Beginning the Painting

This blog is about the creative process I went through as an artist to create a mixed media collage memorial painting of my father. There is a lot of thought that goes into creating a mixed media memorial collage. If it’s your own family member or loved one, the journey can be heartwarming and emotionally turbulent at the same time. After the death of my father, Phillip, it took me six month to build up the courage to begin a painting representing how I wanted to remember him. But, I am so glad I took that leap of courage and began the process.

The Subject for the Painting

My dad was “a work of art” or “a piece of work” — depending on how you knew him.  An orphan found on a doorstep in Washington D.C. in 1922, he spent his childhood growing up on a farm as a foster kid/field hand. He fought for his country at age 18 in the “Battle of the Bulge’ in WWII. He loved his country. He loved his family. And, he loved God.  Family and friends alike knew if they were in trouble, Phil would be the first one to show up to lend a hand.

dad small

Dad – the subject of my painting

When his health failed him in his 80’s, I stepped in to care for this fiercely independent man for six years until he died in 2014 at age 92. Those were very tough years filled with many conflicting emotions and struggles. I watched him change and become someone I didn’t even recognize anymore. But, when I lost him to dementia all those struggles didn’t matter any more. I was empty. And I didn’t know what to do with all of these conflicting feelings bottled up inside me?


A vintage letter from WWII

Collecting the mixed media “pieces of life” 

Several month later, I came across in an antique store a vintage letter written by a mother to her son fighting in WWII. It struck me hard — celebrate the man. Celebrate his courage. Capture him in his prime. Work through these feelings of loss in the only way I knew how — paint. I went back to the letter and pulled a quote that spoke of the longing in a loved one’s heart. It read, “sight for sore eyes to see you”. That quote summed up how  this hollow empty place in my heart felt now that he was gone. But what else could I use in a collage?



Old photographs give personality

One of his favorite photos of himself was taken when he was on leave in Paris during The War. Perfect! I photocopied it and added water to smudge the ink, and a cool pink color came to the surface. Ripping the paper was a tangible way to represent the brokenness this man had endured throughout his life.  I drew the other half of his strong face with Indian ink — representing the young man I never knew personally. Then, finished the mixed media collage with a stamp of the Eiffel Tower, the face of one of his watches that I disassembled, and a clock image.

To me, it’s all about time — the time I didn’t know him in his youth, the years I had with him,and the months going by as I miss him. I assembled the “pieces of life” onto an 10″x 10″x 1.5″ cradled wood panel primed with a burnt umber base coat using Acrylic Soft Gel medium. I applied pieces of teal tissue to add a bit of color and antiqued the whole piece with a burnt umber glaze.

A Treasure Chest of Memories

Diving into the creative process of painting a mixed media painting of my father helped me come to terms with my feelings. The end product is a painting that holds so much emotion and memories personally — like a little treasure chest simply titled, “Dad”. My memories feel safe now — hidden in this little chest. When I summon up the courage, I gaze at this painting and recall his boisterous laugh, the mischievous twinkle in his eye and how he would give me the biggest bear hugs in the world — all treasures of a precious time with my dad.


“Dad”, 10″x10″x1.5″ cradled wood panel.

Dear Reader, I recommend creating a memorial painting of someone whom you hold dear or contact someone who can create one for you. It’s an heirloom piece that captures not only the person, but their spirit as well. You will value this painting as one of your most precious possessions. Feel free to contact me for more information about mixed media painting or inquire about a commission.

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What has been your experience with creating an artwork that captures an individual’s life? Please leave a comment below.