You know, I realize it’s not always convenient to get your portrait done before you die, but if you don’t want a bad rendition of your likeness passing through the annals of time, for the love of God get it done now while you’re still toe-tappin’. I recently did a posthumous portrait. I have done a number of them now. That’s a barrel of laughs, I’m here to tell you. As a painter, any time someone in my family dies, or a friend dies, it is automatically my job to whip out that little masterpiece of the dearly beloved. I have been paid a few times, but the guilt is crushing.
The one I did last week was for a guy who was so beloved that 800 people turned up at the services for him. The portrait I did was from a photo of him (I only had time to do a charcoal sketch–a little heads up would be nice, people). I didn’t really know the guy, and it is SO hard to capture the character of someone you don’t really know, and to do so from one single photo that frankly wasn’t at all like my memory of him the few times I met him. As it turned out, the photo was everywhere at the funeral. There was a big framed print at the reception table, it was projected on a huge screen for the audience, and it was on the playbill or whatever it’s called. Now imagine, here comes my measly little sketch, and a potential 800 people could stand there and compare it to the damn photo. I can hear it now, “Ahhh, she’s a little off on the eyebrow”, “I think his teeth should be smaller”, “She didn’t get the curls right in his hair.”
When I work from photos to do a non-posthumous portrait, nobody gets to see those photos. Sometimes I even destroy them for the principal of the matter and for the integrity and the sanctity of the work of art itself. So here’s the deal. When I die, I don’t want any corny portrait done of me from a photo. I have a little 8 x 10 portrait I did of myself years ago from LIFE, and that will have to suffice.