Painting Memories

“My Daughter Reading in the Butterfly Garden”

The first oil painting I ever did is the portrait above, “My Daughter Reading in the Butterfly Garden“. She’s long outgrown that yellow dress, and storybooks like the one she’s reading here, but the memories live on in paint. We had to sell that beautiful property years ago, so that too is bittersweet, but in our memories we can travel back to the places we once called home, and go back in time to when our family lived there.

In the short time-lapse video below of “My Son Jumping in Leaves“, my son is on that same land, a hobby farm in rural Minnesota. I can almost hear him laughing!

When comparing and contrasting the two paintings, notice how a poignant memory, frozen in time, can be depicted equally by a subject that is peacefully at rest (sitting, reading, or otherwise still) and by a subject that is caught in mid-action (like jumping in a pile of leaves). Action is shown through blurred lines and thick strokes, high contrast, a simple color palette and heavy texture. Stillness is shown through softer colors, smoother brush strokes, many varied colors, and greater detail.

Memories of good times

This last example is another painted memory, but my family and I aren’t in the painting. That’s because we are on the other side, looking in. This was our view of cheery graffiti one fine beach day when we walked across a pier at Tybee Island, so far away from our home and life we’d had to leave behind.

The oil painting “I Love Life” captures that moment when I was taking a picture of this happy message, and a shadow caught my eye… it was one of my daughters taking a picture of this same scene, at the same time. Here we were, making new memories in a new favorite place.

A few minutes after our pause on the pier, we joined the people at the beach. So, you might say that we stepped inside this painting, or that I painted a glimpse of our then-future and now-past. And, when I see this painting, it all comes back to me, or perhaps it moves forward.

When we stand in that space between the past and the future, the past might be represented like these old pier planks: weathered, faded, and yet still standing. We can see the future just ahead, in the endless, limitless ocean. When painting concepts like the past and the future, color choices such as brown (earthy, past) and blue (heavenly, future) can help tell the story. Concepts such as letting go, moving on, and positive thinking can be told through brush strokes, color choices, textures, stillness or action, complementary styles and contrasts.

May we make peace with the past, look forward to the future, and let our present self say, “I love life.”

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