Rethinking Facial Expressions in Portraiture: Portrait #3 of Kellie Snider’s 100 Faces Portrait Project

Painting of woman with dark hair making silly face
Painting of woman with dark hair making silly face
Painting of woman with dark hair making silly face

3 of 100 Faces

Chelsea Hutchinson

Kellie Snider’s 100 Faces Portrait Project


8″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

The Model:

Chelsea is my niece, my sister’s oldest child of 3 and only daughter. During Chelsea’s childhood we never lived close together, so I didn’t get to know her well, but Facebook and Zoom gave us the chance to bond more over the past few years. When Chelsea was 3 months old her mom and dad were shot in a robbery at a drive-through ATM in New Orleans. She was in the back seat in her car seat. Her mom, my sister, took a bullet clear through her thigh, and my brother-in-law took a bullet in his elbow as he turned to protect his baby daughter. He had lasting damage to the elbow joint. Chelsea, as I recall, only had a small glass cut on her face. Her parents were hospitalized and had lengthy recoveries. Grandparents moved in to care for the family for months and months. The shooters were never found.

Chelsea was born with a cleft palette, so she had a childhood of surgeries and recoveries. You might not be surprised if I were to tell you that Chelsea is completely damaged, but I can’t tell you that. She is a strong woman who has worked hard to heal her childhood trauma and challenges. She’s also incredibly beautiful. She’s recently become a massage therapist. She’s the mom of a little red-head. She’s hard working and funny and delightful.

The Project:

The photo I received from Chelsea was really funny. She was making a silly face, that she said was her typical silly face.

Let me back up just a little. Like, 50 years. I had the really good fortune of attending school in a place and time where and when art was still considered important. When it came to painting people, we learned facial proportions, and perspective. It wasn’t just gluing pre-cut shapes onto a sheet of construction paper. It was DOING art. When I got to college the art classes were teaching the same damn things I learned in 3rd grade.

But it wasn’t all good. We also learned things like, “Don’t paint people smiling”. “Don’t paint teeth”. Seriously. They were considered hokey. We were supposed to paint serious people who were sitting on their butts looking bored out of their skulls. Why? Because our teachers were taught to paint that way. Why were our teachers taught that way? Because photography wasn’t as accessible as it is now, and the models had to sit on their butts bored out of their gourds for hours while an artist tried to capture their likenesses. People who try to smile for 4 hours with only a couple of stretch breaks start looking really dorky after their cheek muscles get tired. Plus, if you’ve ever been a model, you know that your thoughts start doing things. You start thinking about your left foot going to sleep, how much your butt itches, how you wish the artist would stop belching.

So when I received Chelsea’s silly face photo I went through a bunch of machinations. Should I paint her being silly, or should I swipe one of her beautiful selfies?

The answer didn’t take long to formulate. In 2023, most people have good cameras on them all the time. No one has to sit for 4 hours to get their portrait painted unless they and the artist make that choice. And why the heck shouldn’t we paint people making funny faces? Funny faces are part of the real world in which we live. They’re real. They’re personal, and they help us connect.

So, I painted Chelsea’s silly face, and I’m so glad I did. I used a fairly big flat paintbrush relative to the size of the canvas (8″x8″) and blocked in her funny features. It resulted in a bright, emotive, and funny little portrait that I’m really proud of.