Artist Olga Sweet revels in the challenges of portraiture. Originally from Moscow, Sweet specializes in works in oil and graphite that accurately depict a subject and also imbue a unique artistic essence. “I am attracted to the difficulties of the genre, both the technical difficulties of creating a likeness and the challenge of creating an aesthetically sound piece of art,” she says. Though based in Connecticut, Sweet frequently follows her clients to Palm Beach and is active in the county’s philanthropic scene, donating her skills and services to area charities like the Neil S. Hirsch Boys & Girls Club in Wellington. She recently spoke with PBI about the art of portraiture and factors to keep in mind when commissioning a portrait.
PBI: What do you love most about portraiture and the challenge of painting people?
Sweet: I really like people’s faces. Trying to depict something very special about a person [by painting them] is such an interesting puzzle. Portraits get a bad reputation with modern or avant-garde artists because people tend to think of very traditional portraits, which can be so boring. You go to university halls and they’re all the same. [But there are] a million ways to paint a person. However, sometimes this can stray too far from the goal of paying tribute to a person. An artist isn’t just exercising his imagination, talents, and technical ability. There’s a fine line between finding your own style of painting and having the responsibility of painting the person who commissioned the portrait.
How should sitters go about choosing clothing for a portrait?
It depends on what they want the final result to be. Is it a formal portrait? Or, is it a portrait just for me? Then consider your favorite pieces of clothing and what items make you feel more like you.
Will you allow your subjects to incorporate pets into a portrait?
I have such a respect for pets because they’re such a huge part of our lives. I’m delighted if someone wants to have a pet in a picture. I think kings and queens have their spaniels and corgis so why not? I’ve painted several portraits of people, particularly children, with pets. They can make a portrait less stiff. However, several photographs of the pet can help because they don’t always sit too well.
What advice do you give people prior to a sitting?
Women should have their hair down and wear little makeup. But other than that, just be happy. There’s no special preparation. It’s a very exciting time, and adults are usually as excited as children because it’s such a gift to be painted.