Memorial Portrait

A Tribute

At first, I wasn’t sure if this was the right subject matter to remember a lost loved one as I felt it could imply a focus on the loss, rather than the life of the person. 

However, after some thought I soon realised it was the perfect gesture to capture the special relationship between this mother and daughter.  The supportive grasping of hands encapsulates perfectly love, tenderness and intimacy, demonstrating their closeness, connection and a never-ending bond.

A mother's life holds on, through the lives she’s touched and shaped, and she has shaped no-one greater than her daughter. A daughter who not only carries her in her genes and through her mannerisms, but also her values and memories.

Death is the last intimate thing we do
— Laurell K. Hamilton

Sourcing Inspiration

Any memorial portrait deserves my utmost respect, and for this one was such an emotional moment to capture - one that I can empathise with, but cannot relate to first-hand.  Therefore, I needed to find insight; so a close friend of mine suggested the podcast, ‘Terrible, thanks for asking,' an honest and savvy account on loss which lifts the veil of the standard, ‘I’m fine, thanks,' when grief has become your most unwelcome companion. Host Nora explains:

“Grief was my constant companion and I didn’t totally hate it either; it’s a bruise I get to push and a pain that reminds me that what I had and lost is real. It’s the price I paid for loving deeply, for letting myself be loved - it’s the evidence that Aaron was here, and that he’s really gone.”

— Nora McInerny, 'Terrible, Thanks for Asking.'

In this podacast, Nora openly delves into one of her most painful times - when she miscarried her second child and lost her father and husband, all inside a few months.   

Nora's honest account helped me to get into the mindset of losing someone so close - the overlapping pain & loss with love. Within this painting I wanted to capture the sorrow of loss by creating quiet mood with cooler relaxing tones, but overlaying the love & tenderness with warm oranges, soft marks and layers of translucent pigment. 

Creating the Story

One of the wonderful things about portraits, is that they offer the opposite of loss – a presence begins to re-appear before you, which can be very cathartic, as one of my clients summed up:

“Thank you so much, Sandra. You have no idea how much joy seeing the development of the painting was to us. It will be such a comfort, and I know it will be a much-cherished piece. You really captured his likeness and character. It’s a beautiful painting! Thank you so much for all the hours you put into creating it.”

— Gillian Davidson

This is one of the absolute honours about my job, providing a source of comfort, solace and a physical, tangible presence to ease loss. The process of beginning with a blank canvas or a lump of clay and eventually ending up with someone staring back at you is both uncanny and magical. Creating their likeness is more than copying the photos/model, it is about inputting something of their manner and story too. The difficulty lies not in creating the portrait, but the person.

With this painting I couldn’t capture a likeness as such, and in some ways this quiet, peaceful picture was at odds with much of her personality, which I’ve been told consisted of a boisterous laugh emitting with the warmest smile.  Even yet, that same warmth exudes from this picture.  Love, compassion and dedication spills through the connection of this embrace; you can sense the relationship this pair had, and so this is the quality I focused on.

When I start to achieve the qualities of the person or the sentiment of the picture, part of the challenge is knowing when to stop.  This can be somewhat conflicting as you're both relieved to see it come together at an end-point, whilst feeling a loss about finishing it and letting it go.

Thank you for the honour of painting this most intimate moment.

I take memorial portraits very seriously, making sure to sensitively recreate an image of a loved one into a painting that will last and be treasured forever.

If you're thinking of commissioning a memorial portrait for yourself or as a gift for a loved one,  contact me and tell me about who you'd like painted and what it means to you so we can discuss  how to honour their memory best.