Posthumous portraits are probably a bit of a gloomy subject to write about at this time of year, but to me they are very fitting for Christmas.
This year a friend of mine asked me to draw her a picture that was always going to be a tricky subject. Indeed it was and one that sent both of us on an emotional roller coaster.
Her mother died 25 years ago, when my friend was very young. She has vague memories of her mother and a few old photos, so asked if I would create a pencil portrait of her. She had mixed emotions when placing the order and wasn't totally sure how she would react at the finished piece.
Drawing the portrait stirred a lot of feelings, which surprised me. It could be because, being a mother myself, the thought of leaving my children at such a young age is heart wrenching. It was this that made me want to finish it in time for Christmas, so she could be with her family once again at a time when family should be together.
As I always say for every portrait, it's a process. A process of proportions, position, light and shade, adjustments, observation and layers. This portrait, however, was not just about those things. It was about reuniting a mother with her daughter after many years apart.
Posthumous portraits are one of the hardest things an artist will do. With old photos, taken with a non-digital camera and a specific image of how they are remembered to the client, it is up to us to strike a balance between the two, but in the most sensitive way. It is also about patience, as the client hasn't really seen their loved one for a long time in some cases, so they need time to readjust and get to know their loved one again. It sounds like we artists bring people back to life and although it's just a drawing, it is an image that can stir many emotions when immotalised in graphite. There's more emotion and meaning attached to it, more sentimentality, more feeling.
It took my friend a couple of days to really figure out how she felt about the portrait and I was happy to give her that time. I am pleased to say, she now loves it.
I feel blessed to be given the opportunity of reuniting a mother and daughter through my art, particularly at Christmas. It feels as though, through the presents, the food, the cards and carols, what really matters is being with the ones you love, whether still here or passed on, thats the true Christmas Spirit.
Merry Christmas all, Katharine xx