Guest post by Deirdre M. Folley
Have you ever been at a loss when it comes time to choose a gift for your loved one?
Whether you're a gift-giving maven or gift-giving-challenged, I think the story of Micah's thoughtful First Anniversary gift will inspire you.
Newlyweds Micah and Megan had agreed that they would not exchange presents for their first year anniversary. John and I have certainly been in that boat! In a busy season (in this case, a baby on the way), it does take the pressure off to know that you won't disappoint your spouse if there's a mutual agreement that no gift is necessary nor expected.
But Micah had other schemes in mind.
"Megan's father is a great gift giver. He's always great about giving his wife and daughters flowers - always so on top of it. I know I cannot compete," Micah told John of the family he'd married into.
When they discussed exchanging gifts on their first anniversary, Megan agreed that Micah could give her flowers - just flowers.
"As I approached the end of the first year of marriage I wanted to give my wife something special. She loves flowers, especially ranunculus. Their rose-like blossoms have tissue-thin petals and come in a range of beautiful colors. The dilemma I faced is that these exquisite flowers fade quickly. Thus the idea was born to capture these flowers permanently." - Micah
So the commission that John received was to paint a small oil painting - one small enough to fit standing up on Megan's desk, the way a vase of flowers would be set - of her favorite kind of flower, the ranunculus.
"It was a fun occasion for me to have some beautiful, florist-sent blooms in the studio," says John, "since of course I wanted to work from life to capture these flowers with all their delicacy and liveliness." We ordered a selection of the blooms and John chose the best colors for his composition, narrowing down on just a few in order to fit their detail onto a demure 8"x6" canvas.
"Working with John on the idea was a delight and he captured their beauty and delicacy perfectly!" Micah told me, "My wife proudly displays her favorite flowers on our living room mantle for all to see and enjoy knowing they will always be in full bloom."
Of course, the final cleverness of Micah's commission is that the first wedding anniversary is traditionally observed as the Paper Anniversary; thus, the gift delivered on canvas (close enough to paper!) ties in doubly well in this case.
We were impressed with Micah's thoughtfulness in bringing this project to John, and delighted to see it come to fruition in time for a late Fall anniversary. Our best wishes to the newlyweds, now one year in!
If you're interested in commissioning your own piece, be sure to take a look at my commissions page.
If you were to plan a commissioned fine art gift this year, what would be the occasion?
It was a pleasure producing a portrait of this impressive home in Ann Arbor for a friend and his wife to give as a gift to his in-laws.
We heard from the patron that the process and product met and exceeded his and his wife's expectations and that the portrait was well-received -- always a pleasure to hear that the gift-giving went over well after putting the love into the process!
I used pen and ink and watercolor on paper for this portrait. Please take a look at my portraiture page if you're interested in learning more about your own house portrait commission!
You can imagine my excitement when I received the request from a patron in Texas for a new Madonna for his private residence. As you know, portraiture is a love of mine. And whose portrait would I rather attempt than that of my heavenly Lady, the Mother of God! For a Catholic artist, this is an honor and a dream. I have depicted the Virgin Mary before, but never had such an opportunity to focus on a Madonna painting and produce to the best of my ability in her honor.
The intention was to execute this painting this spring. Coordinating was a bit of a challenge (much like all endeavors these days), with no ability to make advanced plans and everything uncertain. Fortunately, I was able to work with a local model and the other artist friend joining me in the studio is very close by as well — so when the moment arose that all parties were available, we were able to act quickly! The model’s time was very limited and I was under deadline on my latest children’s book illustrations, but we managed to squeeze in a good number of hours in the studio in one week’s time.
My patron had indicated a desire for something along the lines of the Italian baroque images below. The goal was also to capture a Mary with a very youthful look.
A makeshift canopy-type structure from cardboard served so that the shadows would be intense behind her while also allowing the natural light from my window to fall directly on her face, causing a strong compositional contrast and highlight. With this in place, I was able simply and immediately to achieve one of the main elements of these reference paintings: a deep background and very light foreground.
On the Saturday before the modeling week, we all gathered in the studio to set up and Deirdre came to help drape the model so I could set the style for our Marian pose. With the above paintings as my inspiration, I was looking for a color palette and style that was both rich and simple, while also working with the very fair skin tone of the model.
We landed on the combination of white and red with the traditional blue mantle. The white wimple is a fine, beautiful linen-wool blend fabric — the same blend (as we learned from the friend who loaned the fabric to us for this purpose) that would have been reserved for priests’ temple rituals in the ancient Jewish tradition.
After the week’s worth of work with the live model, the halo was the final touch still lacking. After considering a fine, tilted gold ring for the halo, I ultimately landed upon this glow to gently emphasize the holiness of the Virgin. A few subtle changes to the face served to idealize and distance the image from the model’s actual look.
Altogether, the process was rapid-fire due to the constraints of working in the midst of cultural crisis! But all went very smoothly. It was an absolute honor to do this work.
From the beginning of the project, my patron and I had discussed back and forth about the right frame style for this image. That conversation concluded, the choice was a vintage gold frame which arrived here just days ago and with which I’ll be finalizing the painting this coming week before it ships to its final destination.
So, without further ado, I offer you my Morning Star Madonna, an initial contribution to the massive and venerable tradition of Marian oil paintings. My profound thanks to the collector who made this endeavor possible by his patronage! I hope it will be a significant enrichment of his home.
Please stay tuned as I will be offering a very limited number of giclée prints of this image in the coming weeks, exclusively to my newsletter subscribers. It will be my great pleasure to be able to offer high-quality reproductions to a few purchasers so that we can further spread the work enabled by this commission.
Last summer I received a message via Instagram from a woman who comes from a family which, I have since gathered, takes gift-giving very seriously. Mary had a concept in mind for a Christmas gift painting for her mother and wanted me to execute it. It was my honor to do so and the result is Ex Calibur.
The driving meaning of this painting is the long and loving marriage of Mary's parents. Deirdre and I had the pleasure of visiting with Mary when she took a mini road trip to my studio in order to hand-deliver these objects which are of great sentimental value to her and her family, especially her mother. During that visit, she shared with us about the pieces and their significance.
In the painting you see an unusual sculpture that consists of two parts: a cut Steuben glass orb (if you will) and a beautifully crafted sword. The glass represents the Stone of legend and the sword is Arthur's famous weapon, Ex Calibur. Mary explained to me that this sculpture is a treasured possession and meant a lot to her parents (her father has passed away). The couple had discovered it in a shop many, many years previous but it had been outside their budget, so they kept it in mind and saved up for it while raising a large and busy family. They finally purchased it as a celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. To Mary, seeing it is a reminder of the virtue of patience -- not to be stressed when something takes time or has to be budgeted for, since her parents waited 50 years for this gift!
The rings are her father’s Notre Dame ring and a miniature that he had made for her mother - very important to them as a dedicated ND family! (You know I appreciated this, being class of '08, myself.)
The cards are postcards which Mary and I agreed should be included in the painting. They are souvenirs from the Shrine of St. Anne in Quebec and represent the devotion Mary’s mother has to St. Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary). Mary noted that her mother enjoys the fact that the feast of that saint falls on July 26 and that she herself also has twenty-six grandchildren.
Working on this painting was an absolute delight, as Mary was an ideal patron. She was excited to share her story and to hand off the vision while also very kindly entrusting the composition and execution to me. We had a great time communicating with her throughout the process and then hearing about how the gift had gone over at Christmastime. She told us that reflecting on the painting has even been a reminder to some of the grandchildren to visit the grave of their beloved grandfather. On a technical level, it was an interesting challenge to communicate the metal and the glass in the medium of oil paint.
It is my hope that this work will prove for many years to be a worthy tribute to a long and devoted marriage and the loving family it yielded. This world needs steadfast marriages and I was very glad to celebrate one this way.
Visit my Commissions page and read Mary’s kind testimonial here.
Perhaps you’ve noted the two coins in the center of the painting, which were my addition (with Mary’s approval). I can tell you what their significance is, but first I’d love to know what your guess is as to their meaning -- tell me your guess in the comments below!
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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