Shortly after the last blog I wrote, my Opa passed away. He was such a pillar in our family, and so it was a great loss to lose him. It's hard to express in words the feelings this stirred up in me. Losing him meant losing not just a special family member, but also losing a connection to my heritage. It's that feeling that life will never be the same again. Who will tell us the stories of adventures growing up in Paraguay? What it felt like escaping persecution in Russia? How to grow sweet potatoes from a ring of vines? Who else will be as impressed with me when I try to play the mandolin?
As I was sorting through photos to put together the slide show for the funeral, I instantly fell in love with two photos of my family from the 1950's having a picnic in Niagara - a year after they all immigrated from Paraguay. It features my Opa, Oma, my mom, my uncle, a few of my great Uncles and Aunts, and my great Opa and Oma. It shows the classiness of that era - wearing sunday best out for a picnic. They brought out their good china, and their wooden chairs. What a beautiful time to live. What a challenging time to live also. I felt the appreciation for what they all did for us... the sacrifices and adventures they lived so that their (our) future generations would be able to live this 'privileged' life.
I found that the best way to remember my Opa and this special heritage was to devote my creative energy to capturing this moment in time. I felt such an instant passion for this art project... the passion I had been waiting for! I began by sketching out the 'characters' with watercolour:
Next I drew out in detail the image on a large wood panel - which I husband built for me. It's approximately 3x4 feet. He painted about four coats of primer on it first.
For this painting I wanted to experiment with a different method... which was perhaps 'risky' (trying something new on a beloved project). I used acrylic paint - which I haven't used since high school. I did a combination of watering it down, and mixing it with a glazing medium. When watered down acrylic paint acts much like watercolour paint. I love this look! As for the glazing, I did multiple thin layers of colour. With the exception of fixing areas, I didn't use white at all. For example - for the flesh tones, I did layers of blue, yellow, red, umber... in this way I approached the painting like I would a watercolour painting.
In the next photo it shows how I first established the tones with pure raw umber paint:
Because this was a whole new method of painting for me, I had to re-do many areas... sometimes as many as 3 or 4 times. Acrylic paint is so tricky! And especially when mixed with a polymer medium... it dries almost as soon as it touches the panel. And so if I wasn't happy with an area, I re-gesso'd it over and over again will I got it 'right'. I eventually embraced the 'rustic' feel of it, with all of its imperfections. I loved the challenge. The background took me 3 tries to get it right:
I ended up combining elements of the two original family photos I found... plus added in a personal detail that the family will appreciate. I'm happy with how it turned out. I'm excited to be working on the next painting in the similar style... another family portrait from the 50's. Stay tuned for updates on the next project!
I live in Southern Ontario on a farm with my husband, Dennis, and our two daughters. Painting out of my studio on our farm allows me to stay close to my family and to be surrounded by the natural landscape that continues to influence my work.