What Do You Look For

Ana by Marcos Dorado


Often, I’m asked what I look for in a model.  What makes want to draw someone?  Is there a look like I go after?  These are good questions, of course.  Sometimes, I scout for a specific look in a model, indeed.  This happens when I have as specific type of portrait or nude in mind.  This is dependent upon what I want to convey.  For example, if I wish to communicate time or age, then, a 20-year old model will not be able to do portray this feeling.  Instead, someone like Ana is ideal.  Here’s a lady that appreciates long friendships and value honesty and a caring nature in people.  Ana posed for me last spring at my studio when I lived in Fresno.  We spent hours discussing relationships.  We talked about how we, ourselves, have changed in what we value in friends and love affairs.  It was an insightful and wonderful session.  I hope that I have captures a glimpse of this spirit in Ana’s portrait.

On the other hand, sometimes, I’ll see someone at a store or café.  I’m struck by their look.  It may be a man or a young lady or an old woman.  Most of the time, I approach such person to see if he or she may be interested in posing.  In these instances, it’s the person’s first impression that inspires me rather than my seeking a specific look.  Usually, the person will agree to pose and presto, suddenly, I have a new model.

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When I was a Boy

Art by Marcos Dorado

Anthony Graves, Stages 1 & 2

Drawing was the most accessible art to practice.  It didn’t require paint or canvas like painting nor did I have to buy clay should I try sculpting.  Pencils and paper were already around the house, of course, and money was too tight.  It was 1978.  I knew better than to impose such costs on my father, who worked at the Mosesian vineyard in Madera, California.  He followed the classic schedule beginning with sun-up.   So, I scribbled unto line paper at first.  Then, I discovered drawing pads.  These were sold at Lucky’s where we bought our groceries on Sundays.  I wish that I had kept one of these.  I don’t recall the maker but the pad had a burgundy cover and the paper was much thicker than my college rule.   It must have been 14 x 11 inches.  The binding was in landscape orientation.  I filled many of these with drawings of people, trees, birds, cars and tractors.  My primary subject were people, however.  For as long as I can remember, I had an interest in faces and figures.

I wish that I had one of those drawings that I did.  I’d love to see how I rendered faces then.  How did I do the eyes?  Were the noses too long as it’s typical of beginners?

One thing that has remain unchanged is my passion for faces.  They are the index to a whole life of experiences: success, loss, perseverance, fear and love.  This is what we’re made of.  Drawing is a way to explore this in a fundamental fashion.  A line can’t lie.  It’s either too far to the right, left or just right.  If I do not perceive the model’s eyes correctly, my lines will give me away.  I suppose that it’s this honesty that keeps me going back to drawing each day.  I can’t ever get enough of learning how to depict my models in the most honest way.

Note about the image above:  Anthony posed last year for the Veterans Portrait Project.  He was a medic in the US Army and served in Iraq.  Now, he lives in the central coast of California where he’s a registered nurse.  He chose to face me, directly, for his portrait.  He had such confidence in his demeanor and a kind sense about himself.  

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Why a Portrait?

I’m often asked why I do portraits—because I love to share stories.  Indeed, I consider portraiture a form of biography.  Instead of using words and sentences, through line and tonality, I communicate an intimate visual accumulation of who my model is.  I don’t write a paragraph about eyes, I show the eyes.  I draw the jaw line as angular or round.  I develop shadows and mid tones to convey depth.  Time and life experiences work sculpt our faces and I love to depict this phenomenal onto paper with my pencils.

Blanton Simmons by Marcos Dorado, Face America

Stage 1, Blanton Simmons

Since childhood, I’ve had an obsession with people.  I want to know their stories.  How did they get here?  Why are they young-looking or why do they show more years than the summers they’d lived?  Drawing them explores this.  The conversations that happen while the model sits reveals more and serves as spices for my portrait.

Blanton posed in April of this year at my studio when I lived in Fresno, CA.  We met at the Figarden Starbucks and quickly struck a friendship.  He shared stories of his basketball days at Marquette University in the 60s.  He was the star point guard.  In addition to basketball, he stood up against racism–an act that hindered his marketability into the NBA.  Disillusioned with the politics of the sport, Blanton went on to have a successful career in a different field.  For years he worked in television in Seattle.  Now, he’s retired and moved to Fresno to be closer to family.  He has founded the Flight Club program in Fresno.  It provides basketball training, leadership skills and emotional support to underprivileged youth.    Last year, Blanton was inducted into the Marquette University Basketball Hall of Fame.

Blanton Simmons by Marcos Dorado, Face America

Portrait of Blanton Simmons

Indeed, I enjoyed our conversation during the portrait session.  It was sprinkled with trumpet solos by Miles Davis on the iPod.  I really like Blanton’s pose.  To me, his eyes convey the traces of a long and committed life.  I worked in pastel on tinted Canson paper.

Please feel free to share your impressions of Blanton’s portrait.  I’m happy to respond to your questions, too.  If you draw or paint, please share with us your experiences with doing portraits.


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RIP Terry

Above all, Terry Hayden was a gentleman–a real sweet person.  His love was photography which he did since the 70s.  He focused on landscapes and portraying the natural world.  I love his black and whites of the northeast, especially those that include water.   In recent years, he began working with the nude figure, which he quickly grasped well.

I met Terry Hayden through a mutual friend.  It was an encounter of five or six words. The next time that I saw him, his work was part of a group exhibit at Spectrum Gallery (Fresno, CA).  We struck a friendship soon after and he began to shoot session of my working with portrait and nude models.  We planned on including these photographs as part of behind-the-scenes of one of my project, Why I Got Naked.

Stage 1 of Portrait of Terry Hayden

Stage 1 of Portrait of Terry Hayden

At the beginning of this year, he became my model as he posed for the portrait posted here.  I worked in pastel on tinted Canson paper.  This portrait developed with great ease, in fact.  I see this as a testament to the zen-like persona of Terry.  My pencil simply worked its way around the paper.  I made no corrections with my eraser, in fact.  I used the eraser to create highlights only.  The portrait is left in his collection.  It was done as part of Face America and it remains as such.  Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to record an interview for the upcoming podcast of Face America.  We had planned to do the interview this winter.

Terry suffered a stroke in late September, in Connecticut.  He had traveled to the northeast with his camera and lovely girlfriend, Linda.   Terry was unable to recover.  Yesterday

morning, October 19,  his life slipped way while in the company of Linda and his son and daughter.  Fresno has lost a wonderful artist.  His family and friends have lost a beautiful person.

Terry Hayden by Marcos Dorado

Portrait of Terry Hayden

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Day 1 in Seattle

I’m excited to be here for the rest of the year Marcos Dorado in Seattledrawing new faces and penning new narratives.  I visited two years ago.  I found the people warm and energizing.  Now, I have the opportunity to draw many of the them.  I’m looking forward to this experience.  Of course, I’ll post new artwork and previews of the wonderful people that I’ll meet.

First stop is the Art Spot in Edmonds.  I’m waiting on an order of bass wood panels.  I can’t wait to pick them up!  In the meantime, I’m working on a few works that I began in California.  These are a portrait of José and a drawing of an bald eagle for a Seattle art collector.  Also, I need to look into new sweaters.  There’s a big difference in temperature between Seattle and Fresno, CA.  There, it was near 100 this week.  I woke up to fog this morning.  I’ve not seen this in a long time.  Ok, back to my pencils and easel.

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Portrait in the Making

I began three portraits this week.  One is a wonderful Fresno photographer, Jonathan Mathis.  His work explores social issues.  His collection of portraits, Invisible Man, explores the identity of Black men.  It is a compelling series of black and white photography. Marcos Dorado working with Jonathan Mathis for Face America

Our session was three hours at Boling Gallery.  We used natural northern light, which tends to be soft and it engulfs the figure in a gentle way.  I enjoy working with this type of light, of course.  There are various approaches for beginning a portrait.  In this case, I began with Jonathan’s eye and progressed with the nose and maxilla.  Our session was only two hours but I feel good about the foundation of the portrait.  Next week, I’ll travel to Seattle and I’ll redo this work unto a bass wood panel created by Ampersand, 20in x 16in.  I’m excited to see the drawing on this surface.  Of course, I’ll post it here.

Stage 2, Portrait of Jonathan Mathis by Marcos Dorado for Face America   Stage 4, Portrait of Jonathan Mathis by Marcos Dorado for Face America   Stage 5, Portrait of Jonathan Mathis by Marcos Dorado for Face America   In progress, Portrait of Jonathan Mathis by Marcos Dorado for Face America

Feel free to leave comments about this project, Face America, or about this particular portrait.  Promptly and gladly, I’ll respond.


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What is Face America?

It’s my project exploring who we are and what paths we follow. In doing so, Face America celebrates those who inspire, motivate and teach. It promotes the good of our society, creating a better story about us.  Through portrait and narrative,  together, we create a new and innovative memoir of who we are as a people.

Face America includes:Marcos-Drawing-Oklin 3

  • Portraits on paper &  wood panel
  • Narratives of each model
  • Video clips
  • Podcast interviews in January 2015
  • Exhibits of portraits & narratives
  • Book in 2016
  • Continuous updates on this site
  • Social media, click on top right

Who will be featured?

YOU!  Face America is about recognizing your story.  Let’s share it with a portrait and narrative.  You may suggest someone special in your life, too.  Together, we can celebrate stories of survival, struggle, dedication and achievement, and in turn, inspire others.   Indeed, great people make a great project!

Message me at marcosdorado at gmail dot com

This fall, I’m drawing & interviewing models in Seattle, Central California & Los Ángeles.  Next spring, I’ll be in Chicago and New York City.

The first exhibit of portraits and narratives opens in the fall 2015.

Check back for weekly updates.  Help spread celebrate the wonderful people of our community by sharing via social media (below).

Thank you!



Pic by Xavier Ybarra, Oklin posing during video shoot
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