The Greatest Generation ~ William B. Beebe (1919-1981)

This is the official unveiling of the college portrait I painted of my Dad.  My previous blog entitled, “Dreams of Finishing My Father” explained that I decided to finish the painting I did of my Dad after 33 years.  Originally, I wanted to maintain the overall feel of the original painting, put on the finishing touches that would allow me to be happy enough with the painting and have it out on display.  I’ve been “touching it up” now for a week or two!  I tried to keep with the realistic, traditional look that I had in college and was close to being finished, when next thing I knew I was revamping the whole thing.

I ended up deciding that because of my Dad’s rather intense nature, strong personality and facial features that I would try painting it in a bolder style.  I went a little more painterly than I intended, letting some non-traditional portrait colors like violet and green compliment the flesh tones.  The result is a more contemporary, stylized feel when examining the painting up close.  Meaning, the skin tones are not as blended as they would be in a photo realistic painting.  It allowed me to have some fun with it and make it look like a painting and not a photographic image.

So here it is, William B. Beebe, Esq.  It was a self-indulgent exercise, long overdue.  It made me feel good.  It brought back many memories. I’m enjoying having Dad around to look at.  I used to wonder how many people would want to have a portrait of a family member around.  I wondered if portraits were passé, something found at estate sales.  I never thought of portraiture as something for our walls, until recently. 

My Dad was part of “the Greatest Generation”.  He was born and raised on a farm in Iowa.  He was so smart that he graduated high-school two years early. He learned French from his mother, Latin in school, played the bassoon to help develop his lungs after having Scarlet Fever as a child, and played baseball in college until he threw out his arm.  He was a glider pilot in WWII, a pilot of small planes after the war, a CPA, a lawyer and founding partner in his law firm, who on occasion argued in front of the Supreme Court.  

He married and had four children. He was a skilled woodworker, a baseball coach with a depth of knowledge about the nuances of the game, a great Dad and the smartest well-rounded person I’ve ever known.  He was brilliant with math.  He knew how to use all of the fancy buttons on the original Hewlett-Packard hand held calculator to calculate how many miles it is to the moon, or how long it would take if traveling various speeds, or any other mathematical equation you put in front of him.

He died when I was only 25 and I often think of him and wish I had had many more years with him.  He was old school and we all respected and loved him.  He stood for everything good. He was my idol.

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Now, as I get older I’m looking at portraiture differently.  Maybe it’s the sentimental side of me.  This posthumous exercise has made me feel closer to my Dad.  He would have appreciated the way I toiled over his likeness while at the same time trying to be creative.  Even if it’s not a spitting image, when I look at it my memories become less faded and now the slight smile is on my face too!

Rendezvous With Ria ~ One in a million Ria DeWit!

After at least 23 years of being out of touch with our neighbor and artist friend Ria DeWit, my wife and I met up with her in her home in northern Virginia and went to Tuskies in Leesburg, VA for lunch! 

In one of my earlier blogs Still Lifes Solve Real Life Mystery about finding Ria on the artist roster of a prominent Leesburg gallery, I talked about her masterful still life paintings.  I also talked about how inspirational seeing her work for the first time was to me as a beginner painter. 

After all these years, we’ve been reunited.  We spent several hours getting caught up along with getting the tour of her nicely decorated home with some of her early Dutch style paintings, some of her son’s wonderful realistic paintings including a self-portrait, and some of her newest work. 

She has a sun room set up as a teaching studio where she instructs five or six students a couple of times a week. They are so fortunate to have found Ria as a teacher! She is self taught in the ways of the old Masters and a spot in her class is highly sought after!

Accomplishing all she desired with her still-lifes for the time being, she has moved on to painting elegant women with a variety of colorful headdresses in a somewhat illustrative style . 

Her work is inspiring.  It is magical to look at and is no doubt museum quality.

Whenever an admirer of her work tells her that her artistic talent is a “gift”, she cringes.  She sees it as a culmination of years of hard work and a dedication to her craft.  Well, whichever it is, there is something exceptional about Ria’s work!  She is one in a million. 

It was great to see Ria and see where her creativity is taking her.  She is having fun with her work and enjoying the process of working on something new and different.  After she gets her paintings photographed, I will post some photos of her new work as a follow up to this blog. 

The Delicate Balance of Portraiture

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There is something very personal about portraiture.  As an artist, I always try to enhance my subject through my realistic interpretation, softened by touches of impressionism.  I start with a grid to create an accurate underdrawing, guaranteeing a fairly accurate outline and likeness from the beginning.  From there, it becomes a painting process of coloring, blending, shading and painterly touches to bring the subject to life. 

My tendency in portraiture is to lean more in the direction of what I would term a Renoir style rather than say a Thomas Eakins’ style.  Renoir’s faces in his portraits for the most part are very soft and blended, where Eakins had a more linear and defined style.  In this portrait my clients requested a few changes after their first viewing.  Their personal preference is to have a more defined face, showing more character.

I saw the request as a new challenge and worked to achieve the changes without sacrificing my own interpretation.  My overall goal in portraiture is not photographic realism but to create a flattering impression to the viewer while maintaining a likeness. 

I liken the process of a commissioned portrait to that of a home builder building a spec home versus a custom home for a client.    On a spec home the builder will have the natural inclination to build a home that suits his/her personal taste.  On a custom build a builder has to work with the client and build what suits the client’s personal taste.  A client might even throw in a change order to tweak something last minute.  In the end the builder wants the client to be happy even though the change order may complicate and lengthen the process. 

At this point in my career, I’m enjoying mixing up my subject matter, including accepting more commissioned work.  Whether it’s a portrait, a landscape, a private home, a maritime scene or even a still life, having someone excited about having me paint something for them is very gratifying.  In this case, when Blythe asked me if I would be interested in painting her and her niece, I knew it was exactly the kind of challenging and rewarding project that I would enjoy. 

The relationship between Blythe and her only niece was very important to consider in the composition of this painting.   Blythe has high hopes for her, a junior at Harvard, and sees her as representing the next generation of highly successful professional business women.  The setting is one of the function rooms at Harvard.  High ceilings, a large granite fireplace, old textured plaster walls with rich, dark red paint all helped to create an appropriate setting for these two accomplished women to pose.

After working together for several hours, rearranging furniture and lighting, trying a variety of poses and getting a good idea of what my client was looking for, I ended up with several hundred photos.  I narrowed it down to a select number of poses that I thought would create a nice composition and Blythe made the final pick.

I volunteered early in our discussions, if we felt the composition was lacking in any area, I could enhance the background by substituting whatever we felt would be more meaningful.  The client’s home bookcase was added to the composition to symbolize the intellectual pursuit and academic achievement of both women.  On the shelf shoulder high to Blythe, are two books that she has authored entitled Shaking the Globe and Fit in Stand Out, along with two books written by her husband.  The elephant bookend symbolizes strength.  The porcelain antique pottery was added as an artist’s touch.  I felt its oriental look in a small way represents Blythe’s world travels and at the same time ties in the bookcase with the Oriental rug.   The Oriental rug and the bookcase both took an inordinate amount of time, but add a richness and interest to the portrait. 

I hope you enjoy seeing the finished painting.  I enjoyed the entire process, from the beginning Boston photo shoot (Please Come to Boston, The Rest of the Story, and Night at the Museum) and all the laughs over glamour poses to finally signing my name.  I thank Blythe for this wonderful opportunity and for the journey.

To learn more about the inimitable Blythe McGarvie you can visit her website at www.lifgroup.com.

I would love to hear from those interested in portraiture what your favorite portrait is or hear who your favorite portrait artist is.  It would be hard for me to choose as I love many different styles.  I like John Singer Sargent’s grandeur in his large portraits….. Van Gogh’s brushwork and colors…. Renoir’s softness…  Norman Rockwell’s painterly quality, Frans Hal’s strength and boldness etc…

Still Lifes Solve Real Life Mystery ~ What Ever Happened To….

Two doors down from my parent’s house growing up was the Railey house.  One of my best friends as a kid, Clay lived there.  Clay grew up and became a priest.  I grew up and eventually became an artist.  Not too long after my wife Jen and I were married my dad died.  The old neighborhood was changing.  My mom lived alone as a widow in our family home.  The Railey house turned over and an artsy couple with two children moved in.  The woman, Ria, I’m guessing was in her early forties and I was now in my mid-twenties.  She was a very attractive woman with a beautiful sounding European accent.  She would visit with my mom and eventually we all became good friends. 

I had been to art school, graduated with a Fine Arts degree and then decided to go back and get my accounting degree and was working in accounting.  My wife had started a salad dressing business that was taking off which also required a lot of my time. I unfortunately had little time for art.  One day Ria invited me down the street to her home to see a painting that she was working on.  I walked into my old friend Clay’s home and what was Clay’s basement, where we would pretend we were the Beach Boys banging on drums, was now Ria’s art studio.  I had no idea whether she was any good.  I did know that I liked Ria.  She wasn’t like anyone I had ever met before.  She was artistic, dressed with a flair and spoke beautifully. 

 There on her drafting table was a realistic oil painting of a cowboy on a horse that was so masterfully done it didn’t seem possible that someone had painted it.  She hadn’t quite finished the sky so it was obviously her unfinished painting.  I couldn’t believe how smooth it was, how rich the colors were.  How could she paint this? 

She enlightened me as to her use of masonite (painting on board) in order to develop a perfectly smooth surface.  It turns out that she had learned how to paint in the Netherlands, learning the traditional methods that the Old Masters employed.  She knew all the techniques and tricks of the trade that my teachers at the University of MD did not!  Most of my teachers encouraged Abstract Expressionism and other forms of modern art and discouraged Realism.  Turns out our neighbor down the street, Ria, was a master! 

We moved to Maine in 1990 and lost touch with Ria.  Last we heard, which was about 22 years ago, she was living in the mountains of North Carolina and she was painting her American Indian art.  We’ve often wondered over the years whether she was still painting and how she was doing etc…  Well this week we found out!

Jen was online researching new gallery representation when she discovered a gallery in Middleburg, VA.  Jen was in her office across the hall from my studio, perusing the artist roster when she yelled out to me that Ria DeWit was an artist at this gallery.  Could it be the same Ria that we knew???

Jen tracked down her phone number, called her and out of the blue we have reconnected with our long lost artist friend.  We both were so glad to find out that after over twenty years of being out of touch, she is well and is now painting masterful still life paintings.  Her son has inherited her gift and is also pursuing his art.  It was an emotional moment hearing Ria’s voice and knowing that this mystery had a happy ending. 

I tell this story because I want to share with you a few of her magnificent still life paintings. We are excited about seeing her upcoming show in Leesburg, VA in May and can’t wait to get all caught up with our long lost artist friend Ria DeWit