I love to paint hair, strange as that may seem. Straight, wavy, curly, wispy—all are challenging and fun for a portrait artist. My first most successful paintings of my oldest granddaughters were views of the backs of their heads, with them looking at themselves in a playground mirror: Izzy with her straight hair and Maddie with the curls.
It’s no wonder that I was immediately attracted to Whitney Browne’s portrait of a striking African-American woman with a magnificent head of hair. I worked hard to do justice to her spectacular do and, though she may not be one at all, to be able to call her Diva…
Mirror, Mirror | Izzy
Mirror, Mirror | Maddie
I’ve sworn off surprising friends and family with portraits, though I continue to paint them. If you follow my blog, you may remember that I had egg on my face last Thanksgiving, when I thought I was surprising my son and daughter-in-law with the gift of a painting of her with her new baby girl, Mila—except I had painted Mila’s sister Lasa instead, mistakenly thinking it was Mila Gunny was holding in the photograph. So now, here is our fifth granddaughter, Mila Grey, in her mother’s arms, full of sweetness and light, giving us everything that money can’t buy. Sigh…
Today our gorgeous, brilliant and hilarious granddaughter, Maddie, turns 15. (I know I’m her grandmother, but I’m not exaggerating.) She fills our lives with laughter and joy and makes us proud of the amazing young woman she has become. Happy birthday, Maddie!
My winter project in Florida this year is to paint my three oldest granddaughters as they look now, to replace some paintings hanging in my condo here that I did of them when they were very little and I was just beginning to paint. It’s so much harder to capture people you know and love and are emotionally tied to than strangers, who can be reduced to pure patterns and measurements. There’s much more pressure to get the likeness right. Someone I once knew liked to say that everything easy is done already, and that is certainly true of portraiture. I’m no Michelangelo, but painting a portrait is 95% agony and 5% ecstasy…and only if you actually achieve the likeness. Believe it or not, that 5% is enough to bring you back to paint another. So here I am, already working on the next portrait…
I sat down to write this post just before Thanksgiving, a time when I always give thanks for my children, who are my greatest accomplishment, and my grandchildren, who fill my life with a joy beyond words. This year on July 30th, we welcomed our fifth granddaughter, Mila, to the world. Ever since our first granddaughter, Isabelle, was born, I have drawn or painted the girls, so no surprise that I felt the urge to paint Mila. When my daughter-in-law’s sister posted a photo on Facebook, I knew that I would paint this portrait of a beautiful mother and child. I just assumed it was Mila she was holding. Imagine my surprise today, when I gave them the painting, to find that the photo was taken two years ago, and it was Mila’s sister Lasa in her arms! I painted the wrong baby! So here is a portrait of my dear daughter-in-law, Sinthisone, known as Gunny…and stay tuned for a portrait of Mila.
My Darling Girl
Sixteen years ago today, our first grandchild, Isabelle, was born in NYC. A natural born leader, Izzy taught us how to be grandparents, named us Granny & Rich (I might have preferred Gramps & Nance, but it wasn’t to be), and has continued to dazzle us ever since. I first painted her offering me a sweet kiss on a beautiful day—not the last time I painted her, but the only time I’ve painted me. Happy sweet sixteen, Izzy!
There’s something very intimate about painting portraits. The act of studying a face intently, reproducing its planes and contours on a canvas, seeing it emerge until your subject is looking back at you…is exceedingly personal. Many artists have fallen in love with their muses, but I contend that even painting from a photograph provides a connection between painter and subject that gives me, at least, that feeling of intimacy that informs the work.
My granddaughters have been frequent subjects of mine, always drawn from photographs. I’ve been painting them for the last fifteen years, completely smitten with them all. Lasa Grey is my son’s first child, about to celebrate her first birthday, and this is the second time I’ve painted her. The beautiful infant I couldn’t take my eyes off of last summer is growing and walking and giggling and delighting us all.
As any grandparent will tell you, grandchildren are life’s greatest gift, one of the few experiences in which the reality exceeds your expectations. I have been blessed with four beautiful granddaughters, Lasa Grey being the newest.
Mirror, Mirror | Izzy
Mirror, Mirror | Maddie
Completely besotted with all of my girls, I’ve painted them each several times over the years. My favorite paintings of Izzy and Maddie show them looking at their own reflections in an old mirror at a playground in Nantucket, when Izzy was four and Maddie two.
The portrait of Cassie in sunglasses at the beach is a reminder that she’s had attitude from the get go.
No Autographs, Please
Today my husband and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. The two kids (19 and 25 years old) who married that August night have two extraordinary married children and four amazing granddaughters to remind us how blessed we are.
I’m always flattered when someone thinks that I did this portrait of my handsome prince, but it was painted by Debra Freeman Highberger, a wonderful artist and the woman who let me draw for eight months in her painting class before she handed me my first canvas and gave me the gift of art.