Saturday, July 30, 2016

Willie Handcart Storm

I have been able to paint most of the pioneer messages for the choir broadcast over the last nine years.  This year, the story was about the Willie handcart company.  They endured terrible hardships as they traveled across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley.

According to the story from Betsey Smith Goodwin's journal, “I will not dwell upon the hardships we endured, nor the hunger and cold, but I like to tell of the goodness of God unto us.” She recounts one day that especially stood out in her memory. The wind blew fiercely. The dark clouds were ominous and threatening. The approaching storm was so violent, the thunder and lightning so frightening, that even the ox teams refused to take another step. The group’s captain stood in the middle of the road, took off his hat, and bowed his head. Soon other members of the company joined him in bowing their heads and removing their hats, until 100 carts had gathered around the captain, who said, “Let us pray.” Betsey remembers that as he poured his heart out in prayer, heaven felt close. The clouds then parted, and the company pressed forward with faith until they reached camp and pitched their tents—just before the storm clouds finally burst open with torrents of rain.

I had to finish this painting early in order to go on a family vacation, and the scope of the painting was pretty daunting--100 handcarts and all their families!?  With my husband's help, I decided on this rocky landscape, and to zoom in to about 30 people.  I happened to learn that a friend of ours had a handcart, which we borrowed and set up in several different positions, and had my sister's family and a neighbor family who were heading off to trek soon as models.  Thank you, Ericksons and Gillmans!  The finishing of this painting was a blessing and result of a lot of prayer.

Somebody's Mother

I got to do another Mother's Day painting in 2016.  Even though it was early May, and quite warm, my models were kind enough to dress in heavy coats, gloves and scarves, and make it look like winter, while posing on the street corner.  Thanks David and RaeMi!  David also had to show up to model right after being in a car accident!  I have the sweetest models ever!

The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter’s day. . . .
She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng
Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eye.
Down the street, with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of “school let out,”
Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep. . . .
[One] paused beside her and whispered low,
“I’ll help you cross, if you wish to go. . . .
“She’s somebody’s mother, boys, you know,
For all she’s aged and poor and slow.
“And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,
“If ever she’s poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away.”
And “somebody’s mother” bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said
Was, “God be kind to the noble boy,

Who is somebody’s son, and pride and joy!”

Handel's Messiah

George Frideric Handel had a hard life.  He was down on himself and wanting to give up when his friend, Charles Jennens, gave him a text he had prepared from Isaiah verses in the Bible about the Messiah.  Handel set it to music and made one of the best, well-known musical pieces ever.

My brother-in-law Ryan and his son Cole were so kind to get all dressed up fancy and model for me on this job, and it was fun to learn that Cole's sister Natalie had just written a research paper on Handel, so she taught me a lot about this story as well.

Viktor Frankl's Search for Meaning

Before Viktor Frankl became a renowned psychologist; before he survived a Nazi concentration camp; and before he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, a bestselling book about his experiences; he was a high school student who thought deeply about life—more deeply than perhaps most teenagers do. One day his science teacher declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Young Viktor leaped from his chair and countered, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”

At the last minute, one of my models couldn't make it, and our location also fell through, so I was able to use my husband as the professor instead, and shot this in our kitchen.  He's a great model, but I've used him a lot--you can look through the old paintings and see if you recognize him.  Thanks to him, and to Brock for spending a few hours following me around while I tried working out new plans.

John Akhwari: Finish the Race

I was asked with just 24 turnaround time to sketch John Akhwari in the 1968 olympics.  He was pushed and fell while running the marathon, injuring his shoulder and dislocating his knee, and had to use part of his shirt to bandage up his knee.  He finished the race slowly, limping, and well over an hour after the winner.  Most of the spectators had left.  However, those who remained stood and applauded his finish in the dark.

When asked why he didn't just quit, he said, "My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race.  They sent me to finish the race."

I love the research these paintings require me to do.  For this one, I had to watch old recordings of Akhwari and the news report. His story is so amazing and inspiring.  It helps me to try harder to go on in tough situations.

The Grasshopper and the Ant

I'm sure you've heard the fable about the grasshopper and the ant.  The ant is industrious all summer, storing up food for the winter, while the grasshopper spends his time playing, relaxing, and playing music.  However, when the winter comes, the grasshopper is cold and starving, and asks for the mercy of the ant colony to feed and shelter him.

I absolutely loved painting this.  It was great fun to use bright colors and forced perspective, as well as having the opportunity to use my cartoon-style pen and watercolor.  I even broke out the Dr. Martin dyes to boost the colors.  I have this hanging on my bedroom wall right now.

Colemans in the 1970s

I painted this based on a story about the announcer, Lloyd Newell, from the 1970s.  I took the opportunity to paint my own family.  I was born in 1977, so this would have been about 1978.  I am the baby sitting in my mom's lap.  All the furnishings, wall coverings, and decorations are based on my home at that time, and I found pictures of each of my siblings and parents from then as well, then fit them together into this picture.  My dad painted the two-paneled picture and made the pot.  Apparently the father from the story had a bunch of scriptures and quotes written on a big piece of cardboard, and they would read them together for family nights.  While that is not what we did, we had regular family home evening, and I'm sure there was a time when my dad would bring out a poster or a drawing, since he was an art teacher.

Unfortunately, this painting never aired--we never learned why.

Dancing Pioneers

For the 2015 Pioneer Day message, I had the privilege of painting this illustration.  Margaret Judd, who was 17 when she trekked across the plains as a pioneer in the 1800s, said, "Our journey was like all such journeys--it had its pleasant side, and its unpleasant side. When the sun was shining and the roads were good, we trotted along feeling that we would soon be at our destination, but when the rain poured down and the roads were so bad that we could not travel--then that was the other side."  However, they found ways to lift their spirits.  Catherine Adams, who turned 12 during her pioneer trek, described it this way: "It was terribly tiring and tedious in the hot and rainy weather. . . We had many good times, though.  In the evenings after the horses were tethered the men would light a big bonfire, clear off a level piece of ground, dampen it down to pack it a bit, and have a dance.  There were some fine musicians along who played the fiddle, [harmonica], and accordion, and we used to e enjoy sitting around the fire listening to them or having a sing-song."

I used several pictures of modern-day teenagers on trek for this one.  It was a trick to get the lighting right, with several pictures with different lighting to start, but I think it turned out OK in the end.  I really wanted a dramatic bonfire, and some nice glowing contrast to the pioneers.  I enjoyed painting the flickering lights along the water-soaked ground.

World War I Nurse

This happened to be a Mother's Day painting I did for the tabernacle choir broadcast.  Right after World War I ended, a soldier who made it through the entire war without injury, but died of pneumonia.  The American Red Cross nurse at the hospital sent a letter to the soldier's mother, wanting to share more about her son than just a cold record of his death.

"He was brave and cheerful, and made a good fight with the disease," until he was too weak to go on. Now he "sleeps under a simple white wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country.  I enclose a few leaves from the grass that grows near in a pretty meadow."

My high school friend Heather was so willing and excited to pose for me and be the nurse, even putting on the costume including the Krispy Kreme hat after teaching zumba one day.  I was glad the two paintings came together.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


When Ben Franklin worked for the Boston Post Office, he had to invent an odometer to measure the mileage of the roads.  I was happy to be able to use our awesome neighbor and friend Tim, who made a great Ben Franklin.  This painting doesn't do his great modeling justice--I will have to paint a close-up sometime.  Also, my son was willing to pose as Franklin's assistant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sarah Ferguson McDonald

This is Sarah Ferguson McDonald, a pioneer in the 1850s crossing the plains at the Platte River.  Her husband James McDonald had contracted cholera the day before, helping another sick pioneer the cross the river.  It was a fast-acting disease, and he was dead that morning.  Sarah was left to bury him alongside the river after putting her children to bed.  As she stood in the rushing water to wash the off the dirt and mud from the grave, she pondered for a moment how easy it would be to let the water take her away to her husband.  She was brought back to her surroundings by her small child calling to her from the wagon.  The next morning she packed up and continued to travel to Zion with her children.

I chose April as my model, because she has always struck me as a woman of beauty and strength.  She travels on in her life, despite hardships and downfalls, including losing her baby daughter.  She and her sweet spitfire daughter Oakley, also pictured, would have made great pioneers.

I have enjoyed speaking with several of Sarah's ancestors after painting this.  I know that her decision to endure to the end despite the death of her husband and the hardships of pioneer life was invaluable to her young family and all those who followed.

John Trebonius and Martin Luther

The story here is that John Trebonius was an instructor in the 1500s, where men usually kept their hats on indoors.  However, he always removed his hat when he came into the classroom, as a sign of respect towards the boys he was teaching.  He said that he never knew if he was in the presence of future greatness.  As it turned out, a young Martin Luther was in his classroom, (depicted here in a green and tan tunic on the front row.)

I was given a very short deadline on this painting, and had to round up several boys and a man quickly.  There was no time to find outfits.  Thanks to my sister, four boys and an actor practicing "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Valentine Theater in American Fork, I was able to take pictures immediately.  I then doubled the boys in different positions, changed everyone's features, and added period clothing.  (Thank you Anya Allred for again coming through with fantastic costume references!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Joy and Dixie

This story is about two women, Joy and Dixie, who were neighbors and friends for 50 years. They helped each other through many hard times, and celebrated good times together. Joy became terminally ill, and was too weak to do much other than stay in bed. Even though Dixie was in poor health as well, and was taking care of a sick husband, Dixie planted a beautiful flower garden for Joy to see out her bedroom window. After Joy died, the neighbors learned that Dixie had let her backyard go in order to keep up the beautiful front flower garden for Dixie.

I have wonderful neighbors named Josephine and Lyla who were generous with their time and let me photograph them for this painting. Thankfully, both are still healthy and able to plant and work in their flower gardens!

Notes During a Concert

I got to paint my mom in this one!  Thank you also to my cousins who also posed on the spur of the moment at their sisters' baby shower.  (Yes, two sisters--I punctuated correctly.)  I had a very short deadline, and it was divine planning, I'm sure, that placed me at a shower with all my models available that day.

The story is that a grandma of two teenage girls invited them to a choir concert.  She wanted them to experience some fine music with her.  As she was moved to tears, she looked over at her granddaughters, and was appalled to see that they were writing notes!  Later, she learned that they were writing a letter to their brother back home, sharing how moving and wonderful the concert was, and how much they were enjoying it.  The message is that we should not judge others too quickly, or jump to a wrong conclusion, but we should think the best of others.

Turtle on a Fence

Alex Haley, author of the book Roots, had a painting on his wall of a turtle on a fencepost.  When people praised him for his accomplishments, he would say, "I am like that turtle.  He didn't get where he is without help."

It was a little tricky to paint this one, since my favorite position of Haley was in black and white, so I had to imagine the color.  I still need a lot of practice painting dark skin.

Jane Eyre

I was asked to illustrate the scene from Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre where Helen has just been flogged on the neck, yet she can still teach Jane about the power of forgiveness.  I had never read Jane Eyre, so this was another learning opportunity for me.  

I wanted this to be an impressive and moving piece, especially since it would have many more viewers than usual--it was shown before the October LDS General Conference.  But the scene was a very undramatic one by nature.  The girls lived in a boarding school, and everything there was very plain by design--the walls, their clothes, even their hair.  I decided the only thing I truly had to work with was the lighting.  So I chose to pose Helen in front of the fireplace so she and Jane would be backlit, and play with a bit of chiaroscuro.  Unfortunately, watercolor is very hard to darken, so once I did my best with the paint on paper, I had to employ a digital darkening and contrast as well.  Therefore, the original painting is not as impressive as this version.

Thank you to sisters Katrina and Rachel for modeling.  You've become some of my good friends since you moved in, and I've been hoping for a painting in which I could use both of you, so here it is!  Hope you like it!

Ben Franklin's Whistle

When Benjamin Franklin was a boy, he traded all his money for a wooden whistle.  He was excited and pleased with his purchase, until he brought it home and learned from his siblings that it was worth much less than what he had paid.  Any time since then, he used the term "paid too much for his whistle" any time someone was spending their time, money, or effort on something that was worthless.  Are we paying too much for our whistle?

Thank you Sage and Carson for playing dress-up and posing for my pictures, and for Anya, who always comes through with awesome costumes!

Facing Rough and Rocky Roads

Lloyd Newell said, "If our own road ever seems to fit this description, we can take inspiration from the spirit of the pioneers. British pioneer Patience Loader described finding such inspiration on a frigid morning after a snowy night, when her mother asked Patience and her sisters to get up and start a fire. They each responded that they couldn’t—that it was too cold and they didn’t feel well."

"Mother said, ‘Come, girls. This will not do. I believe I will have to dance [for] you and try to make you feel better.’ Poor, dear mother, she started to sing and dance [for] us, and she slipped down as the snow was frozen. In a moment we were all up to help [her,] for we were afraid she was hurt. She laughed and said, ‘I thought I could soon make you all jump up if I danced [for] you.’ … She said that she was afraid her girls were going to … get discouraged, and … that would never do.”2

I was excited to paint this, since I had painted Patience Loader before.  She was one of the girls helping her father pull the handcart in a Pioneer Day painting I did in 2009.  So I asked the same family if I could photograph them again, and they were happy to help.  Thank you Heather, Erica and Nikki, and especially Tanya for dressing up and dancing, even though you felt silly!