I create the portraits from photographs. All I really need is one photo of each person and about 20 minutes of your time for an interview.
I’ve painted families just about anywhere you can imagine the family gathering–sitting around the living room, on a boat, in the yard, piled up in bed listening to a story, at the beach, gathered around the kitchen table—you name it, and I have probably painted it.
A really fun part of these portraits is discovering what is important to the family and to each individual. I use this information to set my portraits apart from more straightforward renderings finding ways to subtly tell the family story using mementos and symbols I tuck away in the painting.
For instance, if the couple went to Paris on their honeymoon, I can hang a little Eiffel Tower chime somewhere. Or, if they fell in love at Dunkin Donuts, I can add just enough of the logo to a small glass filled with flowers to memorialize that memory. If dad likes to garden, I can stick a trowel in his pocket. If mom loves tea, I can paint a teapot birdhouse. You get the idea. It’s really a lot of fun for me and for the family, too, as they discover and relate to others their story told in paint.
Now lots of folks worry about what type of information they need to think up (especially the husbands!). But, no worries! I have a pretty good interview process that gets me the information I need to make your family portrait personal. I want your ideas and input, for sure, but you don’t need to worry if you are not quite sure what to use. Together, we will figure it out.
A really interesting thing has evolved in regard to family portraits. Those of you familiar with my regular fine art know that I don’t put faces on my people. It is the same with the family portraits. No one ever wants the faces because then it doesn’t look like a work of mine. Once or twice I have been asked and have accommodated it, but ultimately this disappoints because friends and neighbors think it doesn’t look like a “Deborah Cavenaugh”.
So, how do you have a portrait without a face? I think of them as emotional portraits. I really understand how to show the relationship between the family members and portray each person with special tenderness. In fact, I spend so much time thinking about the family when I am working on their portrait, that I do come to feel like I know them.
When I paint a family portrait, I am endeavoring to create a blessing for the family by memorializing a happy moment in a happy place at a certain and definite happy time in the life of the family. I am weaving in the elements that tell about the family…just how it is on this good day. Once I am done, I write a blessing on the painting, something that anchors and states what is good about belonging to each other. Sometimes it happens that the family has their own blessing, something they say to each other, a favorite scripture, or the like, which serves or can be used for inspiration.
When all is complete, my goal it to have created a portrait that will, even on a tough, hard day, remind everyone how great it is to belong to each other and how deeply their love goes. It is a great part of my job to be entrusted with such a duty, a privilege and a blessing for which I am thankful.