Now that this painting, which was commissioned for a fundraiser effort, has made its way to its final destination via an exciting in-person auction, I am free to make the official reveal:
St. Joseph the Humble
As I mentioned, this painting was commissioned for a fundraiser, in this case for the group Young Catholic Professionals.
The folks at YCP and I were in talks about this painting long before we knew that this year would be declared by Pope Francis as the Year of St. Joseph. The conference was originally scheduled for last September, but of course was pushed out until this spring. In the end, the timing was auspicious, as the Conference took place over the weekend of May 1, feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
In the process of this painting, I was certainly meditating on St. Joseph the Worker. I tried out different poses with my model, considering painting the Saint with his hammer and square to emphasis his carpentry. St. Joseph the Worker is absolutely my patron in my studio and I am devoted to him especially as the model man who provides for his family with hands-on work. In the end, I chose to paint St. Joseph with his flowering staff. His head down, his brow somewhat furrowed, his mind pondering the tasks placed before him and his heart in prayer, he eventually emerged to me as a man most humble. Hence the title.
I had the pleasure of traveling to Dallas, TX for YCP's annual conference and presented this work at the VIP reception before the concluding gala.
"John is a very talented artist who clearly puts his heart and soul into his commissioned pieces. The painting exuded light, depth, and sophistication, which translated into an excellent live auction experience with substantial funds raised for our non-profit." - Jennifer Baugh, Founder & Executive Director of Young Catholic Professionals (YCP)
After the unveiling, I painted on my signature as the very final step to complete this work.
Here's a shot of the winner (left) and the gentleman who graciously agreed to let this painting go in exchange for a whole separate commission. So another St. Joseph painting will soon be underway!
The auction was very exciting, with two bidders eventually getting into a bit of a war over the piece! After considerable back-and-forth, time was running short. The auctioneer made the suggestion on the spot: would I be willing to paint a second painting for the runner-up? I agreed, and in the end, you might say, the painting sold not once, but twice to benefit YCP.
And then to make it even more complete, a priest was available to give the painting a blessing on the spot! So the artwork was able to go to its new home all ready as a blessed object to aid in prayer and devotion. It was perfect!
Many thanks to my model, an excellent study for St. Joseph -- my brother-in-law. We had a good - if quiet - time in the studio to make this come to life.
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.
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?
Hello there, I'm John H. Folley, an oil painter in the Boston School tradition. 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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