Dead or Alive

by Lisa

       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.


This entry was posted in Humor, Painting, Portrait. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Dead or Alive

  1. Bill Brauker says:

    What a terrific idea. You and the portrait are both lovely.

  2. Rebecca says:

    First of all, you are freakin’ gorgeous. Second, I hate the word annals. I always stick on it for a second or two, making sure the silent voice in my head pronounces it properly.

    I’m sure you made someone happy with your portrait. You could always say, this was apparently drawn from a photo of the same sitting, the one that didn’t make it into album.

  3. Lisa, your post made me chuckle as I’m remembering some of the awful jobs I’ve had doing posthumous portraits. The most difficult ones I’ve done were for a friend of his mother and father. The ONLY photos he had of them were on a couple of old driver’s licenses; tiny references with the State of California Seal overprinted. Mom and Dad were Mennonites and didn’t take or keep photographs.

    This is a lovely self-portrait you did, BTW. And I’m sure the charcoal sketch was very competent which you did of the deceased (or “diseased” as Huck Finn would say).

  4. Irene Rencsi says:

    Your portrait is wonderful! … and I am so enjoying this blog!!!!

  5. Leslie Saeta says:

    Ok, your self portrait is AMAZING! The color use and light captured in the painting is spectacular. I absolutely love it. And I agree, get one done now, before it is too late!

  6. lbtowers says:

    Thank you all for your compliments. Yes, to be a painter, and to be in control of one’s looks is quite a luxury. I totally flattered my sitter. And Rebecca, I too have trouble with that word. I use it regularly to desensitize myself.

  7. Rebecca says:

    I posted a couple of pics for mardi gras, but the jester might end up in my children’s story. Please let me know what you think!

  8. Wow!!! That is a fabulous self portrait.

    I can’t imagine doing a portrait of someone who has passed away …
    …………Now this is terrible…. I suddenly thought of that poor sea lion you painted…. Bet HIS family is glad you didn’t show up at his funeral with that painting!!

    Also hope you don’t need to use your self portrait anytime soon.

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