Wedding Photographer

San Antonio photographer, painters elevate portraits to works of art

Photographer Kevin G. Saunders is acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with taking someone’s portrait.

“150 years ago, Indigenous people were terrified of photography because they thought they were going to steal their souls,” Saunders said. “So I always thought, what if there was something to this?” What if I steal your soul? Then I have the responsibility to really take care of it. And return it in better condition than when I took it.

Saunders is one of several San Antonio artists who specialize in portraiture. Others include the painters Giovanna DiZurita, who often incorporates symbolism into her portraits; and Victoria Morales, whose work includes live wedding painting. When they and other portrait painters do their job well, it goes beyond simply capturing a likeness, a task easily accomplished by just about anyone with a cell phone. A good portrait conveys something about the subject’s life and what makes them special.

Saunders, 65, has been involved in photography for much of his life. Growing up in Amarillo, he learned a lot from his father, whom he described as “a very gifted amateur”. His father taught Saunders how the camera worked, including how to determine lighting, since the camera he was working with did not have a light meter.

He learned more than mechanics, however.

“I learned from an early age to see. And that’s really what it takes,” he said. “He has enough courage to capture that image back then.”

It comes down to something famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment” – a fraction of a second that captures the essence of what is being photographed.

“Cartier-Bresson was right. It’s the defining moment of knowing that’s it,” Saunders said. “And I don’t see it. I feel it. I don’t even have to look at it barely. It’s a perception, an energy, a matter of timing.

The work of San Antonio-based portrait painter Kevin Saunders includes large-scale imagery.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

Saunders specializes in large-scale painterly images like the one visitors to his Blue Star Arts Complex studio see as soon as they cross the threshold. It is an enormous portrait of a ballerina skillfully executing a grand throw, her face relaxed and confident.

“She did it in this space,” he said. “It only took six tries. I had to have my legs at 180 degrees, no tension in his face.

Saunders decided to focus on portraiture in 2014 after spending years devoting much of his energy to cityscapes. He studied the work of two portrait masters: Golden Age painter John Singer Sargent and 20th century photographer Yousuf Karsh.

“I realized there was a divergence that I could capitalize on, that Instagram and Facebook and digital were going to capture the masses and yet there was a place to do portraits worthy of leaders,” he said. -he declares.

Earlier this year he completed a two-year project to create a mobile portrait studio. He duplicated the equipment he has in his spacious San Antonio space, including movie-style lighting and a backdrop, and tested it all on a trip to Miami. Things went well, and going forward, her goal is to make 10 trips a year to high-end destinations.

The success of the studio is encouraging. The pandemic has been difficult for his business, as he cannot do his work remotely. His studio had 300 clients in 2019. So far this year, he’s had three. He thinks the business will come back, he said. And he is determined to hold on.

“I’m very grateful to have come this far, because I just know that I was put on this world to leave a mark like this,” he said.

Kevin G. Saunders’ The website is kgsstudios.com.

Artist Giovanna DiZurita's work includes portraits, in which she incorporates symbols that represent aspects of the subject's life.

Artist Giovanna DiZurita’s work includes portraits, in which she incorporates symbols that represent aspects of the subject’s life.

Giovanna DiZurita

Symbols in faces

Giovanna DiZurita does many different things – she teaches art classes, designs clothes and accessories, and creates mixed media paintings that have been exhibited around the world. Portraits have always been in the mix.

These days, her portraits include fun, cartoon-like digital images that she can make quickly. She is often hired to make them for children.

When she started, she says, she said yes to every opportunity that came her way, including portraits. Very quickly, they became a passion for her, so meaningful are they.

“I’ve noticed that portraits tend to be something very close to the heart of the client, and so it’s become something I really enjoy doing,” said DiZurita, 29. “Most of the time they tend to be either portraits of the day they got married or someone who died.

She works from photographs, but before she starts painting, she always chats, either in her studio or on Zoom, to familiarize herself with her subject. If it’s a memorial portrait, she’ll ask for a favorite memory and what the subject looked like. If she’s painting someone alive, she asks about their life, their favorite color, how they met their spouse – anything that might give her insight she can put on the canvas.

“I like to take in all the information rather than just say, ‘Oh, okay, that’s the face, I’ll paint it,'” she said. “I really want to tap into the client’s emotions about the person – is it excitement, is there a little sense of melancholy about it? And do you want the person to feel very alive and dynamic because that was her personality, or do you want her to be more classy and calm?That’s what I like to capture.

These conversations are also important because she wants to make sure the portraits reflect her clients’ perspective of the people she paints.

“People say, ‘That’s the only photo I have, but can you make her a little skinnier or a little chubby because the photo makes her look very skinny when she wasn’t,'” she said. “It’s very interesting that everyone has their own interpretation of how they saw them.”

Those who look closely at his work can pick up clues to important moments in the subject’s life.

“Sometimes I like to incorporate hidden messages, dates or symbols inside the portrait,” she said. “Let’s say they got married on a certain date. I can add it in her hair or in a flower she wears. Or if they’re deceased, I can add the day they were born, the day they left, things like that, just to honor the person.

She created a few self-portraits, including one that included this kind of symbolism.

“It was a very cool painting, because I could tell right away it was me, but also symbolically it was my whole story in one face,” she said. “That was very cool.”

Giovanna DiZurita’s website is dizurita.com.

Artist Victoria Morales' work includes live-action wedding portraits.  She begins them during the ceremony, then completes them in her workshop.

Artist Victoria Morales’ work includes live-action wedding portraits. She begins them during the ceremony, then completes them in her workshop.

Victoria Morales

Paint through the hustle

Victoria Morales had a circuitous route to her career as a portrait painter. The self-taught artist loved to draw as a child, and working on sketchbooks helped her overcome bone cancer when she was diagnosed in her second grade. But when choosing a career, she wasn’t sure she could make a living as an artist. She first tried to teach and then to work in human resources, two jobs that did not quite suit her.

Then, while planning her wedding, she came across Pinterest posts about the art of marriage, including portraits of the happy couple that guests were invited to sign. Rather than hire another artist to create one for her wedding, which was in February 2020, she did it herself. This sowed the seed of a new business. When she returned from her honeymoon, she started digging into the world of art and weddings.

“I learned even more about live wedding painting and how custom art can be incorporated into weddings and everyday life – pet portraits, family portraits, studio commissions,” said said Morales, 27. “I’ve seen other artists do this and I knew in my heart, I’m meant to do this. This is what I want to do.

She started a business, Victoria’s Visuals, which includes live wedding painting.

When couples engage Morales, she comes to their wedding and paints throughout, usually capturing either a moment from the ceremony or the first dance. She often draws on the skills she acquired during her brief stint as a teacher.

“I’m used to having to do things on the fly and working in chaos,” she said. “It helped me make art and stay focused in a very noisy environment with lots of bustle and fun things around me.”

Her goal is to complete the background, such as the couple’s faces, while she is at the wedding venue. She completes each portrait in her studio, sometimes adding elements requested by newlyweds, including images of deceased loved ones.

At the request of couples, she also sometimes makes small quick paintings of guests at the reception, working with a watercolor pen.

“It’s entertainment, but it’s also a favor, a pleasure to take away from marriage,” she said.

Starting a new business during the pandemic has been a challenge, but she’s glad she took the risk.

“I love drawing and I just didn’t know how I could make it my life’s work,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have found him.

“I think another thing that’s cool is that everything being very digital these days, I feel like a real painting or a memory or something special for you is being captured through custom artwork is like bringing something from the past to the new day and age. You don’t see it as much anymore. That’s why it’s really special.

Victoria Morales’ website is victoriasvisuals.com.

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