"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.
Guest post by Deirdre M. Folley,
John and I were so excited when we received an inquiry late last year from a potential patron with a vision.
The email was from Britt, who was finalizing plans for the renovation of her new home with her interior designer and needed just the right piece for the focal point of the dining room/living room area. Because the piece she had in mind was inspired by Masters like Caravaggio and de Ring, she needed someone with expertise in classical painting; and with a whole list of sacramental symbols in mind as subjects for the painting, she needed someone with an understanding of and appreciation for Christian imagery. Britt had heard about John from a mutual friend.
For an artist, there's nothing like getting a request for exactly the type of material he'd love to be doing in his own time!
In a recent newsletter, respondents let us know you'd like to hear more about John's commissioned work. So here's an insider's account of the process behind this painting:
I connected with Britt over the phone and we discussed the size, the budget for the painting, general expectations about the timing of the project, and how John's process works. She told me that she and her husband wanted a painting that would be a beautiful feature for their living space and also an image that would foster reflection and provoke conversation about the beauty of their Christian faith. Clearly, this was going to be a great fit!
We agreed that he would work closely with Britt to determine the composition and that he'd put a still life arrangement together for her approval. After a few phone calls and email exchanges, the process was underway! Early in the new year, John got to meet Britt and her husband Noah at Noah's corporate opening event for which they hired him to do Live Painting. Soon after that, the hunt was on in earnest for just the right components of the composition.
John worked closely with Britt to hone in the objects that were going to come together to harmonize into the perfect arrangement for this still life. John took a long list of ideas (broken bread, a goblet of wine, grapes, nails, certain types of wood, a fish, coins, olives, a shell... among many other potential items) and scouted out various resources, primarily local antique stores, to find the right items. He had to balance having the particulars that were so meaningful to Britt and her family with also gathering certain key visual elements that were going to give the composition structure and unity. Since Britt was communicating from Southwest Florida, all of the collaboration on this happened at a distance. The two worked patiently together to come up with a final selection, which John then arranged. After discussing photos of that arrangement with Britt and Noah, they were able to pare down to the most beautiful and essential elements. As part of John's process in laying out the still life, he completed a brown paper sketch to consider the values:
By late winter, John's patrons had moved into their new home and, with developments from the interior designer, we finalized the exact size of the painting: a grand, 33x39" masterpiece to hang in the living room. John ordered his canvas and stretchers and finally got to dig in on the actual painting process. This has been the main focus of his in-studio work for the past few months and we're finally on the home stretch of the commission.
One note of interest is that the arrangement features a few food items, which had to be real to get the right visual quality. Working with real food adds an element of logistics to the careful planning of the painting. Can you identify the items and guess about the process?
The final painting is just a matter of weeks away, and we can't wait to see it settled in Britt & Noah's home.
We're happy to answer questions about the process, below! Stay tuned for the final product!
Guest Author: Deirdre M. Folley
A few years ago, John had a portrait commission that was a little different from other such jobs he's received: a mother, Mary, requesting a memorial painting of her recently deceased daughter who had suffered tremendously from a seizure disorder and other difficulties and disabilities in her short life of twenty-two years. John knew Courtney only through what he heard from her mother and from the photos Mary provided as source material. He did his best to capture this young lady, by talking with Mary and by keeping her closely engaged in the painting process with frequent updates of his work in progress.
Recently, I had a chance to ask Mary a bit about that experience of working with John to have this portrait done. Below, she shares about what the process and the product meant and mean to her:
DF: What made you want to commission a painting?
My daughter Courtney passed away in 2014. I wanted a permanent reminder in our home of our daughter. I love portraits and after some research I decided to see if John was available to paint one of Courtney using photographs of her. It is the focal point of our living room and the most talked about piece of art in our home.
DF: And did it come out to be what you were hoping for?
Oh yes. It is a stunning piece. His attention to details is amazing. The details of Courtney’s face are spot on. He even got her smile right which is tough because she had buck teeth. The shading of Courtney’s hair and his attention to the texture and size of her curls make the portrait come alive. Courtney was in a wheelchair for most of her life and had severe scoliosis. John was able to paint her in such a way that you would never know that. She is just beaming with joy. He captured her personality perfectly. It’s so beautiful.
DF: How was the experience of working with John?
An absolute delight. John communicated a clear and concise timeline for the project, worked out a just and fair payment plan and included me in every step of the process. He was sensitive to my grief and honored every request I made from adjusting the shade of her hair, the bend of her nose, to the color of the background of the painting. He left nothing to chance.
DF: Do you receive feedback from others who see the painting?
People love it. Anytime we have people over, the portrait makes them stop for a moment and ask about Courtney. It’s a conduit for sharing about our daughter and the amazing young woman she was. We are blessed that John shared his gifts with us.
I highly recommend John Folley for his portraiture and other fine art. He incredibly talented and we are honored to have his work in our home.
Learn more about commissioning a portrait by visiting the Portraiture page, or by reaching out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am pleased to announce the launch of my current project: a series of paintings and general focus of my work surrounding the theme of The Faces of New England.
No doubt you immediately think of human faces -- and so do I. I am available to take on portrait commissions and will be excited to have local patrons who want to be part of this project and who want their faces to represent the beautiful states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. There is no one face that encapsulates the character of this region. I myself will be scouting out subjects that I think embody some aspect of New England and what it means to me. The possibilities here are vast and fascinate me! What are the New England "types?" Are there some folks who may not immediately come to mind, but who deserve to be included? Who do you believe represents New England?
I will also be seeking out the Face of New England in the landscape and architecture of the area. Those spots that give us our character; sights and buildings that make New England memorable; places that people come from elsewhere to see -- or perhaps would, if they knew about them!
Finally, this theme will make its way into my still life work within the studio. I'll be looking to include objects and products unique to New England within my still life paintings. I'm excited to find inspiration in the things that are around us that we perhaps take for granted: natural objects, artisan products, New England furniture, etc. Keep this in mind for a custom still life request: you might have something that's near and dear to you that you'd like incorporated - and frozen in time - in a still life painting. And, if so, I'd love to hear the story behind it!
As we know, Boston is the most prominent city in this region. I'm very proud to be taking my traditional, Boston School training and applying it this way to look all around the region and develop a series that will be meaningful to everyone who cares about this part of the country.
What are your favorite places in New England? Do you know someone who somehow embodies the the region or one of the states, specifically? What are the hidden treasures of this beautiful area that are waiting to be preserved in art? I'd love to hear!
I'll have more to say about this project as it develops!
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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