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Rick Fortson

By Bryan Liquornik

More on the web:
- Rick Fortson Official Website

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Reinaldo Quintero

Reinaldo Quintero

Rick Fortson

Why “too late” is a myth.

Rick Fortson

For most of those who have worked in the same industry for 30 years and accumulated a couple of gray hairs, most no longer have the drive - or the courage - to rediscover their passion and blaze a new trail. For most, looking ahead to their twilight years spent feeding pigeons and playing bocce ball rounds up their bucket list.

That is, of course, unless your name is Rick Fortson. After working exclusively in the real estate game, Fortson rekindled his passion for art after being estranged from it for three decades.

What’s interesting is that while (as a teenager) in the past he mainly did oil paintings of landscapes and objects, his return saw him do something entirely different: Pencil portrait sketches, largely of entertainment personalities. 

Probably most impressive is that Fortson is 100% self-taught. Not that you’d be able to guess: Each piece looks both timeless yet at the same time lively and in the moment. Looking at his pieces, I can almost hear the (Joker's) Riddler’s psychotic laugh, or Jack Torrance deliriously shouting “He-e-e-e-re’s Johnny!” as I look at Jack Nicholson’s sketch.

Slixart was fortunate enough to spend some time with Fortson to discuss his great story, his family and why “too late” is a myth. 

| Did anything inspire you to return to drawing?
Several things really? A guilty conscience of knowing inside that I had the raw ability to draw, but was wasting that gift by not developing it. I also had a need for a new hobby, but mainly because I saw my children using the gifts they were given, and I wasn't. 

| How did you gravitate to pencil sketching? 
I'd always loved to draw, even as a child, but the problem with a lot of artists is that they lack inspiration, and I was always getting stuck with ‘what to draw?‘ I had started to try to get back into drawing a few times through those 30 years, but I hit the same brick wall of not knowing "what to draw?". 

One day in October 2008, I just went to the art store and bought a set of drawing pencils, and decided to draw portraits for the first time. I started drawing each of our 4 kids. When I was finished, I drew Jack Nicholson and thought if I drew celebrities, that I'd never run out of material! I have a folder on my site that shows several examples of my progress over my first 2 years: | 

| You ave two very talented children as well.
Tell us about them, and how you’ve influenced each other?

I'm 48 and my wife is 46, and we actually have 4 grown children, all in their 20's. Yeah, we started young! Our youngest are 21 year old identical twin girls, Maggie & Lauren. Both can sing like angels!

Maggie is finishing up school now, and is a professional photography artist. 
Her website is: |
Lauren is ALSO very artistic. She loves to decorate, and sing. 
We call our oldest daughter Kate, our multi-talented child. She can sing, play piano, draw, write poetry and stories.

Our oldest, and only son Drew, is a quickly rising singer-songwriter out of Nashville, and goes by his stage name, "Andrew Belle". He was named the "VMA Breakout Artist for Chicago in 2009" by MTV, reached #1 on iTunes twice this year for singer-songwriters, and in the last 2 years he's had 13 out of his 16 songs played on major TV shows, such as Grey's Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, Kardashians, 90210, etc. I created a BIO to record his milestones here:

Even my wife is extremely talented, and has a lot of skill and passion for Interior Design! 
I guess some would call us a modern day Partridge Family? If the “Right brain artists” thinking is hereditary, we may have gotten some of it from my mother, who was a music major and teacher. 

| Have you ever heard from any of the celebrities you’ve drawn?
Well, I was asked by Rosebud Magazine (California), to draw William H. Macy and Jack Nicholson, for articles they did on the actors, and was told that they would see my drawings, so that made me feel good! I guess it also depends on the level of stardom? I've drawn several musicians, who are friends with my son, and I've gotten meet them and give them the portraits. Of course my fantasy would be to somehow give my drawings to the major celebrities I draw. If you can think of a way to do that, let me know?

Before starting an illustration, do you sketch or go free hand?
Great question. I’d say that 98% of my drawings are "free hand" style, but after 2 years of trial and error, I have learned to employ a few techniques for measuring the distance between certain key features, in order to determine correct placement. There are about 7 critical distances that you just need to know, and guessing doesn't make you a better artist? For example, the distance from the eyes to the chin, the width of the face, the distance between the eyes, the width of each eye, nose to chin, etc. 

I always form a rough outline sketch, a framework if you will, in order to know where each feature is going, which usually takes me about 15 minutes. The remaining 8 to 10 hours (average) is spent trying to bring that line drawing to life. I have had the opportunity to teach a portrait drawing class to the public at a local college, with the focus being on realism techniques. No one can teach another how to draw well. What I do is try to show them how to bring a line drawing to life. It’s really stranger to me that I didn’t discover my drawing ability until age 46. Why? I have yet to discover. But part of me feels like I just found out I can fly!

| What are your tools of the trade? 
I've actually got a photo and description of every tool I use on my DeviantArt page here:

I have learned that the type of paper and pencils are critical, at least for me, in getting predicable results. I use only "Strathmore Bristol Smooth 300 series" drawing stock, and "Staedtler Mars Lumograph" Pencils. I also use clutch pencils (lead holders) as well as mechanical pencils for specific parts of a drawing. The rest are just the basics, Kneaded eraser, Tuff Stuff stick erasers, Magnifying glasses, Blending stumps of all sizes. 

| Who is your biggest inspiration and were do you get your inspiration? 
I don't know that any one person inspires me to draw? I do know that I discovered that I am first motivated to draw by inspiring Photos! I am first attracted to high resolution photos that offer a wide range of contrast, light sources, and tonal values. 

The subject can also inspire me, but on a secondary level. When I decide who I want to draw, I look for photos on Google Images with these guidelines in mind. Then I filter the search, starting first with "large" and "Faces" and narrow it from there. When I find a great photo, with a great subject, with the perfect facial expression, lighting, etc it's pure heaven for me!

| Any tips for the portrait artists out there?
Actually, I have created a tip guide using Google Docs in order to help my friends. Link: 

What type of challenge do you have when creating portraits?
I've spent my first 2 years determining the ideal sized face to draw. I read that drawing just 20% larger equals 50% more time. Since I get bored fast, I have been aiming for the perfect facial size, which to me now is about 6 inches from the hairline to the bottom of the chin, or 3 inches from the eyes to the chin if it's a close up? 

So I would say that almost everything you see on my site ( averages about 5x7 inches total. Lately though, I have done some larger commission work, and discovered that IF the subject can hold my interest, then I can fit more details into a larger drawing. I've just developed a certain style of cropping off the tops of the heads, and drawing only the face, with maybe a little neck and shoulders. So for me to branch out and grow, is exciting.

What are your plans for the future?
I'd love to create a drawing book one day! A "how to" for drawing portraits with a focus on realism? If my 1,700 followers on are any indication of a test market, then it will be popular, ha! I give them my tip guide link now, and have gotten countless feedback on it's help and inspiration. God willing, I'd sure love to get out of Real Estate after 25 years, and somehow earn a living with my art?

 I estimate that I've invested about 1,400+ hours drawing in the last 2 years. I've still got a lot to learn, with both drawing, and learning the patience to draw more details, and I'm convinced that my best work could be done today, if I just had the patience! As for my specific drawing future, I first plan to finish mastering graphite, then I want to start learning colored pencils one day. I may even get back into water color, oil painting or ink drawing? 

Thank you Rick for taking the time answer our questions.

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