Featured photo: Anna Jarrell with one of her portraits. (courtesy photo)
Anna Jarrell sits alone in her home art studio as she paints a portrait of Hill Stockton, third-generation owner of men’s clothier Norman Stockton, with her right hand. These strokes express her fascination with the rich history of the family business, including the original Trade Street location featuring a hitching post for horses out front.
Stockton is one of 100 subjects featured in Jarrell’s portrait series, the goal of which was for Jarrell to get to know the faces of Winston-Salem during COVID-19, and to improve her alla prima, or wet-on-wet, painting technique in 100 days.
Each of the portraits was completed with oil paint on a 16-by-16 canvas in one sitting. Each one took about three or four hours to complete, plus the drawing before painting which took about an hour. Jarrell expressed that when she is painting alla prima, value is her main focus.
“In order to create an illusion of depth, you have to have the correct value scale,” she says. “That’s lights and darks, so color is really not as important, I think, as value.”
A stickler for skin tones, Jarrell wanted to depict the subjects as realistically as possible, opting to take the time to mix shades for each individual rather than using “flesh tone” paint. Besides a few light streaks of beige, she decided against adding backgrounds to avoid distraction from the subject. Most of them posed head-on and smiling, but some subjects offered Jarrell a side profile to paint.
Jarrell was careful with how she picked her subjects, who ranged from prominent figures in the community to small business owners, to show the diversity of the city.
In addition to Stockton, there was the “newspaper guy” she saw every day. She realized she knew nothing about him but a short interview later, the “newspaper guy” became Michael, a 5-year salesman for the Winston-Salem Journal who has two grown children and takes care of his niece and nephew in the afternoons.
Jarrell also sat down with Mayor Allen Joines who’s been in the position for 19 years and whose portrait completed the series.
After receiving a push from family, Jarrell included an extremely familiar face as portrait 96 — her own!
Originally from High Point, Jarrell double-majored in art and psychology at Wake Forest University. Portraiture is her favorite subject, but it was another sort of image that set her up for success.
“I did a watercolor painting of my parents’ home and posted it on Instagram and people started saying ‘Paint mine! Paint mine! Paint mine!’” she says. “So all of a sudden I had a business I could do from home while my son was napping.”
Completing the project proved to be difficult. Some days were tough, due to quarantine and a lack of childcare. Her family moved during this time, so she split days between painting a portrait, childcare and settling into a new home. Although she wanted to give up, Instagram was the angel on her shoulder telling her to keep going.
“Putting it out on Instagram and telling everyone that I was going to do this gave me a lot of accountability,” she says. “Whereas I think if I kept this as a silent practice project, there definitely would’ve been times it needed to get put on hold.”
Jarrell remained determined to complete the portraits, walking away with a stronger work ethic.
“I have to carve out this time every day,” she says. “Even if my kid’s gonna be on the floor playing with Legos under my feet, I still have to buckle down and get this done.”
Once she decided to make the series a community project, she realized it could support a good cause. She reached out to Wake Forest Baptist Health, and the project raised more than $10,000 towards their COVID-19 relief fund.
Now that the project is complete, Anna is focusing more on settling into her new home with her husband, Jesse, and 6-year-old son, Will. She’s anxious to continue working on a backlog of paid commissions she has when she’s more settled in her new art studio at her house. She is also excited to get back into another creative process she loves — cooking.
“I love making bread. I do a lot of sourdough bread. Cooking bread is really fun to me. I love the physical process of it,” Jarrell says.
She is also patiently waiting for the state to enter Phase 3 so the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art can open. The portraits will be on display at SECCA as part of an upcoming show, giving subjects the chance to finally see their images in person. The portraits were met with positive reviews by the subjects, but Jarrell is anxious for them to see their portrait outside of Instagram.
Her goal of the project was not only to build better personal relationships with those in her community, but to also give a name and story to those that appeared as just faces to some. She wanted to celebrate the residents of the city while celebrating what she foresees by the time SECCA opens, the community making it to the other side of this pandemic, happily.
To learn more about Anna, follow her on Instagram @ajarrellart and Facebook.