09 - 01
Some portrait commissions fall on me with no forewarning, like this one did, although it came from a former client and someone I knew very well and for whom I had done another portrait earlier of four siblings on one canvas.
This one, however, is about a young boy at the delightful age of 3 years old caught up in his bright red tractor. Now red tractors are truly classic, especially ones large enough to ride on. Or to fix on with real tools. I know my own connections to little boys contain episodes of fixing and unfixing the crib in which they stayed. Every night the gate would collapse, the screws fall out, and the crib door would be dangling in the morning.
So, the benefactor, or the godmother, of this little boy contacted me for the portrait of a charming little man, and the adventure began. The first sitting with introduction to him and his mother happened on a Saturday, as I recall, and I studied him as he shot all around my studio, a ball of energy. Children are not easy to capture in still shots; did I mention that? In any case, seeing your subject in person is vital, because as every artist of any experience at all knows, photographs can lie. Maybe a better way of saying that is that the truths of a photograph are all internal, and frequently not weighed against other objects, like adults, other small children, nightstands and chairs. Even trees can help in
sizing a person.
We discussed what Little Man would wear, what colors one saw in the tractor, and I was left with a pile of photographs to look at to wonder what angle played him and his personality up best. I remember we decided on going with this look because when he was alone, he was most himself, more than when he was with people; he submerged his personality into the internal process of what he worked on, looking out from there at the world of other people. We set up a schedule, made a contract, and figured out times for the follow-up visits. This work was to be captured on a 3′ x 4′ canvas, and I would add a frame to the basic order as my responsibility.
I started out drawing multiple sketches of his face, which I then sent for comments to the parties involved. We settled on sketches; I made adjustments and then began the grisaille, and the imprimatura. Then, the oil painting.
But let me introduce the godmother with her account of the events. Her Story:
“God’s perfect plan is awesome! Little did a 40-year-old professional and a 20-year-old guest at the North Carolina Correctional Center ever think they would form a life-long friendship and a bond that only God could forge. But they did!”
Nancy was an inmate at the NC Correctional Center for a youthful rebellion with drugs that she knew would destroy her. When the judge, a friend of the family, said he would recommend leniency, she refused and accepted both counts of the indictment which meant a felony on her record and many years in prison, because she knew it was the only way to save her life. On one of those years in spring she met Sarah, a member of a Christian mission group to the prisons who were conducting a Christian weekend for a select few of the inmates. Sarah was the sponsor for Nancy’s best friend at the institution. Months after the weekend, Nancy realized her friend was trying to scam Sarah by pretending not to get the package sent and then selling the extras that came, so she wrote Sarah and let her know the truth.
After that, the relationship Sarah had with the friend ended but a new relationship was started with Nancy. Letters of remorse, truths of scripture, and hope through Jesus Christ was shared. Bibles and books were sent and there was always a visit every month in NC Women’s Correctional Center and later at a minimum security prison. Letters were written to the parole board and when Nancy came up for parole, Sarah was there with Nancy’s mother and aunt.
That long awaited day came when Nancy was released to her mother’s home under house confinement for a year. Nancy got a 2-year degree and was a model parolee and model worker. After several years, she married and wanted children, but after years of drug abuse in her youth and diabetes, her hope for children became an ‘it will happen if It is God’s will.’ Nancy was content with leaving it in His hands. A few years before her 40th birthday, she called Sarah who had been her mentor and friend throughout this ordeal and told her the good news. She was pregnant.
She had a healthy, but premature, baby boy. A miracle child! That child is now 5 years old. The portrait of ‘Little Man’ was made at three years old, commissioned by Sarah as a gift to Nancy to represent the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan in a life starting out as a failure, to a life completing God’s plan. Nancy is now completing her degree and going for a masters in her chosen field. She has been selected by her director as a future manager of the regional group in her field.
The visits and calls continue every month and every week, and Gi Gi has been added to Sarah’s name, great God mother. What a blessing!
“The painting is beautiful,” Gi Gi told me, “Nancy had a fit over it!”
And Nancy said about their portrait, “This is the oil painting that will soon grace our home. Now I will always have him with me, in everything I do, will see his sweet little face…. It’s wonderful! I am so amazed by the portrait. I cannot wait until next weekend!”
And so the completed portrait went home to live with Nancy, and I get reports of it from time to time from my dear friend Sarah, or Little Man’s Godmother, Gi-Gi. A portrait painter gets such wonderful connections through her portraits. I love my job.