This past month, I was given an opportunity to paint a portrait of a baby that has been adopted from Ethiopia a couple of years ago. Her parents, a lovely couple I met a year ago while attending my coworkers art show, knew my back ground and art. When I was first given the chance to paint their daughter, They assured me they will be patient and supportive until I finish the task (let alone they agreed to pay what asked and encouraged me to ask more if need be). I was honored to be asked to take up the task but a bit reluctant because I am not a realistic painter rather an impressionist.
The day we met to discuss the project and chose a photo. They brought their lovely baby with them and we started to discuss the plan. They both seem very understanding of my art style and they said “just take stub at it, we will be happy to have your work whether it looked like her or not.” I have to say their confidence in my work inspired me and freaked me at the same time. But once I started conversing with their daughter and saw how great a family they are my hesitation started to fade and a drive to capture her in my canvas grew promptly.
Our next step was chosing a photo I am going to paint and they came prepared with a lot of her recent photos, all as cute and lovely as it gets. We were looking at them one by one until we get to one photo and there was unintentional pause. It was a photo of her scanned from her Ethiopian passport. Very small, low resolution photo with passport watermarks all over it. Besides all that, the photo have such a powerful force in it. Her clear stare into the camera and the monumental time the photo was taken (right before she left her native country to meet her new family) says a lot. I would guess she may be just a year or less when the photo was taken. Her parents then said, “this one” and I agreed.
I set up my canvas in my studio and get to work right away. The more I stared at the photo the more it spoke to me. My daughter, who is three years old, asked me who she is and I told her about it. From that point on she end up being the client. “Daddy her dress needs to be green” she says. As a father of two, I came to learn a lot from childrens facial expressions how they felt at certain times. I sometimes look at my kids face when there is a stranger among us and they will have this hard to discribe look in their eyes. Well the look in the eyes of baby I am painting was different. She seemed confident, calm and sure of her self yet you can see she was not as happy a kid as I met the day I met her. Now the question for me is can I capture it? did she know it is a painting of her when she see it?
My daughter kept on asking question. “Daddy, why is this yellow?”
A week into it, I fed my kids and let they out in my back yard, turn on my reggae music and get to work. Yellow Ochre, flesh tone, Dark Cienna, and so on and on….
Finally I get to the point where I can say “I am done” and I emailed her parents and we set up a meeting so I can show them the painting. We met in the upstairs sitting area of Cafe Allegro. Before I unwrap the painting to show them, I told them some of the questions in my mind and asked them if they answer them for me once they see the painting. “did she know it is a painting of her when she see it?”
When her parents saw the painting, They started crying, They said “oh baby” and they hugged and wept quietly.
Some one once asked me “You seems not to market yourself and sell your art as you should, why are you painter?” I didn’t answered that question back then but the answer was moments like this. The next day I get email from her parents and they said first time she see it, she smiled and said that is me calling her name.