I'm very pleased to share with you one of my major projects from 2019: my first formal portrait in oil of my wife, Deirdre.
I set out with the cooperation of my gorgeous wife, Deirdre, to make a beautiful and elevated portrait of her. I have long wanted to attempt a portrait of my wife that was more than a quick pencil sketch (which I often have the pleasure of doing) and I'm very grateful that I was able to work on it this year.
We set about gathering together three or four different outfits a few weeks before the sitting. I took these outfits in the studio to coordinate and harmonize them with different background draperies and other props that I had well before Deirdre came in for the photoshoot. With this previous preparation we were able to set about posing and snapping photos of Deirdre in the context of my studio's wonderful North light. (I actually had her come into the studio on her birthday!)
During the process I would take dozens of photos, giving Deirdre some direction about her pose ranging from asking her to perform small actions like straightening her hair or setting out a fan to inspire or discover a pose that I had not yet imagined to asking her to tilt her head slightly one way or another to refine a pose that was already working very nicely. Every once in a while I would give Deirdre a break from posing and we would discuss the images that we had taken so far and she would be able to give me immediate feedback about what her favorites were. After about an hour and a half, 300 pictures, and various adjustments, we went back home to start the sorting and editing process.
Some work in progress shots:
After hours of sorting and editing I narrowed the source material down to four photos and let our Beauty Advocacy community help us decide on the final! (thank you!) Then the work of the final painting got started.
As we went through the development of the painting it was fascinating to both Deirdre and myself how the image was transformed. A painted portrait from a photograph can never be an exact copy (which is a good thing). It will always be changed in some way through human eye and mind. It was remarkable to see how some slight shift in an eyebrow or the curve of the lips could bring about large changes in the tone and expression of the sitter and the feel of the painting altogether. I hope that the crafting of these nuances has brought about a deeper and truer image of Deirdre than the camera was able to capture; one that is in fact more reflective of her personality, warmth, and dignity.
One of the last adjustments to the image that we decided to make was to change Deirdre's earring from a large wooden one that was in the original photo to a smaller, gold, fan-shaped hearing that you see here. I made this decision for a number of reasons - the first reason was to elongate the feel of Deirdre neck to give a greater feeling of dignity and grace - I felt the large chunky wooden earrings took away too much from the vertical lines at this particular angle. After this I tried a vertical silver earring which we found made the picture overall feel too cold. Finally we decided on the earring that you see here and we're very happy with the warmth and interest it brought to the picture.
I'm also pleased with the way the wedge or triangle shape of the earring plays into and interacts with the other triangles in the composition. If you take a look you'll see a series of these shapes in Deirdre dress, made by the angles of her arms, her fingers, and of course the shape of the fan at the bottom of the painting.
The fan is an antique one that Deirdre fell in love with at a thrift store when she a teen (and had a penchant for costumes and all things dramatic) and which her mother later gave to her as a gift. The bracelet she wears is also an antique and, although it's not visible to the viewer, is actually a Rosary bracelet so that it can be a sacramental companion to prayer. Hopefully the brightness of her face and some aspects of her character are complemented by these details.
I am thoroughly delighted with this completed the painting and we hope you will be too!
Now I need your help again: what do you think should be the title?
A few weeks ago I received a visit from local reporter Robyn Kenney. She took a look around the studio and asked me a few questions about myself and my work. Take a look!
It was a pleasure having you stop by, Robyn! Thanks for the spot.
For the truly time-pressed, find a 30-second teaser version below:
Things unreal have never seemed quite so real as in our present time.
The special effects of our movies and video games offer us worlds upon worlds that can occupy us, entertain us, and oftentimes distract us completely from the real world. Such experiences can often be pleasant and perhaps even harmless in moderation, but for our culture and society, so consumed by these images and the unreality they represent, they can become a poison that is constantly consumed. Perhaps these simulated realities are today's "opiate of the masses."
In stark contrast to this dithering and dizzying world of modern entertainment stands the mission of the Catholic Artist in our times. The Catholic Artist's task is to understand and imagine reality and create forms that reflect the beauty of that reality. As John Paul II said in his Letter to Artists: "Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery."
For many Catholic artists this involves trying to articulate and communicate some of the deepest realities of our Faith in tangible forms. Most of us will never physically see these realities in this life, but the work of the artist makes them visible, understandable, and imaginable to us. Thus, when an artist reverently and skillfully portrays the mystery of the Trinity, angels, Principalities and Powers, and the holiness of saints through analogy and symbol, crafting his medium and stretching his intellect to understand and portray these things, it would be wrong for us to dismiss them as "a pleasant fantasy" or to comfort ourselves like good Enlightenment thinkers saying "that isn't real." That would in fact be exactly and precisely upside-down. Rather we should be like Moses recognizing we are on holy ground - truly great Catholic art gives us a glimpse into the depths of reality that we so often blithely ignore.
I am very honored and excited - humbled as well, when I consider the potential of the task - to be included in a merry band of Catholic artists seeking to portray the beauties of reality as I have just described. When I first saw the Catholic Artists' Directory I eagerly looked through at my fellow artists and was very encouraged by what I saw. I encourage you to uncover the treasures of art that are being produced today by some of the most skilled workmen and visionaries in the Catholic tradition. I encourage you to look through and get to know these very gifted artists working right now across the country and the world and to start dreaming some big dreams. Perhaps some of these men and women could bring beauty to your parish or your home. Now is the perfect time to reach out.
"It's the best gift we've ever given him." A painting commission for Harvard's winningest football coach
Guest post by Deirdre M. Folley
What Christmas gift to get for the winningest football coach in Harvard college history? What if that man is your dad, marking his 25th season and having just enjoyed an exciting win against the prime rival (Yale) at no other location than Fenway park?
This question is what led Molly Murphy to get in touch with us and inquire about commissioning John to produce a painting for her father. The timeline was tight, as Christmas was only a matter of weeks away. But I knew that John - a dedicated football fan - would absolutely love to take this painting on. We decided he could squeeze it into his studio schedule before the holiday.
Molly provided John with an inspiration photo and some other resources (including this video which gives a flavor of that gameday). She and her siblings were requesting a painting that would capture the drama of the football game at Fenway park as well as the details of their father, Coach Tim Murphy, working from the sidelines with his players around him. They decided on a custom size that would fit handsomely above a mantlepiece.
John provided Molly a concept sketch (above) for her approval, and then it was full steam ahead on the canvas.
John on his creative process:
"I was really excited by this commission, both as a football fan and as an artist. I loved the pictures from the game and the great accomplishment that it represented, but as I was thinking through the composition I knew I wanted to have the painting be more dramatic and more active than any of the photos that I had access to. I altered the perspective and composition to give more of that epic and immersive feel that I was looking for. There is nothing quite like being at a football game live and going to college games with my father has been a very special part of my life since childhood. I wanted this painting to embody that excitement and energy."
Although time was tight, John worked quickly to complete the painting and had it framed and ready to hang, available for pick-up, just before the family went away to celebrate Christmas together.
Early in the new year, I had a chance to talk to Molly about how the gift had gone over. She had these kind words to share about the experience:
I was absolutely blown away by my experience working with John and Deirdre. The whole process was so easy, it was so pleasant to communicate with them, and the sketches were so helpful... John's work is just stunning and I couldn't have imagined it going better, from start to finish.
My dad doesn't get emotional easily, but he was so moved when we presented the painting to him on Christmas morning. He could not believe it. It's the best gift we've ever given him.
We would definitely reach out again on another occasion. I think that this is such a meaningful purchase and overall it was an amazing experience!
What a thoughtful gift idea on the part of Molly and her siblings! It was clear to us that they love their dad and are extremely proud of him.
We’re so delighted that Coach Murphy was pleased with his Christmas morning surprise and that he is currently enjoying the painting in his office. John had a fantastic time with this commission and was honored to have a part in celebrating and commemorating a great moment in college sports.
Hello there, I'm John H. Folley. Thanks for visiting the Beauty Advocacy Blog, where it's my job to help you become a more discerning art appreciator.
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