Painting portraits - Diane Russell -
Diane Russell, “Portrait of Mel Brown”

On painting portraits > When portrait painter Diane Russell won a scholarship to the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE), we invited her to join us in a Q&A about her art, her challenges, and her experience at FACE. Read more to be inspired.

Cherie Dawn Haas: How and why did you first begin your artistic path?

Diane Russell: I started drawing when I was very young, so I was always artistic. It’s who and what I was, although interestingly I didn’t start taking art classes until college. I had a career in fashion illustration that I thought was going to last forever, but after 27 years in that business, I longed for something more meaningful and found my way back to painting and drawing real people. When I had enough paintings to show, I entered art fairs instead of galleries. I still do several outdoor shows a year, plus a few art walks and temporary gallery shows.

figurative art - Diane Russell -
Diane Russell, “Portrait of Bettye LaVette”. See more of Diane’s figurative art and portraits at

CDH: Was there a specific media or subject matter that drew you in?

DR: I love to draw with charcoal pencils, and paint with oil. I’ve tried other media, but I’m really drawn to those two. I painted with oil in college, but didn’t paint again for over 20 years because of my illustration career. When I started painting again, oil had become too toxic for me. I used acrylic for a number of years until I read that I could paint without solvents, so I was very happy to change back to oils.

As far as subject matter, it’s always been people. I love music, so I started to paint musicians (all from my own photos, so you can often find me right in front of the stage). I’ve since expanded into portraits, both of my family and commissions. Faces, figures, skin tones, hair, eyes, facial expressions. It’s all fascinating and I love the challenge.

Related Article > What I Learned by Painting 30 Portraits of Refugees

figurative art - Diane Russell -
Diane Russell, “Portrait of Pinetop Perkins”

CDH: Aside from the media you use, how has your art changed over time?

DR: Over the years my work has definitely changed from all hard edges and bright colors in the beginning, to a more subtle blending of edges and colors and values. My subjects have changed a little as well, in that I look for those “in between” moments rather than the obvious. I still have a lot to learn, though, so I’ve been taking workshops from some nationally recognized artists to help me along.

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Diane Russell, “Portrait of Liana”

CDH: What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way? And how have you overcome it?

DR: Two things… lack of money and lack of confidence. I’ve slowly built a following by doing art shows, and expanding my offerings such as selling limited edition prints of my paintings, charcoal drawings, and small charcoal studies. There were a lot of years that I barely scraped by and had to borrow against my house. Thankfully Social Security has now taken a little pressure off, but I still live very frugally. As far as confidence goes, I just keep pushing myself anyway, and I see every new painting or drawing as another chance to get it right.

Painting portraits - Diane Russell -
Diane Russell, “Portrait of Darrell Grant”

CDH: How did you originally hear about FACE?

DR: I saw FACE advertised on Facebook, and then noticed that many of the artists that I look up to were going to be there. That is also where I heard about the scholarship, and although I didn’t get accepted the first year I applied, I tried again the following year and was accepted!

Painting portraits - Diane Russell -
Diane Russell, “Portrait of Beth Hart”

CDH: What’s the most important thing you learned or experienced at the Figurative Art Convention?

DR: I loved the demos, just watching the different approaches that each artist had with their paintings. And I am still referring to the notes that I took during those demos. I also appreciate the time that each artist took to answer questions, and I have stayed in touch with many of the artists and people that I met during the conference. I am very grateful for this experience, and would recommend it to every artist who wants to improve their work and expand their career.

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  • And more!