An Ethereal Moment ~ Endeavoring to capture true love

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, commissioned

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, commissioned

When I was asked if I would be interested in painting this portrait, I instantly knew it would be one of those special projects I could get lost in. The couple’s story is a bittersweet one. Byllie Ann and Larry Magnant met when they were 15, were high school sweethearts, and had been together ever since. Sadly, last year Larry, a husband/father/grandfather passed away at the young age of 65.  

The moment in time is a family wedding in Hawaii, one of their favorite places on earth. The couple is depicted cheek to cheek with twinkles in their eyes. Wrapped in Hawaiian leis with Cymbidium and Dendrobium orchids, the leis envelop and unite them. Byllie Ann has a Spider Lily arrangement in her hair as is traditional in Hawaiian ceremonies. Larry’s Hawaiian shirt goes wonderfully with the flowers and instantly helps identify the location~ paradise.

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Magnant portrait by William R. Beebe, detail shot

Their favorite color was blue, so Byllie Ann decided on a blue background. I added various shades of blue and gray, and white to the background in order to give a bit of an ethereal look. After a review near the end of the painting process, we agreed that some texture added to the background would add more interest. It created a more painterly feel to the entire painting.

I also added touches of Cerulean and Ultramarine blue into the clothing and flowers to reflect the background colors and add harmony to the painting. 

In the beginning stage, I worked diligently with measurements and proportions in order to capture a likeness. After I was about a week or more into it, I asked my client for a critique to see if I was on the right track. She was most helpful, offering little tweaks here and there which helped me hone in on their likeness.  

It was an honor to paint their portrait. I always enjoy sitting down at my easel and getting started on a new project, but this time it was different. It was a very personal project. My overriding goal was to capture the love between the two of them, highlight the sparkle in their eyes, and present them united as one.  

There is something about painting people that is very rewarding. I can see why many artists devote themselves to specializing in portraiture. It’s a high risk, high reward business.  Pleasing someone with a likeness of themselves or of their spouse is never easy. 

In this case, I’m grateful to say I have a happy client, which gives me a great deal of satisfaction as an artist. Thank you to Byllie Ann for giving me this opportunity.  

Thank you as always for your interest in my art and for reading my journal. Please check back soon to see what’s on the easel next. Chances are it could be something Charleston! 


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What's next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What's next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe

An All-Around Nice Guy! ~ Bruce T. Wallace

I’ve been tinkering with this portrait of my wonderful father-in-law for many years.  It was always going to be a practice portrait but in my mind I thought it would be nice to get it to a place where my wife Jen would enjoy looking at it. 

After finishing the portrait of my father, I was determined to finish this one for Jen and for me! 

I called him “Mr. Wallace” through six years of dating his daughter and a couple years into our marriage out of respect.  He always said jokingly, “All of my good friends call me Mr. Wallace.”   I always called Jen’s mom by her first name Joni so after all those years Joni insisted that I start calling him Bruce!  Every time I called him Bruce both he and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Through his exceptional work ethic, Bruce became Executive Vice President of two large insurance trade associations. He was a guy who treated the mailman like his best friend, a guy whose daughters adored him, his son admired him and his wife, and all who knew him, loved him.

He was a Captain in the Marines during the Korean War, so much a patriot that he would only buy American cars. He was always a gentleman, and the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy.  He loved Rock and Roll and working out to music like Creedence Clearwater Revival. 

He was like a second father to me.  I loved his quirky sense of humor.  He loved puns and writing funny poems for special occasions.  We’d always say “That’s a Brucie”!

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I ended up using a soft palette with Impressionist touches which seemed an appropriate style to capture Bruce’s soft, good natured personality.  The painting went through so many iterations that it ended up with a sense of translucency, creating a depth in the skin tones.

I like the fact that Bruce has a full smile in this portrait because he was a fun, happy, upbeat person.  The photo I was working from was taken in his younger days before I knew him.  I am pleased that somehow I ended up with Bruce looking more like I remember.

Now when I look at this portrait I finally see Bruce.  Jen now sees her wonderful father and that gives me a real sense of satisfaction.

We miss you Mr. Wallace; I mean Bruce!

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!

Dreams of Finishing My Father ~ Someday!

One of my first formal portraits was of my father, done while still in college.  I worked from an 8” by 10” black and white photo of him, taken by a professional photographer for business purposes.  It was a pretty good picture of Dad and it seemed to fit into what little I knew at the time about portraiture through studying Thomas Eakins, Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, Rembrandt, and other portrait artists in Art History class. One of the main characteristics of formal portraiture for hundreds of years has been to only indicate a slight suggestion of a smile, which is what the portrait artist Paul Emsley chose with his already famous portrait of Kate Middleton. 

I was a student working from a black and white photograph.  Usually the more reference material the better.  I struggled like most beginners with glazing layers of paint to create translucent skin tones.  I struggled with how light and how dark to make the sides of the face.  My teacher helped a little but looking back it was quite limited instruction due to the times.  Modern art was much more prevalent and realism discouraged.  Certainly, working from a black and white photo created obvious difficulties with creating realistic skin tones. 

Knowing the subject so well, I was quite self-critical of likeness.  I knew from my pencil study drawing that I had done for preliminary work that I had all of his features down pretty close and that it definitely looked like him.  So would it all translate into paint???

The answer is….  I somewhat finished the class project, never signing my name because I knew I could make it much better, someday!  I can remember showing it to my Mom for the first time.  She was very pleased, sentimentally mostly :-), but I can still hear her saying “It looks like him but there is a little something about the lips that isn’t quite right”.  I agreed but wasn’t quite sure how to fix them.  All I had was that photo.  It was supposed to be a surprise for Dad, so I couldn’t have him pose for me.    

Then I showed it to my Dad.  All I can remember him saying is “Wow, who knew that a kid of mine would ever become an artist!”  He was flattered that I chose to paint him and he seemed to like it! 

Dad passed away just two short years later.  Well, for over thirty years now I’ve had the portrait of Dad in the attic, the basement, and the closet of many different homes.  It’s withstood cold weather, hot weather, storage, dust, dirt, etc… but a few years ago I put it in my studio closet with the dream of finishing it one day.  Or at least making it so that I could have it out and look at it without cringing!

I am going through a period where I really enjoy painting people and trying to capture a likeness.  I’ve completed a number of portraits over the years and I would like to paint many more.  I thought that by now maybe I could look at my old portrait of Dad, see more clearly what needs improving, make a few touches and be happy enough to bring it out of the closet. 

Here is the pencil study that I did in college in preparation for the oil painting.    It has survived the same inclement conditions as the painting, and is no worse for the wear!

So as I write, I have started back working on my college portrait painting of my Dad.  I’m still working from that same black and white photo, but I’ve scanned it and can now blow it up much larger on my computer screen.  I’m scrutinizing every little facial characteristic that made Dad look like Dad.

Hopefully, soon I’ll be able to unveil the updated version of my painting to all of you.  I’ve already made it worse and now better!  :-)  I’m all consumed with the dream of finishing my father

Dad always said “If you are going to do something, do the best you can.”  I don’t want to let him down.   It may not be the best I can do, but I’m much happier with it now.  Hopefully he is looking down and has a much bigger smile on his face!!!!