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Thursday, January 15, 2015

artist in residence


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was invited to be an artist in residence at Marquette University the first week of February to paint a portrait of James Foley.  Agreeing to do this felt a bit like jumping into the deep in with no water wings.  I knew I could do it - and was pretty sure I wouldn't drown while doing it - but it still feels unnerving.  Now the residence is just a few weeks away, and it's time to really get going on my prep work.  

I thought it would be interesting to blog about the process, both to share with others and because I have to document my process for the actually residency.  

The picture above is a photo of James Foley speaking at Marquette in front of the school's crest.  I've been asked to use this photo as inspiration for the painting.  I've taken this to mean they would like a portrait of James done in front of the Marquette crest.  So I'll most likely end up using that picture of him (but using others for help since his eyes are really dark) and will paint the crest different so you can actually see what it is.  

I'm going to write the rest of this post in question and answer form for simplicity sake.  Full disclosure: no one asked me these questions, but they would be the ones I would ask if someone told me they were doing an artist in residence!  

What lead to this invitation?  A campus minister found these paintings I did through my blog.  Well technically he had searched the names of the Jesuits online and my blog came up in his search.  Through that contact, I was invited to speak at Marquette about my paintings and the idea came up for me to paint a portrait during the university's mission week.  The theme of the week will be Who Cares?  Charity, Justice, and the Quest for the Common Good, and they would chose a person who fit that theme for me to paint.  

Who is James Foley?  James Foley was an American reporter who was kidnapped in Syria and beheaded by ISIS last fall after working as a freelance reporter for GlobalPost.  He was also a graduate of Marquette University and had worked for Teach for America before becoming a reporter.  

The more I learn about James the more I like him.  I didn't know much about him before I heard about his death last year.  

Did his family give permission for this?  Yes.  I'm not sure of the full details, but I know someone at the university (probably in mission and values) contacted the family and they consented to having a portrait done.  

What will the artist in residence thing be like?  I'll be painting the portrait of James Foley on campus in a public viewing area during Marquette's mission week.  I'll have a mini studio (with no walls) where people can watch me complete the portrait of James Foley over a three day period.  People will have the opportunity to ask me questions about my painting process and will be able to read more about James Foley in materials that will be on a nearby table.   

Do you get paid? Yes.  I will get paid a flat fee for all the prep work and actual painting I do.  Marquette University will also officially own the painting once I finish.   

What are your ideas for the painting? I've been looking at my old portraits to get ideas for this painting.  The portraits I did of the Jesuits were done with non-life like colors and with very watered down backgrounds.  Another portrait I did of Wangari Maathai (below) was done with watercolors and featured more life like colors.  I think I'll use life like colors for this but in a style closer to the Jesuits.  I've decided on acrylics rather than watercolors for this portrait because 1) they are more forgiving and 2) I've done a lot more work with acrylics recently and I want to go with what's familiar when painting in front of lots of people.  An audience = pressure.  


I really love doing portraits like this.  I love highlighting the humanity and the stories of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  It is such a neat journey to learn about a person I admire and help bring them to life in a new way.  As with all the portraits I do, I hope that the end result will be something that the subject - in this case James Foley  - would be happy with.  More information on the residence to come as things progress!

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