We start off our #SummerSnaps series this month to talk about a photographer to maker transformation. Bobbie Bush, the creator behind Boston Portrait Artist, is a photographer who has pivoted to the realm of painted portrait commissions. Her timeless creations have garnered the respect of her clients and renowned Boston businesses alike.
In this interview, Bobbie Bush gives a bit of insight into her process, her inspirations, and what’s coming up on Boston Portrait Artist’s immediate horizon.
Tell us about who you are and describe what you do?
My name is Bobbie Bush, and I am a portrait artist. I’m working with photography, digital painting, and traditional oil painting, combining all three together in a unique way.
For the past 25 years, I’ve essentially been photographing families, children, and individuals. However, really, in the last four years, I’ve been moving my business in a brand new direction.
Most recently, I have been creating custom painting commissions from photographs, whether they’re photographs that I’ve captured, or, more recently, photographs that were sent to me by my clients. I use photographic reference images and transform them into works of art.
Starting on the computer with sophisticated brushwork, I select brushstrokes to emulate the look that I want. I deconstruct the photograph and build it back stroke by stroke until the painting emerges. And then afterwards, I add hand-applied oil paints and texture on the surface of the canvas.
I’m really creating a brand new market in many respects. There are photographers that will hire digital artists to turn their photos into a painting, but it honestly looks too much like the original photograph, in my opinion. I really want the photograph to not look like a photograph, I want it to look like organic natural brushstrokes of a real oil painting. That’s my goal.
When did you first fall in love with art and photography?
I’ve always loved art, even as a little kid, whether it was drawing, or doing crafts. And it was in high school that I got completely addicted to photography, when I fell in love with the magic of the darkroom, and being in control of creating those images.
Fast forward to today, I am totally in love with the unlimited creative possibilities that come with the newest media and tools that are available. I really enjoy using modern electronic brushes that allow me to emulate those natural organic brushstrokes and marks that would come from traditional artists materials like an oil or a pastel. So it’s like I’m falling in love with it all over again, as I develop into this new medium.
How would you describe your style as an artist?
Classic and timeless. A portrait that never goes out of style. I never want it to look dated. That was true in my photography, and it’s true with the painting work that I do.
The last thing I want is for someone to put a framed piece up on the wall because it’s trendy and then take it down, you know, a year or so later because it doesn’t fit the mood or the style of tastes moving forward. My work is intended to stand the test of time.
Who has inspired you artistically over the years?
One of my biggest influences when I was a young photographer was Man Ray. It wasn’t straight photography that he was doing, instead he was doing things with photograms and collage in the darkroom.
I experimented with photograms as a brand new photographer. I came up with my own projects doing photograms and it totally blew the mind of my photography teacher in high school at the time. I was influenced by that alternative approach.
In painting 100% it is John Singer Sargent that is my influence. Sargent was the premier 19th century American portrait painter. His work was the epitome of what a beautiful, classic, luscious portrait painting should look like. My goal is for every electronic brushstroke that I create, I have John Singer Sargent in the back of my mind. It’s not about having perfect detail, it’s the gesture of a brushstroke that lets your mind see what that object is. My goal is to have the painting look very brush yup close and have it all come together from a distance.
What is working with you like?
Across the board clients will just say I make it so easy, whether it is photographic portraits or doing these painting commissions. It’s always my goal to see everything from the clients’ perspective. And to always anticipate the questions before they do. It’s all about having good communication, being professional, giving honest answers and guiding my client through the process.
Because I’m doing these painting commissions now, I’m really now stepping into the world of the oil painters. How I differ from traditional oil painters is that sometimes an accomplished artist’s ego gets in the way, so I work hard to get my artist’s ego out of the way. I’m providing a service, and I want to have the work obviously reflect my tastes and style, but to be exactly what the client wants.
The cool part about the process that I do that’s different from traditional oil painting, is that the commissioning process is very, very interactive, where clients can see progress stages of their painting, and we make changes or we go backwards or we change the colors. There’s so much opportunity to design it exactly the way the client wants it. And when I work from a photograph, there’s less room for artistic license when it comes to a person’s likeness. there’s no surprises about what the person looks like. So it’s an authentic likeness because it’s based on the photograph. But it’s also very painterly and it’s exactly the way the client imagines it.
What’s one thing that you would like your clients and fans to just know about you?
The pandemic has opened me up to a much broader audience of fans and clients. The work I do is no longer limited to the North Shore or even greater Boston. This past year I started painting commissions that were managed completely virtually, with all kinds of communication and collaboration happening through email, phone, and interactive zoom meetings. So you know, the sky’s the limit, I am open for business across the country. And it’s kind of exciting.
Where can we find out more about you and the work that you do?
My photography work is at BobbieBush.com. And you can access the painted portrait commissions from there as well.
But I have a separate site just for the paintings and that’s BostonPortraitArtist.com
Also, save the date for the Lydia Pinkham Open studios this November on the weekend prior to to Thanksgiving. And this year, the dates are Saturday November 20, and Sunday November 21st.
⛱ Capture the Summer with #SummerSnaps. This season, use the hashtag to be featured in our weekly Summer Snaps roundup.
We’ll also be featuring work from local photographers who know always know how to get the shot. 📸