouldn't sit still."

After getting the photos she needs, Duryea then spends 30 minutes to an hour drawing a few sketches which she will then send to the client for approval. Once the client is satisfied, she begins painting. Unlike some artists who use oil paints, Duryea said she foregoes the typical thick layer of paint in favor of multiple, thinner layers. However, the paint has to be completely dry before she can begin applying another layer.

"It takes about three to six months to finish a portrait when you factor in all the time the painting takes to dry," she said. "Once I'm finished I'll send an image of the portrait to the client and if they are happy, they can pick it up or I'll ship the painting to them."

As part of the final process, Duryea allows her clients to ask for three revisions although she said clients rarely ask to change anything.

"I like to do a darker background with the portraits because it helps make the portrait pop a little more, especially with fair-skinned children," Duryea, who typically works on five portraits at any given time, said.

When she first started, she made the mistake of not discussing at length her particular style.

"Now when I'm meeting with a client I will ask them if they have seen my work and I'll show them samples so they know what to expect. When I first started, I ran into problems where there was this perception that an artist can do whatever a person wants and that isn't the case. My style isn't to everyone's taste."

It's the business side of painting that Duryea said art programs must focus on to prepare students.

"A lot of artists don't realize that 50 to 60 percent of my time is spent working on the business aspects of being an artist. I need to reach out to clients and market myself and that takes a lot of time. I'm not in the studio painting all the time," she said.

Duryea said one of the greatest assets to her business is Facebook. The social networking site has exposed her work to people all over the world and she said the majority of her clients have found her through the site.

"I'll post a new painting and people will start looking through all of my older work and I end up selling a lot of my inventory from past years," Duryea said.

Many of Duryea's clients aren't in southwestern Connecticut. She said over the years she has sent paintings all over the country as well as South America, Europe and Asia.

"I did a painting down in Maryland and it ended up going to Argentina because the people who bought it loved it so much."

As she looks towards the future, Duryea said she will continue to do children's portraits but she will also branch out to do other subjects as well.

"As an artist you need to push yourself to try new things because that's how you make yourself more well rounded and you don't become known as the artist who only does portraits of children," Duryea said.

Duryea is showing her paintings at Brendan's 101 in Rowayton now through Aug. 31. For more information about her work, visit www.tinaduryea.com.