Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Painting My Ancestors

Ahem. Hello!

It's been a while. Like just short of 7 years since I've posted to this blog. Yikes! I never intended to take this long of a break, lol!

Time flies by like the blink of an eye. Here we are in 2016. I still create the occasional scrapbook page here and there but another outlet for my creative spirit has taken digi-scrapbooking's place. I've taken up painting. Not digital painting but the old fashioned way. I started with watercolors, then tried gouache. After that I gave pastels a try. Then I moved into oils. And the last thing I tried was acrylics. Of course, my photography has continued all this time as well and it provides me with most of the reference photos I use for my paintings. Most but not all.

Mostly I paint nature things... landscapes, flowers, etc. But I guess it was inevitable that one day I would combine my love of painting with my love of genealogy and family history. And that finally happened a few weeks ago. Out of nowhere I got the inspiration to paint a picture of my great grandparents. One photo in particular popped into my head and once there it wouldn't leave. So I had to paint it! This photo was taken in Poland, probably in the 1930s but possibly as late as the early 1940s. It was a very small photo, about the size of a standard business card. It isn't in color and the tonal values leave much to be desired. But it's one of only two photos I have of my great grandparents and the other photo is an even poorer image.

As you can see, my great grandmother was wearing her special occasion folk costume so I'm guessing it was a special occasion. Great grandfather has his heavy winter coat on but the trees are in full foliage. So it can't have been a summer festival or Christmas. There are no leaves on the ground as you would find in late autumn so I'm guessing it was taken in early spring. Possibly Easter. As I understand it, the folk costumes differ around the various regions of Poland. Most likely the outfit my great grandmother had on was typical of the area where they lived (southern Poland).

When I decided to try painting this image of my great grandparents I just knew I had to do it in full color. I did some online research about the costumes from this area and discovered that the stripes in great grandmother's skirt would likely have been intense bold colors. Just my style! But what colors to use? I had no idea. So I just went with what felt right.

The photo was taken in bright sunlight, probably midday. That made for harsh shadows that sort of hid a lot of details making it difficult for me to determine what some things were. I guessed the best I could and added some flowers and foliage of my own here and there. Here's my interpretive version of my great grandparent's photo. It's a watercolor, 8"x 10" matted in an 11"x 14" frame.

It took me 2-3 weeks to paint it. I only paint a couple hours a day to avoid getting repetitive stress pain... writer's cramp with a paint brush. I'm pretty pleased with the way it came out considering it's the first time I've tried painting people. I like to think that my great grandparents would have liked it. I never met them. They died long before I was born. I'd also like to think that my mom would have liked it. She'd never met her grandparents either. It's been 9 years this month since she passed away.

I'm not going to try to teach how to paint your ancestors here but I will encourage you to do it. I found it created a more intimate connection with my great grandparents than just looking at that photo did. Buy some paints, take some classes, and connect with your ancestor too! I know, I know, you don't think you can do it, do you? Well, I challenge you to try! When you get done, post a link on Facebook or send me an email. I look forward to meeting your ancestors!