Lasting first impressions: Chattanooga artists sketching portraits during MainX24 party

Lasting first impressions: Chattanooga artists sketching portraits during MainX24 party

December 1st, 2013 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Caleb Goggans is one of five instructors from Townsend Atelier who will do portraits at Midnight in Paris on Saturday during Main X 24. In this photo, he is painting an attendee at last year's party.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

James Courtenay James, a graphic artist for 40 years, began oil painting full-time seven years ago.

James Courtenay James, a graphic artist for 40...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If You Go

* What: Midnight in Paris.

* When: 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday.

* Where: Townsend Atelier, 201 W. Main St.

* Tickets: $10 per person

* Information:

Mia Bergeron studied oil painting in Florence, Italy, before moving to Chattanooga in 2006. James Courtenay James built a 40-year career in graphic design before transitioning full-time into oil portraits seven years ago.

But for one night, the painters will recall their "starving artist" days and become Parisian street painters as part of Townsend Atelier's "Midnight in Paris" party.

Midnight in Paris is one of numerous events this coming Saturday during MainX24, the 24-hour event in South Chattanooga. Stan and Peggy Townsend launched the Parisian-themed costume party at last year's MainX24 and, it was such a success, they are hosting "Part Deux."

"We are not a gallery, we are a school," Peggy Townsend says. "We wanted to do something where the public could participate. There are so many great ideas and creative people who came from 1920s Paris -- writers to artists to photographers -- that we thought it would be rich with inspiration for people to dress up and celebrate the era."

A large Eiffel Tower, bistro tables and street artists will create the Parisian setting inside Townsend Atelier.

Sculptor Maria Willison will demonstrate clay relief, working with one model for the night, but taking commissions for other sculpted portraits. Durinda Cheek will paint landscapes and streetscapes for sale. James Courtenay James, Mia Bergeron and Caleb Goggans will sketch guests' portraits for a fee. All five artists are instructors at Townsend Atelier

First impressions really are lasting when it comes to portraiture, say Bergeron and James. The artist has seconds in which to gather impressions of the subject and create a likeness, he explains.

"It's very much off the top of the head in that timeframe," he says. "These are quick, loose impressions. I try to capture a feeling based on their costume. You can usually wind up with suggestions of the person by capturing features of the subject: shape of the face, nose, cheeks. There are a number of features that suggest a lot very quickly," he describes.

Although James says the artist has to "dive right in" -- there isn't time to chat with subjects to get a feel for their personalities -- their work isn't a slap-dash effort to hurry one customer along for the next.

"Most people have the impression it's done quickly, working straight across the page from corner to corner. But you build art in layers. I'll begin with a rough outline, or the block-in, then add more details over and over until I have something," says James.

Bergeron says each work takes about 20 minutes "or until the person gets antsy." Each subject leaves the sitting with an original piece of art in oil that can make a party souvenir or a one-of-a-kind Christmas gift. Subjects are asked to make a donation of $5 to $20, but some give more in their excitement over their finished work, she says.

"I've gotten $5 to $300. I've had some who didn't like their results, and those are usually the $5," she jokes. "I work on the donation basis because I like people to have original artwork. Original art shouldn't be only for those with money," she states.

Midnight in Paris offers partygoers one last chance to have a portrait painted by Bergeron. The 33-year-old -- who was introduced to local art patrons six years ago after winning a spot as an Emerging Artist in the 4 Bridges Festival -- says she plans to quit professional portraits and will be transitioning into figurative work.

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.