June Chen Ahleman creates oil portraits and is a student at Chicago Waldorf School. Her portraits include the face and/or other aspects of the human form.
Some works are smaller, but most are quite large and can range up to 4 x 8 feet. She is often painting on a three-step stool to reach the top of the work. Her portraits are intended to represent the identity of the whole person; not just their image.
As a senior in high school, Ahleman’s art studio and supplies have taken over the guest room in her family home including propping the large wooden painting panels against the tarp-covered walls.
She often uses a paper palette pad which enables quick cleanups, and her digital technology has multiple uses for planning and viewing. The room does not have an overhead light, so Ahleman paints using two floor-standing lights.
Artwork time is after her homework is done, usually at night. Her love of portraiture also means that she sketches lots of faces, and currently is sketching daily self-portraits often during downtime at school.
Ahleman describes her process as highly “planning oriented.” She creates a list of ideas mostly pertaining to the conceptual identity of the subject person – traditionally called the “sitter.” She wants to see more Asian people in artworks, so that is often important when developing her idea list.
The plan for her portrait is strongly based on her interview with the subject that helps her understand more of who they are and what interests them. This prepares her to make a painting representing their physical characteristics and an amount of authentic essence as well.
Ahleman says, “I want to avoid exploiting looks, so I gather their ideas, too.” This all goes into her painting plan and schedule. She also takes and references several photographs of the subject .
Her next step is to create sketches of the overall images. When her sketches are pleasing, she scales them up for the large white toned paint surface by either “eye-balling” each sketch or using a projector.
She notes, “My favorite is the nose, so I start there. The nose is so distinctive and sets the person apart.” Ahleman’s style is to paint element by element with each complete before moving to the next. First the nose, then the eye, then the rest of the face.
She then moves on to other elements that represent the person working from her sketch and plan. Mixing her colors takes most of the project time. She explains, “Skin color never shows up the same in two places on the face.” So there are many separate and unique colors in portraiture.
While creating the painting, Ahleman might again visit with the subject for discussion and feedback. She sometimes records the interviews for reference later. She wants the painting to reveal more of the whole person. A portrait, yes, but a more developed authentic personal portrayal as well.
Once she completes the painting, she prepares it for exhibition or it may hang in their home.
Ahleman joined Evanston Made when she was in middle school and founder Lisa Degliantoni has been very supportive of her. With all sincerity, Ahleman says, “It makes a difference to have people who believe in me.”
If you want to see more of her art, she has a solo exhibition, Identity and Fortune, of new work on March 4-5 at the 1100 Florence Gallery. Also, visit her website here or on Instagram or at Evanston Made.