Several years ago, I painted a considerably larger-than-lifesize acrylic on paper portrait of my good friend Len Edgerly, who with his wife Darlene splits his time between homes in Denver, Colorado and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Len has had his portrait framed and on the wall of their Denver condo for more than four years, and I've enjoyed seeing it every time I've visited them there. When I was in Denver last summer, they decided it was time they had one of Darlene as well, the same size and medium, and I've just completed it in the last week.
I've known and been crazy about Darlene for more than ten years now, and so it was a delight to work on her image. As always, I was amazed at how quickly her personality came to life as I started finding my way through her features. Darlene's lively, bright spirit shone from her eyes within hours of beginning the painting, and it just continued to grow as I worked my way into her beaming smile. It still seems like a miracle to me, this coming-to-life that happens as portraits grow on the page.
You can see my portrait of Len and read my original comments about it here, in my Sept. 14, 2005 post on this blog. Those who regularly enjoy Len's outstanding weekly podcasts featuring news and interviews about electronic book readers, The Kindle Chronicles and The Reading Edge, or who frequent his blog, may have already noticed his portrait in the background of photos of him in his living room, and have almost certainly enjoyed some of Darlene's own wonderful commentary in his podcasts.
I have noted in previous posts how nerve wracking it is for me to do work on commission, and how portraits are especially fraught with anxiety in that regard, so it was a great relief and pleasure, two days after shipping the painting to Len and Darlene, to get Len's e-mail message with the subject heading, "We Love It!"
One of the many nice things about painting birch portraits is that birches are much less worrisome subjects. As I've written and talked about often, I paint them not only because they are among the most beautiful things I've ever seen, but because they give me great freedom to do the things I want with paint. These "portraits" are of real, individual trees, but they truly are abstract paintings that happen to look like birches.
Even large, mature Alaska birches have a surprising range of color in their bark, but the young trunks, especially, are a riot of hues. After more than 30 years of painting them in every locale and season, I'm still amazed by their variety, and still learning about the way latitude, light, time of day and time of year, soil and surroundings affect their appearance. Young Birch Portrait is the latest in the growing series of birch portraits I've been doing since the first of this year. I'm already thinking and feeling my way toward the major exhibition on Alaska Birch that fellow artists Barry McWayne, Margo Klass, and I, along with University of Alaska scientist Kimberley Maher, will be mounting at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska in July through September of 2011.