TARPON SPRINGS — In the top-floor studio of her home, with sunlight streaming in from a skylight, Markissia Touliatos is surrounded by the beauty she has created.
Canvases on easels, lining the floor or hanging on walls depict the faces of people from all walks of life. Confidence radiates from a young woman, her head slightly tilted. Determination emanates from the eyes of an old man who has seen more vigorous days. In muted or bright colors, facial expressions of skepticism, dreaminess and contentment are all rendered in oils.
This year, Touliatos was honored with the commission to paint Florida's most recent first ladies in miniature. Carole Crist and Ann Scott have joined 12 previous first ladies whose likenesses are on display in the governor's mansion in Tallahassee.
The portraits of Crist and Scott, each encased in an oval measuring 2 inches by 21/2 inches, are based on photos selected by the two women.
Painting from a photo is a challenge for a portrait painter, Touliatos said. She must capture the essence of the women without being in their presence.
"My portraits all have a sense of life in their faces," she said. "You should think the person is looking right at you."
The Tarpon Springs artist recently attended a luncheon in honor of the latest additions to the gallery of governors' wives. In attendance were Gov. Rick Scott and Ann Scott, along with patrons who have supported the arts in the governor's mansion.
Touliatos, a New York native who has been painting commissioned portraits for more than 35 years, added miniature painting to her repertoire in the mid 1980s. She has won numerous awards in both international and national exhibits.
Locally, her 3-inch miniature of a young girl, a red ribbon atop her upswept hair, won "First in Portrait" at the Miniature Art Society of Florida international exhibition in 2010 at the Dunedin Fine Art Center.
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Sitting at a desk and looking under a magnifying glass on a low stand, Touliatos paints miniatures on ivorine, a synthetic form of ivory. At times, the strain of working meticulously in a 2- or 3-inch area can be stressful and tedious.
"A miniature has to be so perfectly detailed that when you blow it up life-size, every detail holds," she said.
Touliatos tried to render the first ladies, as she has other subjects, in a positive light.
"I paint a person looking like himself or herself on a very good day," she said, "and that is all about skin."
Painting skin is Touliatos' trademark — a skill noted by students at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, where the artist has taught several classes since 2008.
"People come to learn skin tones from me," she said.
The faces of Carole Crist and Ann Scott seem to glow in their 2-inch frames. That glow is the result of a time-consuming method the artist refers to as "the lift off technique."
Using her magnifying glass and a special lamp that produces high-quality lighting with reduced glare, Touliatos creates a healthy, youthful skin by painting with layers of transparent color. She then lifts off portions of the paint with a small brush, little by little, leaving light and shadows and a creamy complexion on her subjects.
She follows two other local women in painting the state's first ladies: the late Jane Blake of Seminole, who painted the first twelve, and Jeanne Donne of Clearwater, who painted the next four but is too ill to continue her art.
Touliatos is happy to have been selected to take on the role of portraying current and future first ladies in miniature. Mostly, she wants to be sure she has captured a sense of the women, however small the pictorial rendition.
"Every minute detail and every single mark must be precise," she said, "so you don't lose the sense of life in the portrait."