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Best friends

Best Friends

Best friends, a bond of affection

Horses make good friends! They’re social animals and sociable once a pecking order is established to make them feel secure in their equine neighborhood. Studies show that leadership and dominance do play a role in horse interactions but they’re less important once order and safety are established between them and their familiar and best friends; then they’re more likely to rub and scratch each other’s backs, to parade the paddock together, and to watch out for one another. Those behaviors reveal a horse level of understanding and trust.

Sensory creatures

Like people, horses communicate with facial expressions using eyes, ears, and noses. It’s been said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and horses have the largest eyes among all the land mammals. Placed at the sides of their head, they can see more than 270° around without turning the head. Each ear has sixteen articulating muscles that rotate the ear through 180° and they typically point the ear toward whatever the eye on that side is seeing. So yes, the horse can see two different things at the very same time! They can twitch and move their skin separately from the muscles beneath. Horses also vocalize what they want to communicate with whinnies, neighs, roars and snorts, the meaning of which other horses know and that we too can learn. They are unique and interesting animals.

Do horses really befriend humans?

If you’ve cared for a horse, enjoyed each other’s company, built a history together, learned the nuances of emotion, you know that the horse is your friend just as you are his. Each of you is free to express your feelings honestly, to exchange trust, sympathy and love. It’s not that a horse cannot compare or judge you but that he’s found you worthy. Because a horse does judge and remembers, earning his affection is a personal honor and true compliment. In your shared friendship each of you can be happier. A horse may live many decades returning value for value with a fortunate human friend. They see us; we see them.

From the artist’s point of view:

This is Ed, a Morgan horse who was cherished by his human for more than thirty years. The commission came last winter—to paint a remembrance in honor of a wonderful horse and as a surprise for his owner and best friend to replace her grief with glad memory. The exact time and place is imagined but summarizes familiar woods and trees, a corral and the cattail marsh of home. To set the scene required four major paint sketches. From the beginning both husband and daughter contributed ideas in the framework of a good day between best friends landscaped against a summer sky with puffy clouds. It was a challenge gladly accepted and their help throughout was irreplaceable.

Challenges in painting Best Friends

Painting Ed was complicated by their wish to show his muscular, younger self in the prime of life, in the days when carrying his friend across the countryside was a mutual joy–in the absence of a photo that showed him that way. Painting her was challenging in a different way; we humans recognize everything about ourselves! The slightest nuance of glance or smile or posture had to be accurate or she wouldn’t recognize or accept it as herself. Several months into the process I even considered anonymously observing her, perhaps in her place of work—until that just seemed too entirely weird.

So I put her riding helmet on her head and even turned her sideways into the scene. The helmet covered her lovely hair which I’d decided long before to showcase with sunshine highlights. Turning her head toward Ed made painting a reasonable likeness more reliable (as we don’t commonly see ourselves from the side). But that dodged the point of the painting. So I persisted without helmet, face forward until she looked like the woman in two dozen family photos, until husband and daughter confirmed that indeed it did capture the woman they knew.

Passing the test! 20160918_133514

But the truest test came when the husband brought his wife to our home. On a Sunday drive through the country, he’d told her moments before that he wanted her to meet some people who lived down a long country lane in coulee country. We greeted him, “It’s good to see you again,” while she looked slightly bewildered; imagine her thinking, “Odd that he knows these strangers whom I don’t.” We all acknowledged the peculiarity of the moment and assured her that soon all would be explained.

I’d hung her portrait in our library and beyond were lemonade and cookies on the summer porch. Leading the way I turned toward her at the instant she saw herself and Ed. It was a life event for them and for us too, a never to be forgotten moment. We four spent time getting to know one another, answering questions, explaining how it all came to be. They are a remarkable couple in the ways they communicate, in his kindness and perceptions of what might please her, in her appreciation of him and thankfulness for the gift.

And she looks exactly like the beautiful woman in the painting!

GraduateIt may seem as if it’s taken a long time to graduate. To your family it’s happened in a flash! Once you were a small boy adventuring for the first time. Now you’re a man who’s learned important things, especially the lay of the land along with the topography of your own mind and heart.

Proud Accomplishment

First hunt, an early and proud accomplishment

As you graduate

Today anything is possible! As you receive the congratulations of your family and many friends, take a quiet moment to consider your future. Set goals and grow toward them with planning and hard work. Treat everything as an opportunity. Your life is the most important thing you will ever build, one decision at a time, life’s challenges faced and conquered. Today is the beginning. Have confidence. Trust life. Invent yourself!

Acquiring a personal painting is a milestone event, a rare one in today’s Instagram world. A painted portrait is both more time consuming to accomplish and more expensive to acquire but in addition to being far more permanent, it has the ability to capture so much more than a momentary look. It can bring personality to life along with important details that are unique to one person at a specific place and time.

Capture the essence

The essence here is a passion for music and books, comfortable and contented throughout

Capturing the Essence

During winter into spring, I’ve been working with two young people. Here is one of them just beyond childhood having emerged as a young woman. Her portrait began in casual conversation as we eased into the idea for a very special gift; this is always the most interesting part of my painting process. At these early stages it’s hard to know whether it will ever come together, whether my skills are sufficient to capture not just what a person looks like but to capture their essence.  A camera can do that much faster and cheaper but I’m a painter first and foremost. There was no scene exactly as you see it here but it captures a deeper truth.

As weeks became months I studied dozens of photos along with handwritten notes of our conversations recalling how she described herself and what details were important. When the client is communicative my work is always easier! She was direct and had opinions about what she liked as well as freely sharing what she didn’t like. I learned a lot–about her passion for music and books, and that at her core she is comfortable and contented through and through. She revealed herself indirectly as thoughtful and intelligent, introspective, determined, and hardworking. There’s no doubt she has special things ahead in life, a jewel of a person who made a good process great.

I’ve since learned that she had a big smile when she opened the package. Her mother says it captures her personality and her passions. My hope is that it may become a focal point for memory, especially for how much she is loved and admired and that she’ll treasure that feeling always.

In the next two weeks I hope to show you something different—photographic and personal—of a young man graduating high school and moving into his own version of the future.

Looking forward when you’ve lived more than one hundred years!

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

If you have good genes and reasonable health, your age is just a number.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, centenarian plus eight

For the last twenty years of her remarkable life, I was special assistant and friend to Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote the book on the Florida Everglades, was its feisty Evangelist, earning kudos from presidents, queens and princes! I asked her at the occasion of her 100th birthday celebration, how old she’d think she was if she didn’t actually know and she answered, “Interesting question! Age thirty-five, I’d think.” Now at the time, she was both blind and deaf and couldn’t see the etching of old smiles lined across her face, so she chose the age at which she was most vigorously alive, pursuing goals, writing passionately. She was always a bit embarrassed by the fame and fuss advanced age delivered her though she used it to advance her cause. Born in 1890 she lived purposefully until the age of 108 years–just a number after all! It was my happy privilege to help her navigate the high expectations (her own and those of others) on declining energy through those last years of her life.

Paul Johns, centenarian plus two

We have another centenarian friend, Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin, in whom it’s easy to recognize several common traits with Marjory. He celebrates his 102nd birthday today! Paul looks and acts years younger, has a valid driver’s license–no restrictions and a current ham radio operator’s license good for another decade. With enough electronic gear for someone half his age, he stays in touch via email and Facebook. In his nineties he enrolled in technical school to learn how to repair computers. A few years later he designed and still builds arguably the best radio antenna for small, fabric-covered airplanes.

While others struggle with names and memory, our friend seemingly remembers everything. No problem meeting someone he hardly knows; even out of context he’ll call them by name. Engage him in conversation and you’ll learn interesting details from long ago and as recent as yesterday.

Paul Johns is a pilot’s pilot and an engineer’s engineer. An anecdote told by a friend reveals a small detail from a long and amazing life. As a nurse adjusted Paul’s blood pressure cuff, with humble tone he spoke a startling sentence that began, ” When I invented that . . . .”

Paul Johns first learned to fly in 1929 when he was fifteen years old followed by another 66 years of active piloting. In his mid-seventies he built an airplane that he flew into his eighties. Some years ago he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently he was surprised and delighted by the renaming of Central County Airport near his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin, to be known as Paul Johns Field, an honor from the Central County Flyers and dozens of friends who join him on Fridays for the regionally well-known Lunch at Iola.

How to live to one hundred!

From these two I’ve learned that luck is another name for diligence and productivity. Both Marjory and Paul built purposeful lives that compelled them always onward and upward. Yes, they had luck on their side, but they also persevered through the challenges. Each of them collected a lifetime of unique experiences along with friends of all ages. Marjory never gave up and Paul still lives fully engaged, with a vigorous mind and plans for the future; there’s too much to do and a life to live. It reminds me that life is short no matter how long you live, that there is no do-over, that you’ll regret more what you didn’t do or try than what you tried and failed. Live!

Happy 102nd birthday, Paul! And thank you for these lessons.

 

 

A recent article by Jane Myhra in the Waupaca County Post highlighted select others of his lifetime achievements:

  • piloted the Boeing 314–the Flying Boat or Clipper–for Pan American Airways;
  • set up an instrument training program for Navy pilots in 1939;
  • recorded over 220 Pacific crossings during World War II for the Naval Transport Service, navigating the distance only by following the stars;
  • engineered, designed and built testing equipment to measure sound waves with laser light decades before most of us had even heard of lasers.

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Sam needs his Forever Home; donation portrait to the Dog Art for Old Friends benefit to be held October 16, 2015. at the Omni Nashville

Senior dog needs forever home

The shepherd painted here is Sam, worn out from life on the farm and enjoying a satisfying midday rest among the cornstalks. But he’ll rise to greet anyone who comes along with an enthusiastically wagging tail. Sam understands the value of the trade—he’ll give love and loyalty for a good retirement home and someone who appreciates him.

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary is a Forever Foster home-based Sanctuary in beautiful Mount Juliet, Tennessee. An important part of their mission is to raise awareness of the joys and challenges of living with older dogs. Senior dogs, especially those with medical problems or disabilities, face a much greater chance of euthanasia at shelters than younger dogs because it’s difficult to find adopters for them due to their shorter additional life expectancy and unknown veterinary costs. Most of these wonderful senior dogs will be able to live happily with a good quality of life if given a chance. They make wonderful companions because they are mature, calm and loving.  

It can be more difficult for them to settle in, and once they do, it is difficult for them to move again. For this reason they strive to find them forever foster or adoptive homes where they can live out their retirement years as a loved family member. Currently OFSDS provides lifetime retirement homes for 47 senior dogs at the Sanctuary and many more in temporary and Forever Foster Homes. They are an all volunteer 501(c)(3), non-profit.  They say, “We do not concern ourselves with the quantity of time that they have left, rather the quality of the life that we can provide them for that time.” Learn more about their mission at the OFSDS home page and blog and then LIKE them at Facebook!

Dog Art for Old Friends Benefit auction

The Nashville community of arts and artists including many names you would recognize has become a key supporter of the Senior Dogs Sanctuary. This year Light Pixie Studio is pleased to contribute to such a worthy cause. The second annual Dog Art for Old Friends benefit auction will be held at the Omni Nashville on October 16th with 100% of proceeds to help Old Friends. Tickets are available online for the live event and silent auction previews and bidding underway from May 1 to October 16, 2015.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow’s Punk Hair Day

Punk Hair Day

Nature is moving headlong toward summer. Spring wildflowers are springing forth.  Trees are fully dressed in a million shades of green. Last week we saw a doe nursing her fawn in the open meadow below our windows.  While Mama Chipping Sparrow is out of the nest working for her baby’s breakfast, I happen by to see her insistent chick complaining that it’s time to eat! More formally this infant sparrow is called a host. But today at this early hour, there’s nothing formal about it. Pin feathers akimbo and having a punk hair kind of day, we both stop to study one another.

Babies are beautiful!

As a recent grandmother babies are of renewed interest. And they’re all fascinating no matter their species. So today let’s be reminded of this: baby birds typically leave the nest before they’re ready to fly and once they do they will not typically return to it. This bird is fully feathered except for the tufts of down on the head but continues to depend on parents to bring it food and protect it from predators. It has not yet flown. I watched for many minutes while this little Albert Einstein mimic moved about the branches in front of our porch. Moved is a euphemism where I might just as well have said stumbled, lurched, or jostled headlong.

Good deed for the day!

It’s a myth that avian parents will reject a chick that has human scent on it as they have a very poorly developed sense of smell. If you find a baby bird where it might be trampled underfoot or harmed by a dog or a cat, by all means move it to a bush or branch a few feet off the ground, preferably out of the hot sun. And then watch from a distance but mostly leave it alone. The parents did not likely abandon it and will almost certainly return. In this case Mama Chipping Sparrow appeared suddenly on the downspout with her hard trilling chip warning me away. And there was breakfast in her bill. They eat mostly seeds and some crawling insects but I couldn’t tell what was on the du jour menu.

Chipping Sparrows are kindly birds by habit

These small birds are nice to watch as they are kind to one another by habit. Parents make pair bonds and fathers feed the mothers while they incubate four eggs. Once the young hatch both parents make food runs to sustain their brood. A week and a half later the young leave the nest just as this one did and within three days after that they are capable of weak but sustained flight. The feeding routine will continue for three more weeks as the young grow bigger and stronger. Worn out from the work of it, most parents will be satisfied with having done their duty for this year. Remember they are competent parents and know what to do far better than you. Their decline is because of competition from the Brown-headed cowbird, a nest predator, and not because of a parenting failure.

Then there is this legalese:

You may think you’re doing a good deed by “rescuing” a baby bird but in most cases it will do better without you. As a matter of fact, migratory bird laws protect all native wild birds in the US and Canada from possession for any reason, except transportation to a licensed rehabilitator, and that only in the direst of situations. It is against the law no matter how kindly your intentions may be and common sense dictates that, nestling or fledgling, you leave it be.

To learn more about the Chipping Sparrow check out the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

It’s hard to photograph a black dog!

If you’ve ever photographed an all black dog, you know the problem. It is almost impossible to capture the texture of fur or to see clearly the interior contours of shape and body. Black is made of all colors and it absorbs light very efficiently. As a result it’s often easier to paint a portrait than to take a quality photograph.

Black dog Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel

Here we have dear Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel whose mission in life is to love Mark and Mary. And in return they love her abundantly. So how can you take a photograph of your black dog? So, how do you polish a black dog?

Polishing a black dog for maximum impact

Dear Janey

Strategies to photograph something furry and black

If you have a studio full of equipment, speed lights, beauty lights, and reflectors you already know what to do. But if your photos of an all-black animal (dog, cat, horse, rabbit or whatever) are indistinct, if the eyes blend seamlessly with the ears, if the fur is flat and you cannot tell if it’s curly or straight, front end from rear, take heart. Simple tools at hand and simple strategies give a much better result.

It’s about the light, beautiful light

Light is key and, in the case of an all-black animal, more is better than less. Plain natural light is more pleasing than onboard camera flash which tends to look harsh and often produces the animal-equivalent of red-eye, fixable but a nuisance. Black guard hairs can be made to shine in sunlight if the angle of light is right. In this case Janey faced into the setting sun seated at a glass table top and beside a broad expanse of lake shore. So the natural sun at late-day and low angle shown directly into Janey’s face at the same time that it reflected up from lake and table top. It was a beautiful light! And Janey’s eyes glisten with lovely catch-lights! Look closely at them and you see the bright western horizon.

Get it right: tips and tricks to photograph a black dog

Newer consumer-level cameras have many features that once were available only on professional models. Prices for these specialized features are now reasonable and competitive. If your camera has selectable modes, choose higher contrast. Use a higher dynamic range. Increase vibrancy to better distinguish blue-black from brown-black from grey-black. Ensure sharp focus with a tripod or set the camera on a level, solid surface. If all else fails, hold your elbows tight into your waist, take a deep breath and hold it while you squeeze the trigger–don’t push or punch.

Polish the black!

Once last thought: I often prefer shallow depth of field–lower f-stop/larger aperture–because an out-of-focus background contributes more abstract color and interesting patterns without distraction. Here the effect isn’t pushed toward a strong bokeh, a Japanese term for blurry background circles. Even if you don’t know the term, you will recognize the technique. It’s popular because it’s a beautifully creative use of light. Show your black animal to advantage. Polish the black!

To see how I solved a similar problem in a different way with two black Labs: see Best Dogs Ever for their painted portrait..

 

Southwestern Wisconsin in the winter is cold. Colors are muted but there to be found. In the bottom of the creek bed are ancient sedimentary rocks cast there by massive forces, worn down by wind and water, tweezed apart by swelling frost. Green mosses thrive in all months while grass grows slowly under the snow.

Nighttime lit by the moon or Sylvania casts golden shadows and bounces lens rainbows into the blue-dark sky.

Some creatures are built for speed even in their heaviest coat. (Click any image to see them full-sized)

The Frog Whisperer

 

This little girl is eight years old, a math whiz, and full of imagination! She loves any play that involves swinging, soaring, jumping, pretend flying. Land, sea or air, she’s quite at home. This marvelous little person watches butterflies in her spare time and is a devoted follower of all small creatures. Her favorite colors are anything bright!

 

This painting, The Frog Whisperer, shows what really happens in this child’s day-to-day world, not once, not twice, but over and over again. Yes, she is patient beyond anything you’ve ever seen. And she’s quietly purposeful enough to gentle a bullfrog into her hands.

 

It’s always a pleasure to enjoy her company with never a dull moment!

Here’s my newest commission and another Best of Breed animal. Meet Northwynd Everlasting “Sprite” who was born a tiny 4.6 ounces but grew into a star. Last year Sprite took the highest honor a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi can achieve in winning the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club National Speciality!  With a sparkling career of many awards she’s a credit to her pedigree and to her breed, the product of a noble line, sired by a champion and mother to a pup who is already winning highest honors.

This painting shows baby Sprite looking at her puppy self in life’s mirror. Looking back at her and at us is the adult Sprite with her National Speciality ribbon adorning the frame.

There are two recognized corgi breeds, the Pembrokes and the Cardigans. The royal Windsors prefer the Pembrokes and actively encourage the breed. To win the National Speciality is the ultimate Best of Breed recognition for the dog and moreover for the breeder, owner, and trainers. In this case one dedicated woman wears all these hats. When asked what best describes all the work and worry, the years of commitment leading to Sprite’s success, she answered with the words that now title this painting.

I’d never heard of the Rainbow Bridge until recently. In context of planning this painting it was abundantly clear what was meant. That a meadow full of beloved pets might exist where they wait patiently and playfully for their beloved owners is both comfort in grief and a wish for love and companionship. How touching to imagine it! The preciousness of life is what this touches so be sure to squeeze the good from today and everyday.

Keisha and Cubby: Waiting at the Rainbow Bridge

 Keisha at left was described to me as the couple’s favorite dog of all, a constant friend and companion, full of joy and eagerness, sweet of disposition, joining faithfully in morning walks and loyal always. At right is Cubby who, owned by a distracted neighbor, knew a very good thing in the happy company and care to be found next door. In their place now is Ruby, a solidly round little pup who fills today with her antics.

This painting was to be a surprise birthday gift for the man but his wife was too enthusiastic to wait a month to give it. That and a lucky circumstance allowed me to be present in the gallery to see his reaction for myself. That makes this painting especially meaningful to me as well. To translate someone’s loss into a special memory is my own little piece of paradise, a painted poem.

For anyone who has ever loved an animal friend, here then is the poetic prose entitled Rainbow Bridge written by an unknown author sometime in the last twenty to thirty years:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together
.

“Freckles is my good friend. When we ride it feels like flying on wind. I wonder if Freckles feels me like a pair of new sprouted wings?”

This painting was commissioned by the young woman’s other friend to recognize an important achievement and to acknowledge a special place in the heart.

Friends

The snowmobile part of the portrait–that is, a far more complex structure to paint than the young college student astride it.

I enjoyed the working session when we talked about his machine and reference photos were taken. It seemed to me that he did as well. In this case it was his smile that captured my attention–not too much, not too little, but just right. I referred to it as his generous smile which equally fit his personality. I like young people, especially the hopeful, ambitious, forward focus of youth engaged in building the future, a credit to their families and a joy to their friends.

In the several months of work on the portrait, I learned a lot more than expected about the physical structure of such a snow machine. No, I’ve never ridden one and it’s a far cry from the airplane I pilot. Great color and curvy lines to appreciate though! Snowmobiling has been a big part of the young man’s life and for him it’s the best thing about winter. In his own words,

“It’s freedom from everything, just being able to go out riding and not really knowing where you’re heading. Finding new places to go is the best part . . . pretty much, snowmobiling is my most favorite hobby.”

Since the machine and the freedom it represents is such a value to the young man I worked hard to get it right.

Polaris

As for the young man I would call him brave to sit for his portrait with a stranger. Ander is of Scandinavian root and references bravery. His other name suggests fame so perhaps somebday he’ll make a name for himself as a brave man.

Ander’s Son

Even twenty years ago this classic moment would have been essentially lost as there was no easy or reasonable way to recover the lost detail.

Damaged Original Photo

Damaged Original Photo

Restored 1970s Photo

Click for full-size restored image

Without delving into the specifics, in short order with little effort, it was possible to rebuild what was completely lost and to enhance the rest.  It’s almost like being able to return lost youth to a high school moment.

These two young men were smoking their cigarettes in the boys’ restroom at the local high school. If they could speak from the photograph, what would they say? Does it make you wonder what they did with their lives? Would they recognize their long ago selves?

It’s impossible to know for sure but the camera was quite possibly an Instamatic 110, a point and shoot camera with cartridge 35mm film introduced by Kodak in 1972. Suddenly loading and unloading a camera was much easier and the Instamatic was an immediate success. Its popularity opened new markets for the everyman photographer and paved the way for the first digital camera–also by Kodak–in 1975.

We live in the most amazing times. I use a lot of technology and never take it for granted. Yes, it requires staying on top of it:  not just where the hardware is but whether the batteries are charged and you have the latest software and drivers. Technologies that were the products of someone else’s ambition and intellect make it possible for me to look the past in the eye. Thank you to all the innovators whose ideas give life more comfort, value and creative interest!

 

 

Glowing Beauty

This photo caused the subject to smile at what she saw as “awakened assets.”   Age is no disadvantage when you’re beautiful inside and out.

Canon xTi, 50 mm portrait lens, Aperture priority,  f5.6, 1/6 sec, ISO 200, raw CR2