Works in Progress

Artist's Father (Portrait Workings)

I painted a portrait of my father while he was visiting in April. We hadn't seen each other in a couple of years (traveling between Vermont and Haukipudas seems so simple, but coordinating the schedules of two families with odd job hours and young kids can be frustratingly complicated), so it was a great opportunity to catch up and for him to meet the grandkids for the first time. I don't mean to sound grim, but as we don't know when we'll see each other again, I wanted to paint my father's portrait to capture the memory of his visit and our time together. That does sound a bit morose, especially since we're in contact on a weekly basis, and his visit was upbeat, fun and like a harbinger of spring when everything was covered in snow and ice.

This is the portrait right at that stage after I have finished the underdrawing, still in the first sitting. I totally spaced on taking a photograph (for posterity) of the underdrawing, so you'll just have to believe me that it exists under the paint. I thought I would have a difficult time drawing my father due to me being self-conscious or nervous. It's not an unfounded worry - I've been tripped up by my nerves when I have tried to draw or paint my mother. But now that I think about it, that was probably due to the fact that my mother is an accomplished artist, and I got a bit of stage fright. It also didn't help that she would stare back at me and smile - staring back at the portraitist is a sure way to unnerve him/her and get a wacky portrait. (My father appropriately, and with my direction, chose a 'lost-in-thought' pose, which is quite natural for him.)

This is how the portrait looked after the second sitting. I was using only natural light, so I had to contend with some cloudy days and one day where the sun beamed down and nearly burned my retinas (or so it felt, after months of seemingly no sun at all). My father was sat next to the kitchen window, which faces south. Using just north-facing windows at this latitude is a bit too dark, at least in my studio. Any questions? Ok, moving on...

So at this point my father has already arrived back home in Vermont, and I have to work from photographs of the sittings to complete the background and shirt. I used this portrait as a 'work-in-progress' demonstration at the Oulu Construction (Builders') Fair (see my post from the same fair the year before here), which I realize now, is asking for trouble when the model is not present. I painted some funny shapes in the shirt and didn't know how to get myself out of such a painting predicament in front of a (sparse) crowd. Though one could argue that all my paintings consist basically of funny shapes, so what was the problem. The problem was that I couldn't explain my abstraction style or why I was painting a portrait upside down to every passerby.

Here is the finished portrait. Instead of painting a definite background, I decided to focus on creating an atmosphere that complemented the pose and that also hinted at my father's affection for Finland and Finnish culture. His shirt and vest reminded me of traditional Finnish clothing, and the cloth pattern implied in the background is referenced from a Marimekko pattern from the 1960's.

*humming* Back in the again.

Non-art paraphernalia had invaded my studio space again whilst my time was otherwise occupied elsewhere... for over two months. I cracked open the doors, chased away the spiders and man-shed tools (kitchen remodel, 3-year epic), disposed of the burnable trash that was threatening to walk out the door by itself and made peace with the relocated computer desk now eating up a third of my working space. (I'm still on the lookout for any local, cheap, available studio space that doesn't include incorrigible toddlers...anyone?)

The studio isn't the only one needing a dust-up - my eyes and hands need to get back into the practice of working together. I started with charcoal sketching for two oil portraits and a self-portrait, seen above. To break up the sessions of intense staring at details (and wondering if I will need bifocals at the tender age of 32), I have also started work on a large acrylic abstraction. I didn't plan on taking such a long hiatus from the studio this summer, I had a painting schedule all planned out around both a husband-on-holiday and kitchen-remodel schedule, but it got shelved while I was sofa'd. Stuck on the sofa, generally being a nuisance with pathetic cries/moans of 'I feel nauseous!' and twiddling my thumbs, waiting to get back to work. It was for a good reason, so it was worth it. Another little artist or veterinarian in the family sometime next January.

Back in the studio again and no time to waste. I have two exhibitions coming up pretty quickly: an abstract painting invitation show at the O. Jauhiainen Museum in Kiiminki at the end of October, and a small portrait show at the Galleria Pirkko-Liisa Topelius in Helsinki in early November. I'll post some more previews of works in progress as I go along, stress increasing, deadlines approaching.