Post Emily

Life has been quite a ride this past two months, including moving (twice) and having an up-close-and-personal encounter with an unwell wild bat which necessitated a series of post-exposure rabies vaccines. But what do we do when life happens? We keep painting.

I finished working from Portrait of My Grandmother two weeks ago, and there may be some tweaks that I'll add in the home studio but all in all, it turned out very well. This is 36" x 24", and I will post some progress shots below.

Can you tell that my favorite element in this painting is her hands? They almost painted themselves. Here is a look back at from the start.


Motley's painting is loaded with texture. He painted it on a rough canvas laundry bag, as mentioned in the previous post, and he worked in thick layers of paint over that rough support. There are places where his brush visibly skipped over wrinkles that were already forming, before the painting was even done. To suggest that texture on my comparatively smooth canvas, I used thick random brushstrokes and layers. In the first session, I tried to get the drawing and composition more or less there, and laid on a lot of paint. From there it was mainly corrections and refinement.

I don't know if Motley used an underpainting, we don't know much about his process especially for these early paintings that weren't his mature style. I used burnt sienna for the wash and drawing, and then fought it the rest of the way to get her coloring accurate.


I don't normally paint in a "serial" fashion, meaning I normally work up the whole surface of the canvas as a unit, not one area and then another area. Motley's painting shows dark outlines around the hands, as if he drew their placement and then painted them separately later. This painting was almost certainly done from life, and an 80-year-old woman would not be able to hold a pose for a very long time...so it would make sense for him to work the more challenging sections (face and hands) to completion one at a time. That was how I painted her hands. Established the shape and then in one session, painted them in.

Her face is a portrait of character, dignity, life history. It was by far the most challenging part of my painting. I kept putting emotions there which were mine, not hers. She's not sad in Motley's painting, but I kept finding sadness in mine. Portrait painters connect with subjects and ideally, paint the essence of the sitter. That's where being a copyist is different. Motley painted Emily with his own lifetime knowledge of her. In the end, his is a painting of Emily. Mine will always be a painting of a painting. Over the ten weeks that I worked on this, I met a lot of sincerely interested visitors and I got to share Emily's story with countless people. I wanted to do her justice, and hope that I did.