Erie Faces Erie

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 at 3:15 PM
Erie Faces Erie by Ed Bernik

“I’m not out to change the art world, I just want to make some good images.”

EB: How does one end up a portrait painter? Its not an occupation that somebody would think of as being in the norm, even as a fine artist.

BL: Well, I started my career in advertising after graduating from Columbus School of Art. I spent some time in Florida working for a toy company, then spent time in Washington, D.C. working in advertising. I decided to take a break from commercial and worked two years in Oregon in the fruit orchards. I really didn’t do much painting. One day I decided to do some pastels and hiked out into the woods right through a patch of poison ivy. I was so bad, I had to get on steroids and spent two weeks in bed, so I hit the pastels very hard. I then returned to northwest Pennsylvania. My first job interview was in Smethport, Pennsylvania, to work doing the Wooley Willie magnetic drawing toys. Luckily, I didn’t take the job and came home to Erie. I spent some time with different ad agencies finally landing at Dix and Eaton, where I worked for eight years. They eventually closed their Erie office and I began doing freelance graphic design.

I was doing fine art painting in my free time and came to the realization that people wanted to buy my work, so I decided to quit commercial advertising and paint full time.

EB: But why the portrait?

BL: Well first, I’ve always loved watching people. To this day I take hundreds of photos of people.

Out my studio window, on the street, I’m always looking for interesting faces, interesting events.

Secondly, I love painting and drawing the human form.

EB: Does it change your approach when money changes hands to paint a portrait?

BL: Of all the fine arts, portrait painting is the most commercial. When you accept a commission, you want to exemplify the sitter. Sometimes I do labor over a painting trying to get the right feeling. This painting I’m doing right now, even though its a young boy, I’m obsessed with the background: Did I paint it too tight in relation to the figure?

EB: Looks wonderful to me.

BL: Yes, but look at that door knob. Too much detail.

EB: Is portrait painting a lost art? It’s not something you see much of.

BL: You don’t see it much in Erie, but there are a lot of great painters doing it around the country.

I travel to workshops around the country to work with other portrait painters.

EB: How does that affect your style?

BL: Well I love to see paint! Some painters don’t want you to see the brush strokes.
Da Vinci painted that way, all the brush strokes were blended together. If you look at his painting of the Mona Lisa, you know it’s a painting, but the paint is applied very thin. I use a much thicker paint. I try to walk the line of an impression without losing a realistic likeness of the sitter.

For 20 years I’ve used the same palette of colors and just recently changed up my colors and mixing of paints. It’s been challenging to work with these new colors. Working in cool tones for shadows while keeping flesh tones and highlights warm.

EB: How do you keep your work fresh?

BL: I take part in a figure drawing class once a week to keep my skills fresh. You work fast and it’s about the feel; just black and white, blocking out the essence of the human form. 

I’m also as intrigued with the landscape as I am with the figure. Nature has always been a part of my life. I continue to hike in northwest Pennsylvania and am continually inspired by the beauty of the region. I bring these memories back to my studio and paint these scenes of my youth.

Brad Lethaby:
Ed Bernik:

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