A few months before his wedding, Brian (star of this post--please read or at least skim to get some idea of what I'm talking about) wanted to know if I'd like to create a series of 8"x10" caricatures of the wedding party. I said yes, figuring I could crank each one out in about twenty minutes the way I did when I worked at my college newspaper.
Katherine was also involved with this, although she had no idea that I was also working on a surprise wedding portrait of the two of them. The wedding was going to take place in a theater. One wall of the lobby contained a framed poster of the current production surrounded by 24 smaller frames featuring its actors. Brian and Katherine planned to temporarily replace the poster with one of their own. They created several for the wedding (I deleted the wedding party's names at the bottom of this poster for privacy).
They wanted to replace the actors' photos with caricatures of the wedding party and other VIPs. Prints of my caricatures would go into the frames, and the originals would be distributed as gifts during the rehearsal dinner. I planned to tackle the caricatures after I finished the surprise portrait.
As I thought about this project, I started to wonder if caricatures were the best way to go. I can do gentle caricatures, but the essence of caricature is exaggeration. If a person has a big nose, it's my job to make it even bigger, and not everyone has a sense of humor about that kind of thing. What woman wants a constant reminder of how crazy her eyebrows look? I wondered.
So I asked Brian and Katherine if they might prefer a more classical approach--quick but realistic black and white portrait sketches on toned paper at our already-agreed-upon caricature prices--and they were thrilled with this idea. And they should have been: honestly, they were getting the deal of the century. To make this even remotely profitable for myself, I'd have to whip through five heads each day. I'm fast, but this would be pushing it.
The wedding's main players would go inside the top two rows' frames, with Katherine's people on the left side and Brian's people on the right. I came up with an order for everyone else and color-coded the rectangles to correspond with the toned-down paper colors I would eventually use.
I asked Brian to send me photos of everyone involved--begging him no postage stamp-sized photos please!--and a few days later I received pictures, some of which were postage stamp-sized and probably taken from Facebook. Sigh. That was unavoidable, as once again the paintings were going to be a surprise. Brian and Katherine couldn't come right out and ask for new giant photos of their friends and relatives for no reason. And let's face it: not everyone has a portfolio of flattering, interestingly lit digital photos of themselves always at the ready. So I had to do the best I could with what I was sent, sifting through several options for each person until I found the best ones and bracing myself for another trip to SquintTown, U.S.A.
I spent a Sunday afternoon painting 1,920 square inches of paper with solid pastel colors. Katherine's favorite color is blue, so I knew what color to make her portrait (above), but everyone else's was randomly selected.
(Breaking Bad people: note the unintentionally excellent color scheme going on here.) Working as quickly as possible, I concentrated on facial features and used a looser approach on clothing and backgrounds. Ten people wore glasses, and I kicked myself for not charging Brian an Excessive Eyewear Tax.
I worked in order, from top to bottom and left to right, and tried to finish each portrait within an hour or so. I felt like I really hit my stride with these three. I had a rough idea of who my subjects were in relation to the bride and groom and was especially interested in seeing features that were similar to the couple's. I definitely noticed a resemblance between the young woman in the orange portrait and Brian, and the woman on the right is obviously Katherine's mother.
But honestly these paintings came together so quickly that I didn't have much time to concentrate on names or relationships. There were just so many of them! By the time I had finished the purple portrait on the right (she's my favorite of the entire bunch), I was only halfway finished.
As the week wore on, portrait fatique set in. I felt like I was doing a good job with the paintings, but after I finished each one I felt like the Foo Fighters at 3:08 here:
(I wonder if they sing that line 24 times there? Because that would be perfect. Anybody feel like counting for me?)
Complaints aside, I do enjoy painting people with a little character in their faces, such as the ones above (two of whom were residents of SquintTown). I created the highlights by using a combination of white acrylic paint for the brightest spots and white colored pencil for softer areas.
Yay, bottom row, and yay, kids! I think Gray and Blue are sisters. I always say that children are more difficult to paint because they have no wrinkles. These were created during a particularly tense painting day, as I was waiting for mammogram results and did not want to experience retakes/ultrasounds/biopsies again, because what a stress nightmare that was. As I was painting Orange, I received word that my breasts were free to walk the planet for another year, and I was relieved and overjoyed. It was nice to get this good news while painting a happy face.
And get a load of this little party crasher! I added the baby sister, whose official title in the wedding program was "Junior Flower Girl In Training" or words to that effect, as a freebie for the boy's parents. Katherine's grandmother (yellow) is also in the big wedding portrait--she's the one in the center. I used a reference photo from an earlier era for that one.
She is the only grandparent in this painting who is still with us, so I hope she liked the way I painted her (twice).
So that was all of them! I scanned the paintings, stacked them, boxed them up, and mailed them to Brian and Katherine. After that I think I started dancing around the house and babbling about how I was finally free and totally done forever and the burden of this insane wedding project was off my shoulders at last and hey, let's get some Mexican food.
Brian and Katherine were very happy with the paintings, and they were a big hit at the rehearsal dinner. I'm still waiting to see some photos from the big day. Katherine told me later that she and Brian are planning to create a large reproduction of all of these paintings (similar to what you see above), and they will display that in their new home as well.