Pixel-perfect Portraits

Then portrait artist Sophie Fuldauer found herself without her sketchbook last fall, she merely turned on her iPhone. Not to make a call, but to draw.

The result is a series of wonderfully inky and playful portraits of people unknowingly going about their day at Baked coffee shop.

She typically draws people’s faces unobtrusively, without their knowledge. If they stay long enough, she sometimes shows them the portrait and offers to email it to them.

“People are usually surprised that I was doing it and that they didn’t know it. They can be a bit freaked out, but are usually mostly flattered.”

One person she captured by surprise on a Sunday afternoon at Baked was Thibaut Rondel, a recent arrival from eastern France (see cover photo).

A wall of the café contains an exhibition of other Fuldauer portraits, ranging from babies to seniors.

When Fuldauer was asked to do a portrait of someone’s dog at their house, it became obvious that she should be making money from her art. For the next month, she will be at Baked at scheduled times to do portraits using her iPhone.

A black and white portrait takes only 10-15 minutes. A colour portrait can take up to 50 minutes.

Fuldauer uses a stylus to draw on her tiny screen, although until recently, she merely used her fingers, which dart around the screen at a rapid speed.

Anyone who noticed her might think she was playing a video game, except for the fact that she keeps glancing up at something else in the room.

The portraits have an animation and motion of their own. The squiggly lines capture the essence of a person’s face in a natural, relaxed environment.

“The scribbly lines at the beginning are the important part to get down,” she explains. “The longer it takes, the less you capture the energy of the person.” Colour is just extra detail, not integral to the portrait.

Although she has tried using the larger screen of an iPad, she explains that the bigger the canvas, the more time you spend mucking around with colour and detail and you lose some of the energy.

Fuldauer’s portraits have a texture that makes you oblivious to their origins as mere pixels.

“Sometimes I miss painting,” Fuldauer said. “The iPhone is easier than painting because it’s not messy. You don’t have to set up your paints and clean up, but painting is more hands-on. You blend colours until you get it right. With the iPhone, you select the colour from the colour wheel until you get it.”

Drawing is an important part of this young, but talented artist. She grew up drawing a great deal, mostly animals. “I watched a lot of National Geographic and nature shows.”

Fuldauer likes painting living things, not inanimate objects.

“I’m really interested in the kinetic aspect of art.”

She’s dabbled in puppetry, having created an 8-foot dancing alien for last year’s Longest Night performance. She would like to try building three-dimensional figures, possibly for the film industry.

Fuldauer has completed the Foundation Year of studies at the School of Visual Art in Dawson. Like many artists, her aptitudes range beyond visual art. She plays six different instruments (notable among them, the soul sister to the iPhone sketch screen, the ukulele).

Despite her musical ability, the act of performing takes getting used to.

“People sometimes try to watch me doing portraits, which can be unnerving. They usually only watch for a little while, and the screen is so small.” When she does portraits at festivals, she typically uses pencil crayons, which take longer.

In an age of social media, Fuldauer is using new technology in a refreshing and delightful way.

Rather than creating her presence on a social networking site, she is situating her real self in the real life social networking location of a cafe.

Online sites such as Etsy can be an invaluable means of gaining broad and diverse exposure for many artists.

But the intimacy of an artist offering her community portraits of themselves in the most every day of settings is an artistic interaction few will experience in the online world.

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