Family Portrait

Last week I started my first official (paid!) commission at Window Studio. It is for Mr. Michael who works at the shelter across the street. A few weeks ago, he brought in a small family photograph taken at a Christmas celebration and asked if I could do a painting of it. I said I would give it a try.

It has been a new experience working from this kind of photograph. I have never met the people in it, except for Mr. Michael himself, so I found myself trying to feel out what these people are like, their characters and their family dynamic just based on their expressions and subtle body clues in what is a formal posed photo.

I felt that the little girl in the center – with her shimmering yellow dress and bold, petulant gaze – was the darling of the family, while the tallest boy, in his too-large suit hoped to grow into the family protector. And the young woman looks at once proud of being a mother to these fine children, but is still a beauty and a bit of a coquette herself. Maybe I am making all this up as I go along, but it has been fun to partly discover, partly create a visual narrative of pose and gesture for this picture.

And then on Thursday, Mr. Michael and the oldest son stopped in to see how the picture was coming along. They seemed pleased, and even a bit amazed to see themselves in the painting. Even though it is still not finished, I could tell from their reaction that I had captured something right, if not everything. They confirmed that as the only girl with three brothers, the girl in the center was indeed the darling of the family. I had worried that I had made the oldest son look older than he was in the photo, where part of the poignancy is that he still has the half look of a boy while wearing this grown-up suit. But it turns out that the photo is a few years old, so in fact he does look older now, closer to the painting.

“But still, even though I think you are a serious person,  I made you look too serious in the painting,” I told him. His serious face dissolved in a wonderful smile. It’s that smile that I want to capture somehow!

Posted in Pictures in Words.

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