DIXON – The eyes seem to watch you as you gaze at the face looking out toward you. It’s difficult to look away.
This is what it’s like during your first look at the large watercolor portrait of Sydni Reubin’s brother, Ross, hanging at Books On First.
“This was part of my senior [college] thesis work,” Reubin, 30, of Dixon said. “The pressure was on, because it was my thesis and it was my brother. It had to be perfect.”
She painted the portrait three times.
“Once you mess something up, you’re done,” Reubin said. “I didn’t realize that [painting in watercolor] was so difficult when I started.”
Her supervisors at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, which she attended from 2005 to 2009, once asked her, “Could you pick anything harder to do?”
“Watercolor seems to come naturally to me,” she said. “I never thought about once you mess up, that’s it.”
The Dixon native has had a longtime passion for painting.
“I always wanted to express myself in that way,” she said, adding she thought it had started in grade school. “I had great art teachers throughout junior high, and my high school teacher, Lisa Kastello, was incredible at fostering that.”
Reubin graduated from Dixon High School in 2005. After her time in Milwaukee, she returned to Dixon, where she now has her studio and home. She has part-time jobs, but painting is her main source of income.
“To be able to do this in a town of 16,000 people is a cool thing,” she said.
In the summer and fall, she attends festivals, and had a special role at the Grand Detour Arts Festival on Sept. 10.
“The Grand Detour experience was a little different for me this year,” she said.
In addition to her regular booth, where she sells her work, the festival committee commissioned a painting for a raffle at the fair. Reubin also did a live painting demonstration. “There were quite a few things going on,” she said.
During the demonstration, she worried she wasn’t talking to people enough.
“You have to find a balance between having a conversation and actually getting some progress made, so they can see the process, but I did fine,” she said.
Her personal work is usually portraits.
“Typically, it’s all figurative,” Reubin said. “So it’s all people. It’s usually people I know, and know pretty well.”
After summer and fall, she’s busy with commission work. That usually takes the form of portraits of people who she doesn’t necessarily know, or pets. The work can take 4 to 6 weeks.
For commission work, Reubin likes to have a chance to meet the subject. When a person sees a painting she’s done of a friend – that perhaps took a year to finish – and wants one just like that, it’s not always easy to tap into that same emotional components in a portrait of someone she doesn’t know.
“Some sort of relationship is helpful,” she said. “I’m able to put a little more emotion into the painting.”
That being said, a lot of her commission work still has had its fair share of emotion.
“A lot of them have been surprises, or of family members who have passed away,” Reubin said. “I’ve been fortunate to get some very heavy, emotional requests lately. It helps to have that connection.”
When it comes to pet portraits, her subjects have mostly been dogs.
“However, I have done a few cat portraits and those have been just as enjoyable,” Reubin said. “I think my own cat has been wondering, ‘When are you going to paint me?’”
She’s also done commissioned work for local businesses. Three of them have been large-scale projects.
At Tipsy, she painted celebrity mugshots for the bar.
“I did 10 for them,” Reubin said. “The smallest one’s 3-feet-by-4-feet. I did that for almost 2 years.”
She also painted four pieces of vintage Dixon scenes for That Place On Palmyra. Somkit, formerly Touch of Thai, which also commissioned two pieces, one of Wrigley Field.
“And one of Som, the restaurant’s namesake, the patriarch of the family who passed away,” she said.
Another restaurant where you can see her watercolors is Orom, 308 W. First St., owned by her mother and stepfather, Lisa and Mark Framke.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to hang my work there, too,” she said. “‘I’ve saturated the market a little bit.”
To contact Sydni
Call, 815-535-8907, e-mail email@example.com or go to facebook.com/sydnireubinartist