A Mother’s Day Portrait

At Window Studio, I am often asked to paint portraits of family members. Sons, in particular, want portraits of their mothers. But one day last winter, a woman came in and asked if I would paint a portrait of her son. She showed me the photo in her phone that she wanted me to use – a teenager in a Polo vest and watch cap striking a street-wise pose. I explained that I would be happy to paint the portrait from the photo, but that it usually came out better if I met the person, even if briefly, to see him/her in life. But as I was speaking, I got the feeling that would not be possible. She told me he a had died two years ago at the age of 18 while playing basketball. He apparently had an undiagnosed heart condition. By eerie coincidence, her son, who I will call Daquan, was born on November 26, the same date as my oldest son's birthday, though Daquan was 6 years younger.

I set to work on the portrait, which was the first full length portrait I have done. Perhaps because of the importance of getting it right, I spent a lot of my time working on everything else but Daquan's face. The sneakers, the vest, the the pattern in the rug... And whenever I worked on the face, I felt it wasn't right, and went back to painting the sneakers, the vest, the rug!

Daquan's mother had asked for the portrait to be done in time for her birthday in mid April, and I began to feel that I would never get it right. I would text her pictures of the portrait in progress, and she was always very patient. "It is coming along, but I don't see Daquan yet."

Finally she suggested that she come in to the studio to work with me on the face. She and her daughter came one evening, and together we adjusted it: the eyes slightly rounder, the brow not so heavy, he was dark but not that dark, he had a slight dimple in his chin...until she suddenly said, "Stop, that's it, now I see Daquan!"

The funny thing is that when she came back to pick it up a week later with her friend, the friend said, "It looks like Daquan, but you know, it really looks more like you!" Which is true.

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