Sitting in my studio and preparing my painting, “Reflection”, for delivery to a show, I find myself missing Aaron. This painting means a great deal to me as it is the last painting that I completed which he was ever able to see and hold… Or to weigh in on.
I decided that perhaps by sharing some progress shots of the painting, along with a few memories, I could spend some time with Aaron today. Although I miss the smell of pipe smoke and turpentine, this will have to do.
“Reflection” (Portrait of Aaron Shikler) – 12in. x 24in. – Oil on Panel
One afternoon earlier this year, Aaron and I sat in his living room talking over tea, cookies, and tobacco. As usual we were discussing other painters, museums, etc. and eventually got onto the topic of childhood memories. He became lost in thought – far away for a few moments – reliving a bit of a memory. I was watching him as the smoke drifted farther from his gaze. I was mentally placing certain of my own memories on the trail of his smoke like a timeline – some vivid and easier to see, other memories thinning. At that moment, I saw another painting I wanted to make – another moment that I wanted to be sure to hold onto the way you only can with a painting. I told him that I was going to paint him again and I went into the studio where I’d left my camera and Moleskine.
“Don’t you have anything better to paint?” he asked chuckling. I told him that all I would be painting from now on was him – smoking a pipe and dancing the cancan. He had removed his hearing aids so at first he thought I was going to paint him with a fan – but we (loudly) sorted it out, ending with a request from him to paint him up like one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s girls. He sat while I did a quick sketch and he lit his pipe while I took photos of the smoke.
A quick sketch in a Moleskine watercolor journal with Derwent water soluble pencils. Initially I didn’t have the stripes included – but later added them to gauge how I would like them as a background.
Working on a grey toned panel, I added my drawing and did the initial block-in using thin washes of paint. I liked that the thin washes let me draw in the texture of his sweater without too much commitment in case I decided I wanted to wipe them out and paint his turtleneck as smooth fabric instead. I don’t begin every painting this way – but this is what I felt like doing this time. Ultimately I liked the texture and the repetition of stripes throughout the image, once the background pattern had been added.
Moved on to color and value – adding my lights and darks – working on solidifying the form – using more intense color that I would later knock back.
A photo of Aaron and me in his studio the day I started “Reflection”.
I added in the striped background. I wanted to suggest, based on some of our conversations, that we are all, to some degree, captives of the memories we create. I mimicked the stripes and colors of the chair upholstery and gave a nod to his painting of his grandson which has a striped background. During this time I was also working on the flesh and mapping out the placement of the smoke.
Aaron’s painting of his oldest grandson, Lane.
Side note: The painting of Lane also makes a cameo in another portrait of Aaron, “Blowing Smoke”, where the striped background of the canvas can be seen over Aaron’s left shoulder (viewer’s right) next to a little depiction of Aaron’s painting of me in an orange kimono. I had decided to sneak myself into the background of that particular painting as well.
Here is Aaron taking a close look at the painting when it was about 2/3 complete. He’s talking about the drawing here. I miss this. I don’t think I will ever have a painting where I don’t think, “What would Aaron have said about this one?”
And, whew… He was liking the progress. A far cry from the days ( years ago) when he absolutely forbade me, or anyone, to paint him. That is a story for another blog…
I added glazes to give the background the warmth that I wanted. After further work on the flesh and playing around with the smoke, the painting was completed.
I am happy with my paintings of Aaron; they will ensure that my memories of him always stay in the “thick and vivid” portion of the smoke timeline.
Aaron asked me for a photo of the completed painting which I brought to him on what would be our last visit. He told me that he was happy with how I captured him (joking that I could’ve managed to paint him with some more hair) and thanked me for painting him. It is gratifying with any portrait to know that the subject likes how you’ve depicted them – but when someone who has taught you so much, and could paint like he could, is happy with your portraits of themself, it means so very much more. (I’m just sorry I never got the chance to paint the portrait of Aaron dancing the cancan.)
When I was leaving that day, we’d already said our goodbyes – I told him I would see him again soon, and typically he would ask when I was visiting again, but instead, as I was walking out the door he said, “Don’t forget me.”
Not a chance, Aaron.