Robin Damore: Painter

Fine Portrait Artist

Robin Damore was 45 years old when she first picked up a paintbrush. At the time, she was part owner of an advertising agency and had been drawing on the side for a few years. Encouraged by the progress she was making with her drawings, Damore signed up for a week long painting class led by Russian master painter Leonid Gervits. Damore was the only student enrolled with no painting experience, and it proved to be a challenging week for her. But by the end of the course, Damore had not only completed her first oil portrait, she had also been invited to join Gervits in New York to continue her training.

That was twelve years ago. Today, Robin Damore makes her living as an artist, painting portraits as well as working on a host of other projects. It is a path that she readily admits has not come easily. “There is this myth that it’s all about talent, that somehow you either have it or you don’t,” Damore says. “I think I have some talent, but I’ve worked really hard to develop it. I’ve practiced a lot and I think practice is a big part of creating excellence and mastery.”

Damore’s quest for excellence is part of the reason why she is so drawn to realism. “I look at abstract art and I wonder, how do you know if you’re getting better? How do you know if you’re improving?” she says. And though Damore has experimented with landscapes and still lifes, portraiture is where her true passion lies. “It is very much considered an old-fashioned approach to art, and some people think it’s out of style,” she says. “But it is the kind of art that lasts for hundreds of years and it means something to the people who have their children or their parents captured there. It means something to their families in the future.”

For Damore, the key to a successful portrait is all in the client’s reaction. “I know some portrait artists are looking for, ‘What’s quirky about this person?’ or, ‘What can say the most about me as an artist capturing this subject?’” she explains. “For me, it’s always, ‘What can say the most about this subject in how I capture them?’ The click is to capture the soul, but really I want to capture their attitude. I want for you to look at it and say, ‘That is definitely this person.’ When I do a commission, I basically guarantee the likeness and the delight of the client or they can’t have it,” she adds with a laugh.

Much of Damore’s commissioned portrait work is based in the South, where she says portraiture is still a valued tradition. Damore travels there several times a year, taking resource photos of clients and then returning to her studio in NW Portland to paint. She takes on local projects as well, such as the installation she created for the pediatric ward at OHSU, and the re-imagined portraits of whiskey legends like Jack Daniels that she’s working on for Portland’s upcoming Multnomah Whiskey Library. Another of her favorite projects is creating yearly Santa portraits, some of which have been used for Christmas cards by Neiman Marcus.

Damore recently collaborated with SoulPancake.com, cofounded by actor Rainn Wilson. The site’s web series “Art Attack” features time-lapse videos of artists working on an original piece from start to finish, whether it be a sculpture, print, or in Damore’s case, a portrait of Wilson himself. Damore likes that the film gives insight into her painting process, highlighting the work it takes to get a portrait just right.

About The Author: Katie Mitchell