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
For commission inquiries please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Suzi – I have also done portraits of loved ones who have passed and it can be very rewarding thinking of their lives while working on their image. You have a wonderful gift.
How very nice…a painting of your dad, which is extremely well done, assures somewhat of an immortality for him to the generations in your family that will follow. I’m sure it will be treasured by many.
Thank you Sandy! I have another painting I will be doing of him soon. Stay tuned!
Every day I enjoy the drawing you did of my husband Clif nine years ago. It’s one of my most prized possessions. Thank you, Suzi! You are amazing!
Thank you Barbara. I think of Clif with fondness.
Wonderful painting I am sure he heard you talking to him . I want to do one of my Dad soon too! It will be something you can always look at with love. I did prints on canvas of the one I did of my father in law and gave to Gary’s brothers. They loved it!
Thanks Lauren. I highly recommend painting your dad. It is a way to memorialize our loved ones through the filter of our own emotions, experiences and mind’s eye, more so than a photograph. I had prints made of my Dad’s portrait and gave them to my sister, one for myself, and for each of my nephews as well as my kids. My bother has the original now.
Suzie, for twelve years I have treasured the wonderful painting you painted of my deceased husband, David. It was a wonderful surprise gift from you, thank you so much again! Your talent continues to grow as evident in the wonderful painting of your father. What a lucky brother to have the original.
Thanks Sandy! If I painted that same portrait of Dave now it would be even better than years ago!