An Interview with Portrait Artist Sonia Hale

At what point in your life did you realize you were an Artist? 

I was born an artist and knew from the age of five that that was a part of my identity.  In 

early grade school I realized I was living in and viewing the world with a visual 

perceptiveness unlike most of my classmates and friends.

In addition, when I got a 100% on a spatial relations test in school, my parents knew I 

had an inherent 3D comprehension, which most likely comes from my maternal 

grandfather, who was a gifted tool and die maker in the Bridgeport, CT area. Family 

folklore is that he was asked to help with one of Howard Hughes’ planes in California 

and in New York with the development of the atomic bomb, called The Manhattan 

Project (the later of which he declined). 

Sonia, what was it that led you to painting to be your creative medium?

I was enthralled by oil paints from the time I found a starter set abandoned up in my 

attic when I was in late grade school. I yearned to be able to paint far ahead of my years 

and my school art class's abilities to teach. 

A family friend, who was an artist, advised that I take drawing classes prior to painting, 

so that my painting would have correct structure. That was incredible advice for that 

period of time in art in the 70's when realistic art was not in vogue. Creative expression 

was favored over learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting, as a later teacher 

would call it, "The Language of Art." I was enrolled in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' 

art class program and was able to view master works and to draw and paint in the 

galleries. The art world was less cautious then, prior to the Isabella Stewart Gardner 

Museum thefts. I glimpsed the behind-the-scenes of the museum on my way to art class: 

I walked through long hallways with crated paintings and other art objects casually 

stored along the way. Art class was always the place where I felt most at home and with 

kindred spirits, though I did very well academically. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a Portrait Artist?

When I saw the John Singer Sargent painting, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, at 

the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The painting is very large and made an equally large 

impression on me. I saw how beautifully he captured each daughter in such a painterly 

way. His flowing brushstrokes spoke to me.  I devoted myself to a decade of study and 

mentoring to learn, as a third-generation student of John Singer Sargent.  I was pleased 

to have learned how to draw in my many classes at Harvard University's Carpenter 

Center, as well as an undergraduate at Colby College (I had been accepted to Tufts 

University’s engineering program, but ultimately chose to attend Colby.), and was ready 

to begin the process of painting the face—the most challenging subject there is!

What compels you to get out of bed in the morning?

I am driven to discover the visual truth in what I see. Painting is about showing how you 

see the world—I am moved every day by the beauty around me and there are many 

paintings I see, but do not paint, as there are not the hours in the day. My training, which 

comes from John Singer Sargent, is that one does not just paint portraits, or they will 

never become a fully developed artist, so I paint still lives and landscapes as well, and 

enjoy this very much as well. If I can share the beauty that I see with others who do not 

have the opportunity to study it as I do, and they are equally moved, then I have done my 

day's work.

What are you looking to capture in your portraits?

My goal in my portraits is to bring forth the best day of the person I am painting. I am 

capturing them at their best moment.  When clients, portrait subjects and parents are 

moved, often to tears, I know I have done my job at its peak and that makes my efforts so 

worthwhile.

What are some of your prized Portraits, where you felt you'd worked at your 

highest level?

I am honored to paint all my portrait subjects and learn so much from each person I 

meet. Here are a few of my favorite paintings.

Do you have any special anecdotes you'd like to share?

Before I had really received much training, I was told my style was painterly (this is 

correct). I was very surprised when I was told I painted like Matisse in one of my first art 

classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts at the age of about twelve. Back then class was 

not so much about teaching, as letting students draw and paint during class with very 

little input. So I was described as painting like Matisse, which was meant as a 

compliment and is very nice, but there was so much I wanted to learn about portraying 

form. I still have that painting of a green bottle with a large white highlight on it. I would 

go on to learn to draw and paint in a more realistic manner, challenging myself to learn 

from the top artists in the country, taking workshops and classes nationwide. 

I revel in the range of days and experiences I have, as well as the wonderful artists I have 

had the opportunity to meet and paint with. It is truly a privilege to be an artist. I have 

spent days meeting wonderful people of all ages to paint their portraits. I have painted 

on the banks of the Seine. Some more amusing times have been rummaging through 

closets of my portrait subjects, to help select clothing which will translate well to a 

painted portrait. I feel very fortunate to share the journey of others' lives, in paint.

What recommendations do you have for those who will be painted? How can 

a client be ready for their portrait session and achieve the most out of your 

abilities?

 

The things that clients can do are to choose 3-5 outfits and to be themselves. They will 

have input in the process, so they can relax and we will find our way together. Their best 

self will be depicted in the painting. They can trust I was bring forth the best in them.