13.5in x 9.5in | 34.3cm x 24.1cm
Wax pencil on paper
Collection of the Estate of Reuben McDaniel
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Silver Medal of Honor in the Graphics and Drawing Division
Knicerbocker Artists New York 40th Annual Open Juried Exhibition, Salmagundi Club, New York, NY USA
National Arts Club Award for Graphics
Allied Artists of America 77th Annual Exhibition, Salmagundi Club, New York, NY USA
Reproduced in the Book
Exploring Color Pencil
Behind the drawing
Reuben McDaniel commissioned me to do his portrait specifically before he was to have major surgery on his hips. This striking 6′ 8″ tall, well known professor and administrator from the University of Texas at Austin was walking with the use of fabulously carved wooden canes. I tried to capture some of the essence and pain in this remarkable man.
We met when he was visiting in El Paso and was listening to his friend (and now mine too), the folk musician David Ruthstrom, perform at Iron Tender West in El Paso in 1982. Music being my first love, I had discovered the live folk music scene after my first divorce. My pencils, pencil sharpener, and drawing in progress had always been my constant companions and I rarely went anyplace without them if I would be sitting for any length of time: doctor’s offices, airport waiting rooms, in flight, parties, family gatherings, and of course, later when I went out to listen to music. Besides, that way I was an artist in a bar, not a lone woman in a bar. Many new and lasting friendships were formed during this period in my life.
Reuben saw me working on a commissioned portrait and asked if I would do his and what would I charge. I told him and he insisted on paying me on the spot for the full amount without a line drawn. The money was most welcome at that time, so I accepted. However, there is a reason it is not a good policy to be paid in the entirety before the piece is finished…or to offer to draw for free: there is always the need for new income. Granted, there was never any doubt I would finish it since I guarantee my work or the fee is refunded, but it was even two years before I could get to Austin to take the reference photos. Then it was five more years of working on the drawing on and off before I finished it. Since I don’t smear or erase the wax pencil, I create the darks in between the hairs, which involved not just a little time or effort. Plus, I build up forty light layers or more of the pencil to get the soft transition of values and depth.
Naturally, I took the drawing with me everywhere I went. One day I was working on it without the photo on a Southwest Airlines flight in the section at that time that had four seats facing each other. The man sitting across from me said, “That looks like Reuben McDaniel!” I replied that indeed it was a portrait of him I was drawing. He said that he played racquetball with him every week (obviously the surgery had gone well). “Please tell him that you saw me working on it!” There was also the time my second husband and I were in a mid west Texas city listening to another musician friend of ours perform on St. Patrick’s Day. On that occasion, I was told by a couple that they recognized and knew Reuben. While I was waiting for a delayed flight in an airport lounge in Dallas, another stranger knew him and talked to me. This seemed to happen almost everywhere I went, even in New York…with the exception I think of Tahiti.
When I finally finished the drawing in 1990, seven and a half years after I was commissioned, I called Reuben to give him the good news and apologize for the long delay. That good and patient man told me not to worry because he always knew I would finish it because he had received numerous phone calls over the years from people who said they had seen me working on it.
You guess well that I now insist that the final payment on a commissioned piece, or one bought “off the easel” (i.e. work in progress), be given to me only upon final completion and acceptance of the art. It may still take me years to finish a particular piece, but I do not feel the guilt over receiving full payment without the artwork hanging on the collector’s wall.