Artwork and illness.

animal portraits

Back on March 18, 2013, my youngest son, Ethan, took his own life.

I have two sons. Justin is the oldest. Ethan was the youngest. He was just over 20 years old as he was away at college at the time.

And the event was devastating. My world… our world- was shattered.

Since then, I have grieved. I have tried to heal. I have tried to stay out of the darkness. I have looked for hope. I have sought health and resisted the urges of isolation, anger, and bitterness, addiction, and pity. It is in its own way, still a function of my love for my son… grief. So to cast his life in some positive light… to make something good from grief- it is an act of will. It is a set of decisions and mindset made daily.

Since then I have kept busy. I have gone back to work as a high school teacher, which really is difficult. And there has been a lot of prayer and dozens of people that have really helped me and kept me on track. I have taken up painting- something I didn’t know I had any talent for, but I am happy with the results. I have travelled. I have spoken. I have written. All of it in some conscious attempt to find a new balance- a new peace.

And some days it seems to be working.

Right now, I am sick and in bed and thinking about heading down to urgent care to see about this cough and chest congestion. But I am finishing that tiger you see in the photo. I started it yesterday.

It figures. This is Christmas vacation for me. I have spent these weeks busy with my brother’s memorial and a trip up to Monterey, and now with coughing and hacking and wheezing.

John Smeby is an old teacher friend of mine. Upon his retirement he decided to open an art gallery in Redlands and invited me to be a part of it, and I accepted it as a challenge- a challenge to myself, to improve, to take painting seriously and to think and talk about my art.

So there are five somewhat dramatic animal portraits. Acrylic on canvas with painted 2″ gallery wrapped sides. All are looking left. All toward the light. A horned owl, a Bengal tiger, a bald eagle, my dog, and a lion. They represent respectively, wisdom, strength, honor, loyalty, and courage. And I painted them as a contrast to the koi I have been doing for a couple of months- a subject that was well received and which sold well.

But I almost always paint to please myself. I always ask my son and my wife for their opinion… as well as anyone in the room and I post pictures of my paintings on Facebook- looking for bits of approval and criticism. I paint for myself, and keep working until I am happy- but I still am very eager to see what people think. I listen. It has to work.

When Ethan died, the first thing I painted was his portrait… using mostly my wife’s left over acrylics from college and scrap of plywood I found in the driveway. And I have practiced and practiced. I talk to artists and read some technique books and watch videos on youtube. I also set up booths at a farmer’s market and talked a lot to children. They seem to like animal pictures, and I have stuck with them for the most part.

It isn’t really photo realism. But it isn’t abstract. It is clearly representational… and meant to be realistic. There usually is some goal when I start… learning some technique to do water or shadows or improving how I do feathers or fur. Looking at composition and color, and balance. There is a conscious effort to keep it removed from reality… to show some brushstrokes, to keep the resolution broad. And the colors are a bit bright, and sometimes the light exaggerated.

I could do something different. I have painted people. I have done some landscapes. I could do some abstracts. I think about fantasy art- dragons and things. Or buildings or machines… or rust and gears, or just lines and shapes and colors. And maybe there is a bit of that in the future.

The point is to find some balance, a new peace.

And some days it is working.


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