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[original portrait oil painting caretaking taking care a love story in Croatia]

Kelly Borsheim's Original Oil Painting

Taking Care

100 x 70 cm [about 39.4 x 27.5 inches]
Oil Painting on Canvas
© 2015
Kelly Borsheim

Private Collection, Umag, Croatia

[original portrait oil painting caretaking taking care a love story in Croatia]

Detail image of Taking Care in which I tried to show the love between this married-for-decades couple,
Boro and Miranda Vukadinovic'.
I was happy when their children and grandchildren admired the painting
and said that I captured the love and care between them.

[original portrait sketch of Boro and Miranda]

Above are my starting portrait sketches. I started with Boro since I did not know how long he could sit.
His is charcoal only. I worked longer on Miranda's sketch and also added grey pastels later.

Painting the Portrait of a Loving Couple:
Caretaking and Taking Care

2015: It did not take long after my arrival in Umag, Croatia, to gain an affection for my new landlady, Miranda. She is adorable, kind, and always helping others, anticipating their needs. I watched how the people in her city greeted her with so much affection when she and her sister Milka and I attended midnight mass on Christmas. I spent a wonderful holiday dinner with her and her family as we started to get to know one another.

Miranda is caretaking for her husband Borislav (Boro for short). He has been fighting prostate cancer for years. Miranda helps a lot of other people here, too. Umag has no real hospital... just an emergency room, the pharmacy, and a handful of specialists that one may only see for appointments. Nothing that requires an overnight stay for sure. Over the holidays, when members of her family developed fevers, she drove them south about an hour to Pula. I was shocked because Umag seems like a large enough town to have a proper health care facility. Also, with the harbor here and many fishermen, one would think they might have a great need, although hopefully no.

Multiple conversations with the few locals I have met here reveal a story of politics affecting everyday life and not always in good ways. For example, when Croatia was a part of the now extinct Yugoslavia, they had access to a hospital that was fairly close. Now, that hospital is in Slovenia's borders and too expensive to be available for most Croatians.

[original portrait sketch of Boro and Miranda]

Starting Off the Portrait Painting

Because of the nature of caretaking, I knew that I would not be able to work much from life. However, we started off that way. I did a couple of sketches of each of my new subjects. Boro has actually had his portrait done about 20-30 years earlier by a Moroccan artist in Paris. I was trying to carry on a conversation while I drew to help all of us [perhaps me mostly] feel less self-conscious. However, I have a hard time drawing and speaking at the same time. Boro is from eastern Croatia. Miranda is from Istria, this region of northwestern Croatia. Istrians speak their own dialogue of Croatian, as well as Italian. She and I communicate in Italian. Sadly, Boro never learned Italian, so we communicate with smiles and touches. Miranda translates as well.

I had gotten an idea for their portrait the night before our posing appointment. So, after my sketching time, I asked if I could photograph the kitchen and even return later as they sat down for their next meal. After I finished there, I turned back towards the living room to join them. Unaware of me, they were speaking together as Miranda sat on the edge of her husband's chair. It was the affectionate energy between them that I wanted to portray!

I took the images and my sketches and started to work in Photoshop. I created a collage to work from and created a design based on a circle.

[original portrait design with geometry]

Painting Away from Home and Studio

I had not intented to paint in oils these three months that I am away from my home studio in Italy. I had brought only pastels and my two computers, an easel, and a light. I did not know what sort of place my friend here had found for me. This turned out to be lovely. [Thank you, sculptor Marino Jugovac!]. But only oils would do for this. I wanted to enter a competition. I hoped that if my painting was accepted for exhibition, perhaps I could bring some awareness for healthcare in Istria. However, I did not have much time before the deadline.

Getting supplies in oil paint here was a bit of song and dance. Even Sandro Zecchi of Florence's famous art supply store wrote me that he has had problems getting shipments INTO Croatia on a timely basis. However, asking my artist friends in Croatia and Internet searches resulted in my finally ordering oil paint online [already IN Croatia so the speedy shipping was not a problem]. I was fortunate to find a store that even Marino did not know. It is here in sea-side Umag and primarily sells paint for boats. I was able to buy turps and a decent size canvas. The brushes were not good quality, but they got me started. I later found better ones.

I masked off more of the walls in my makeshift studio. Oils are more damaging than pastels. And I began my design by gridding the canvas, the way I did while on the pavement when street painting. If you imagine the lower left corner of the canvas as the center of a circle, perhaps you can see how the top right quadrant of the circle is created by Miranda's legs moving into the Boro's right arm and upper back. Her upper body and head form a tangent to this circle and break up the leftover space in the rectangular canvas. I apologize for the not-so-pretty red circle line. I am not so good with Photoshop.

[original portrait plastic palettes from food]

A Different Palette

Miranda gave me lots of Croatian newspaper. When I found the goofy image of Johnny Depp, I decided he would help me get in the frame of mind of getting louder with color. I wanted to have fun with this and explore a new palette for skin colors. This turned out to be a composition of purples and oranges dancing.

These mushroom containers became perfect palettes. They had wide flat bottoms and low side walls. I refuse to buy junk food, though, even if it comes in desirable-shaped containers.

A Brutal Start: Portrait Painting

It is easy to get overwhelmed in front of a white canvas. I find that I just want to start. I do not really care much if I am not accurate. I do not expect to be. Everything is related to each other. Also, I had an idea that I wanted just parts of the figures to stand out against the white so that the geometric shapes I had designed would come forward more obviously and have a contemporary feel.

I also wanted to play with more warms and cools and emphasize mark-making. I wanted the viewer to know that this is paint, not photograph-copying.

[original portrait mark-making and paint quality]

Emerging Form

I like how the figure is popping out of the background white. Still, one can see clearly that now that I have added the purple top, Miranda's face is far too light. But for the moment, I will continue to add other elements so that I really know just how much darker I wish to go. With oil, the beauty is often in the combination of the layers.

[original portrait composition]

Virtual Models

I liked working from computer images because light seems to come through the visual. However, I have a habit ingrained of stepping back often from my work to examine it and my model(s) from a distance. This does not work with a laptop screen. Depending on the viewer's location the image onscreen will look ligher or very dark. However, I was not trying to be photo-realistic and it is imperative that I step back often to see the overall impact of the painting by itself. If it does not work from further away, who cares what it looks like up close?

I left the painting for a day or two ... I did not really have much time for my usual slow process of allowing things to emerge. However, ultimately I decided that I needed to do more with this. My subject ~ Caretaking and Love ~ was not coming across with the colder palette and the stark white background. I decided to add a background, keeping it even colder so the figures remain the center of attention. Also, if I kept minimal information there, perhaps the geometric design would still remain.

[original portrait composition evaluation]

[original portrait background texture]

[original portrait cold and warm creating depth in background of figure portrait]

Colored Paintbrush Bristles!

As I mentioned above, the paintbrushes I found here in Croatia were not very good. The bristles seemed to remove more paint than they added to the canvas. Also, the hairs fell out. I find this annoying and distracting, as well as frustrating at times.

While trying out a new-to-me grocery store, I found a section in it for children's toys. Among many fun things, I discovered some wonderful soft paintbrushes! However, being for children, they were color-coded. Well, how handy! Except that the bristles were also colored! Now, how was that going to make color mixing any easier? haha. But, I loved them. They are fun! And they are soft and stay together much better than the original ones I found. Life is good!

[original portrait colored paintbrushes!]

"Getting to Know You . . . "

As this painting developed day by day, I was also getting to know Miranda and Boro a little bit better. On sunny afternoons, Boro would walk up and down the driveway for exercise and a small change of scenery and air. I have not been going out much, to be honest, but I tried also to escape the house on certain days and go walking alone along the Adriatic Sea. My affection for this couple was growing. I did not know what they expected of my painting, if anything. I wanted an art piece, not a typical commission situation in which I must portray people as they see themselves.

While I believe Miranda when she says that Boro is a good man (for I sense it myself), I knew from the start that my real subject was Miranda. It makes sense since I know her better and I have seen how she touches the lives of others. I have a special place in my heart for caretakers. I have watched them even in my own family. A few chose that life to help those in need, but most of us find ourselves in that position when a tide turns. It becomes a labor of love, but never without a price. Caregivers are living angels. So, I wondered if I could give Miranda a subtle halo and wing, but still leave the look exchanged between man and wife as the subject of the artwork.

[original portrait adding the angel idea]

Wedding Ring

One of the changes I made from the real modeling session is that I decided to leave out all of the jewelry that Miranda wore. No necklaces, nor earrings. However, her wedding back told more of the story that I wanted to tell, so it stayed.

Aren't those brushes fun? You may also note that I am holding them up with popcorn. Beans and lentils work well too, but I am not a big eater of those.

[original portrait adding the angel idea]

Umag, Croatia

Another example of Miranda's thoughtfulness is this fish and potato dinner you see here. I had told Miranda a couple of days before that I would not be going on my seaside walks at sunset for a couple of days since I had made an appointment with the local professional photographer on a Monday morning to photograph my painting. I HAD to finish! Sunday evening around 6 p.m., Miranda surprised me by bringing this dish upstairs to me. She wanted to minimize my time away from the canvas! Really thoughtful! Tasty, too.

[original portrait wedding band]

"Final" Painting

This is the painting that the photographer photographed. Below you see my silly documentary photo. As I walked home with my painting after the photographer had his go at it, I set Taking Care up in the harbor of Umag, Croatia. You may see the church tower from the old city center on the left in the background.

During the month of February as the painting dried, I decided that I did not like how I treated the left edge. I did not have enough information for the back side of Boro's head and I was trying to broaden and loosen my painting strokes as I moved away from my subject. However, I did not do this in a successful way and it bothered me. So, I decided to put a sliver of plastered wall along that edge. I hope that it makes the viewer feel that he is looking into a room and catching a glimpse of the quiet exchange between the couple. I also repainted parts of the chair in shadow. It has too much contrast in the folds and too much light.

The week after I changed it, I was a bit relieved that the painting was not chosen by the judges. I had begun to worry, "What if?" I had changed the painting after my application. Granted it is not much, but it was not the same painting. Boh... but I am happy that Miranda and Boro (and even my friend Marino) like the painting. Thank you for following along.

[original portrait first finish]

[original portrait first finish]

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Copyright & copy 2015: Kelly Borsheim, Borsheim Arts Studio
Most recent revision: 2 March 2015