Wild Woman Portraits

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Qualifying subscribers receive access to at least one exclusive post each week, and a written tutorial when each portrait is completed. Other benefits include concept reveals in advance of social media and web page posts, a monthly newsletter, handmade cards in the mail each month, and pre-sale discounts. Most subscribers receive step-by-step videos and written tutorials for my Wild Woman Portraits as part of their rewards. This short sample video will give you a peek at what’s happening in the studio on a daily basis.

Feral Underpainting Details

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Wildling Oil on Wood Panel 2023
Feral Oil on Wood Panel 2023
12 x 24 inches

Oil on Wood Panel
19 x 23.5 inches

On the Easel

Artist Statement

I am inspired by confident, unconventional women, who are comfortable expressing themselves in unique and authentic ways. Most of them do not conform to societal definitions of beauty or a woman’s role, nor do they follow traditional expectations of behavior. Every one of them has an interesting story to tell, which I strive to capture in their portraits. Each and every painting is a celebration of the model, whether it be the first time I have illustrated her story, or a repeated examination of her life experiences.

My narrative portraits are created with the intention of sharing an individual woman’s story, sometimes triumphant, sometimes disturbing, but always with the purpose of capturing the essence of her personality. I choose my models based on their authenticity, sincerity, and self-confidence, rather than their appearance or body type. I believe interesting stories are far more important than fashion trends. Many of the women I work with are trauma survivors, have unconventional jobs or pursuits, and have the self-confidence to walk through the world as if they own it. They are women whose life experiences have led them toward a path of individuality and strength.

My studio process starts with an interview of each woman, building a foundation for descriptive imagery and symbolism that I use to create her narrative portrait. After shooting reference photos, I start developing a concept based on our conversation by pulling out compelling words or phrases and looking for appropriate symbolism to illustrate them. Once I have a general concept for my model’s portrait, I will put together a sketch or collage in my concept journal that captures the essence of her personality. Sometimes my models have specific concepts they want to explore, and I involve them more directly in the conceptual process by showing them my initial sketches and asking for their feedback.

I enjoy telling stories through a combination of narrative and visual elements. I am drawn to portraiture by an appreciation for the female form and an interest in the personalities that make them unique. When creating the final portrait, I layer oil paints over more graphic and expressive elements, allowing the foundational techniques to show through the entire process. I often include bold words as part of the composition or incorporate longer phrases or bodies of text in the background as more subtle design elements. In this way, I invite the viewer to spend time with my model, exploring her surroundings and uncovering more of her story.
My portrait painting process is a result of extensive reflection on my model’s personality and the stories they have shared with me. Sometimes I choose to tell parts of my own story in self-portraits. Often these self-portraits are very stylized in order to create a figure symbolic of a specific symbol or concept I want to explore further. Most are a reflection of my personal struggle to overcome the aftermath of childhood abuse at the hands of family.

I use color and layers of textural or graphic elements to move the viewer’s attention around the composition. Colors, words, and symbolism are often used as a means to create tension in the background of my paintings, to highlight an important concept, or to place emphasis on a particular part of the composition. I often create tension or ambiguity between these elements in order to further illustrate the underlying narrative of a portrait.

I enjoy this narrative painting process because it allows me to incorporate an illustrative style into a traditional painting medium. Although I have tried many painting mediums over the years, I find myself most drawn to oils for their luminosity and richness, the variety of consistencies ranging from translucent to opaque, and the ability to create textures and expressive marks within their layers. I have developed my own techniques for painting over the years since my initial painting elective in college that allow me to explore the drawing media I love so much from my training as an illustrator with the more traditional media of oils.

My portraits are a celebration of real women who are confident in their natural bodies. Incorporating their personal stories into the paintings gives them the extra narrative element that makes them special. Combining these conceptual elements with a personal process, honed over years, makes every moment spent in my studio a joy.

This preliminary body of work is as much a glimpse into my private process as it is a presentation of conceptual art investigating the social strata of what it means to be a modern woman. My inspiration comes from personal experiences, interviews with my models, pop culture, legends, history, and my imagination.

Ideas that sprout from a tiny seed of inspiration – a word, a color, a song lyric, the way light plays over an object, or the persistent memories of childhood trauma that occasionally rear their heads and threaten to derail my well-being and productivity – often grow into enormously complex stories depicted in symbolism, color choices, and methods of rendering.

I have found invaluable inspiration in private conversations with other women in my circle of friends and the community at large, and been overwhelmed by the sheer emotion inspired in others by my personal concept for a series of portraits depicting the modern “Wild Woman” archetype. Over the last two years, I have staged and shot several photo shoots, both individual and group, to acquire a base portfolio of reference models for my initial concepts.

Each woman brings a distinct personality, unique beauty, and captivating story to the project that compliments the my vision for empowering women through the creation of goddess figures, warriors, muses, and entrepreneurs, whose life experiences inform countless additional stories and inspiration to come.

By sharing my personal art journals and sketchbooks I am revealing an openness to pull down the walls I have built to protect my fragile places and openly discuss ‘Where the Work Came From’.

It can often be difficult for a viewer to fully understand a piece of art, or embrace its rawness because they only have access to the completed piece of art. They have no concept of the artist’s life experiences, personal trauma, anguish, personal triumphs, or endless, obsessive hours spent trying to understand and convey a complex story through visual means. By reading the concept and inspiration journals shared here or perusing my sketchbooks, embellished with spontaneous ideas and marginalia describing specific technical executions for the artwork, the viewer receives a semi-private glimpse of the artist’s thought process. The viewer then has a sudden realization that hours were spent thinking about the meaning of the piece of artwork and the appropriate means of symbolizing complex ideas. One might then conceive of the countless additional hours spent researching symbolism, creating props and costumes for multiple models, soliciting the help of a photographer, or taking my own reference photos.

In the event that I am overcome with ideas, I face the additional challenge of weeding out bad ideas, separating out distractions, and making note of additional concepts that might prove useful for future works in a series. The challenge then becomes capturing enough of the new ideas to preserve them, without going down a rabbit hole into an entirely new concept and losing the beauty of the original idea. As in life, there must be balance.

Often times, I spend more energy refining and perfecting the story than executing the finished work of art. Many times, I over-think a concept or over-work a painting, in an obsessive effort to control every detail; ruining the beauty of the work. Then, I must start anew.

In this new body of Unconventional Women Portraits that has grown from the seed of concepts discovered searching for inspiration in poetry and quotes on philosophy and literature, I am examining both “What it Means to BE Woman” and my inner conviction that not only do we all have a meaningful impact on the world, we are all uniquely beautiful in ways that are independent of and transcendent from the societal and personal burdens of what is considered beautiful, a woman’s role in the world, and what constitutes a meaningful existence.

My intention is not to mire the viewer in the long history of inequities against women or to rail against the patriarchy. My intentions are born of a conviction that healing and triumph begin on a personal level. We are, in fact, independent from external influences and have the ability to take charge of our own self-image. We have the strength and fortitude in each of us to cultivate our own self-esteem. We possess the ability to invest in ourselves for our own sake AND the potential to shift the world in new and beautiful ways if we cultivate the self-confidence in ourselves and our daughters to stand in the face of criticism or rejection and proudly proclaim “I AM enough!”

I invite you to join me on this journey to discover what it means to be an ‘Unconventional Woman’ – for good or bad. More importantly, I’m drawing a line in the sand, proclaiming, there will be no judgement or ridicule cultivated here.

What it means to be a wild woman does not look the same for you as it does for me. Lets celebrate the beautiful diversity of our individual, spectacular lives, lift one another up, and create a brighter future for all women.

Frances Byrd, Frances Byrd Art

Public Art

June 2023 mural project, Pearl Nix wall in Villages at Melrose; Gainesville, Georgia

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