|"Laura's Dad", Pastel, 20x24, ©Toni Ruppert|
Didn’t I see his frailty? Not exactly.
I looked for beauty
I went in with high expectations and because I had no frame of reference--I expected beauty. He was surrounded by decor that included African masks, a giraffe statue and a painting or two that he had collected over the years. Greenery was everywhere and his home included a garden and water out back.
There was light everywhere coming from the big windows and door to the back porch. The light was hitting the fluffs of his white hair in such a way--they begged to be painted. His hunter green polo sweat shirt somewhat matched the greenery I saw all around. Finally, there was an eclectic mix of tunes coming from his CD player.
All of this put me in the painting mood.
I focused on my craft
When I set up my pastels on the table, I anticipated a good painting session. I grabbed several colors -- some greens, burnt sienna, orange and lavender were among them. He was very patient with me and even picked up a book to “read” at my request.
And I started to create what I saw.
I looked for the light and tried to express that in his skin tone. I was in love with the pigments and seeing how I could use them to say what was before me. I let the pastel sticks do the talking.
I modified my marks
Hence, I was never conscious of anything. I modified my marks, not because I knew anything but because I was creating and did not know how much to show. Do I show that crevice with a darker blue or a softer pale orange. Do I render the thin cheek bones quite that thin? His slight nose. I went over certain parts over and over. The pastels were lovely for this.
It felt so good capturing his essence. That he would pass away almost a month later was a shock to me. My friend(Laura) talks extensively about this experience in her blog--No Safe Distance.
In hindsight, I saw the wrinkles --his large hands. I noticed that he was quiet. But in this beautiful moment, I noticed what my eyes told me. And responded with artistry. I did not realize that Laura’s Dad was fading. That may just be a good thing.
Other creative folk can help in responses to death too.
For those of you who might want to create a tribute to your loved one; check out my friend Melanie Jongsma who is a writer who has utilized her craft in this way.
Beth Lamie is another personal historian who helps people preserve their legacies in story. Her projects vary from one-page vignettes, short stories and full life memoirs.
Have a loved one you wish to pay homage to? Email me to see if I can help you with a portrait. I’ll take pictures or take a look at your pictures, and recommend something beautiful.