Capturing a Life in a Portrait Painting

Portrait Painting of James Rice, Oil, 18 x 24, by Nancy Lane

Portrait of James Rice, Oil, 18 x 24, by Nancy Lane

Recently I was commissioned to do a portrait painting  of a man who passed away last year. His grieving family and wide circle of friends in the service organization he led had created a library to honor his contributions to the community. But lacking any good photos of the man, what to put on the library walls?  In this age of high tech photography manipulation and poster size prints, you would think something could have been done digitally with the few photos they had. But they had very little. Instead, someone thought to hire a traditional portrait painter.

Which is so reassuring to me! That being said, I can’t paint something from nothing. I had never met the man. I begged for any photos and was given several 4 x 6″ photos of him in parades and other events. In most, his face was about half an inch tall. Fortunately, there was a single professional head shot of him and his wife, in which his face was about four inches tall. This would provide colors and details. Still, his expression was a bit stiff, and there was barely a smile.

His son told me his father liked to make jokes, and in candid shots he was usually happy. I decided a smiling portrait would help to show his personality and generosity. It felt risky, but somehow I managed to take the smile from the small photos, and the colors and details from  the larger photo, and create a portrait painting that his family and friends were enthusiastic about. In fact, the portrait subject’s sister said, “Absolutely wonderful. Looks just like my brother. She did an outstanding job!”

I feel good about being able to meet their needs with portrait painting in a way that digital photography never could.

Closeup of James Rice Portrait Painting by Nancy Lane

Closeup of James Rice Portrait, by Nancy Lane