I have the luxury of being a painter, and I specialize in portraiture. I have painted portraits for others of their deceased loved ones where there is no emotional attachment for me. What is it like to paint your own deceased loved one?
I recently completed an oil portrait of my dad, who passed way in September of 2017. I spent sixty-four of my dad’s eighty three years either with him or knowing he was only a phone call away. I have lost grandparents before but this was the first time losing a parent. He was not the parent I thought I would lose first. And it was hard. To this day I still find it hard to believe he is gone.
My impetus to paint my dad’s portrait was as a gift for my brother. I had done a colored pencil of my dad many years ago and that has gone to my sister. Perhaps it was easier to begin the process of this painting because it was a gift, not solely for me.
I chose the photo we used for my dad’s obituary as my reference. It was a fairly recent image of him and we all liked it. I selected my surface, gathered my paints and brushes and got to work.
Rather than doing a preliminary sketch I decided to just draw with my paintbrush directly onto the canvas. His face was so familiar to me after all. I must admit the likeness came fairly easily.
Interesting things happened. Was his face always this ruddy? My dad lived in the Atlanta area and played tennis year round practically, whether it be cold or blazing hot. His skin had been subjected to much sunshine. I can’t say the same for mine living in Rochester. As I painted I saw resemblances and shared family features with my siblings, my paternal grandparents, and myself. The process was becoming a history lesson of sorts. It was a study in genealogy. It was constant discovery. Each day of painting was a joy rather than grief. It really was cathartic.
As I painted I began to ‘talk’ with my dad (in my head of course, although if I was alone in the studio I am not so sure that I didn’t talk out loud sometimes without knowing it). I relived memories, conversations my dad and I had had over the years, and of course as with all of us, had some regrets. It was quite an experience.
I enjoyed the process so much that I now intend to paint my Grams (my maternal grandmother with whom I was extremely close) and maybe even my late first husband, Doug. I have painted Doug as part of paintings for each of my children but never as a sole portrait. This one will be really hard but after this past experience might be well worth it.
I know there are many others who have painted portraits of their deceased loved ones in the past, and are in the process of doing so now but I wanted to share my experience. My studio mates of the Main Street Artists were very encouraging as they always are. I am truly grateful to be surrounded by wonderfully supportive friends. Thank you all!q
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