We Dance to Different Drummers

The young woman in this story has been launched into independence, leaving the security of family for another continent with a future that's assured but never guaranteed. Her portrait has been in the back of my mind for several months, puzzling how to tell her story along with a Bolognese fighting sword? You read that right! She and I have spoken at length about this milestone, memories highlighted while focused on her future. Stairs come to mind for the ups and downs of life, leading purposefully to new places that are not yet known. 

I don’t pay for stock photos but have always added to my own portfolio of ideas. In 2015 I took a dozen photos of a modern stairwell at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. They were cast cement on a grey day that left it to me to add a tapestry of forest colors, her favorites. What you see next represents my work to build her stage from the stairway idea to her favorite forest colors.

     A cut and paste stairwell from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena CA

I'm now sketching a pose to fit her into the scene and thinking how to place the sword in her hands. Can't have her floating in air which called for another stair to support her in a relaxed position. Treads with no risers allows us to see what's below. There is no program that makes the painting. Like all artists the image exists first in my mind and then I have to draw and paint to birth it. I create new brushes for each painting and try them out with the color palette, always custom, adjusting on the fly. Sketching, changing, moving, erasing, relighting, repainting are how I work. 

Beginning to sketch the young woman against the background               

Her hands are still open, expectant. She wants to wear a fluffy dress so that decades from now when she sees herself, it's a traditional portrait. This is the dress my digital paint designed for her. It does not exist except in her preference and my imagination. Notice in the large, finished image at the bottom that the filmy layer on the right side reveals a pale yellow shoe underneath with its mate more saturated and visible on the bottom step. She will change with the years but this is a memory of her time in the sun. I see what she does not yet know, that as she ages through life she'll become even more beautiful in all the most important ways, inside most of all.

     Building her face

I save hardest things for last. That usually means the features that make her recognizable to herself most of all, but also to those who know and love her. In this case there was that second challenge. She is an athlete with a sword as her tool for discipline and skill, strength and agility! The hardest part for me was managing the angles, her fingers at the hilt, the sword at rest and visible as dark against the lighter background. I had to relight and recolor both dress and lower stairs to make that work out.

close-up of her right hand     sword resting in her lap

So what is it about the sword in her hands? As she described it, having moved with her family to a new city she wanted to get involved in an activity as a way to meet people and just something new to do. She found a European martial arts group and convinced her father and sister to try it with her. She bought the sword herself to further training hoping someday to compete. The people she met were as impactful as the sport itself. A  French citizen in the US for a few months on business was a very skilled swordsman from whom she learned something new every time they sparred. When he returned to France he gifted her his leg guards, a generosity of kindness and support for her education in the sport.

The martial arts group made its way into her college essay for its role in helping her realize and overcome many insecurities. From that new confidence she grew beyond normal comfort to find a college program in Scotland where she is pursuing life in the perfect program. In her own words, "It's hard to say what I see myself doing in five to ten years. I'd like to have a stable job, working with a small team of people, that somehow helps improve others' lives. I definitely see myself with a healthy work-life balance, being able to continue my hobbies like Bolognese sword fighting training. I'd also like to have a dog 😊"

My commission customers are my collaborators; she and I share our ideas, I work out the details, she comments and I revise. She’s not afraid to speak her mind which always brings about a finer finished work! She's the one who will say when I'm finished. It only remains to decide on the perfect crop.

 Now back to the studio to create!