3 & 1/2 Questions: Bill Sullivan


The artist (above) with a very personal piece.


I want to introduce you to New York-based artist Bill Sullivan, an accomplished painter/photographer/publisher who, like Chuck Close, has also specialized in portraits in his career. Bill’s photo-realistic oil paintings are a contrast to Justin Garnsworthy’s loose molten-plastic portraits we featured last week. The work presented here were all from “People I Know,” shown at the Sasha Wolf Gallery in downtown NYC.

We’re so lucky that busy Bill had time to “sit down with us” for an interview!


Can you tell us a bit about your work process?

  1. After choosing a model, I photograph the person quite close in several different lighting situations. The way the light shapes the face is probably the single most important thing about the whole process and eventual outcome. You can take the same face in light of four different ways and sculpturally it will be an entirely different thing each time. After taking 200 or so photographs those are edited down to about 10 which I study for a while and eventually decide on a single one to really begin to fine-tune.
  2. The next step is building a very accurate mock-up of where the eventual portrait goes.
  3. Then I paint directly from a 17 inch laptop, projecting the image onto the canvas.
  4. I double-check the accuracy of the painting by photographing and overlaying it over the original image, repeating this five or six times.

And at the end of the process the two become the nearly the same.


How long does it take to produce one of these masterpieces?

From beginning to end, it usually takes about a month including the photography and mock-up stage. The oil paint takes about 3 to 4 days to dry for each coat so the painting part takes about three weeks or so.


How old were you when you did your first painting?

It’s funny—I’ve been doing this since I was about 16 or 17, so for over 30 years. It was a skill I knew I had quite early on: to create a likeness of someone that people found interesting or pleasing on some level.


Please fill in the blank: I like to draw __.


Bill’s work is proof that having good reference to work from can really make a difference in your final drawing. Good lighting provides highlights and shadows that help shape your drawings and make them more life-like. While his impressive technique can blow us away, KCD wants stress that this is only ONE style of working, and is not necessarily the goal for everyone to work this way. We encourage everyone to develop their own voice with practice (and to share them in our shows).

Thanks for sharing your work with us Bill! To see more of his amazing portraits or other projects, click here. Please tell us what you like most about Bill’s work below.

All images courtesy of Bill Sullivan.


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