Under other circumstances I would call this a “commission,” but the thing is no one requested me to do it. Rather, I “commissioned” it myself.
As past visitors to this website may know, I lost my mother early last year. Unfortunately, in 2022 we also said goodbye to my aunt Martha, who was my mom’s cousin and also the wife of my father’s brother; which meant my cousins, my siblings, and I, shared the exact last names.
But the kinship between our two families went far beyond the names. The eleven of us (five in my dad’s family and six in my uncle Fernando’s) went to numerous vacations together. Rare was the weekend or Christmas holiday where we wouldn’t see each other, and for me as a kid summer holidays meant I could spend whole weeks in their huge house playing with my cousin Gustavo, who was the one I was closer to at the time.
My cousins would go so far as telling their friends —or even complete strangers— they had two sets of parents, and although my sisters and I were not as candid, deep down we did considered our uncle Fernando and aunt Martha to be the closest thing to second parents as anyone could have —save for a divorce situation (my uncle Fernando was actually my godfather, although I never called him that).
But getting back to the portrait, it was something I had been thinking of doing for several months as a tribute to my two moms. I wanted to portray them smiling and hugging each other, symbolizing their reunion in Heaven; but also I wanted to show them young. This is something which was inspired by the books of J.J. Benítez, the famous Spanish UFO researcher who has also written extensively about the afterlife.
According to Benítez —and here it is important to point out his writing is heavily influenced by the channeled (and controversial) ‘Urantia book’— after one dies you don’t get a direct ticket to the pearly gates of God’s kingdom. Instead, you ‘resuscitate’ in a world that is not too different from this one, although less ‘material’ and more ‘spiritual’ in nature… whatever that means. There you will continue your development to attain a more perfected state —kind of like going from Freshman to Sophomore— and once you learn enough, you will be transported to another world that will be slightly less material and more spiritual. And so on and so forth until you (a much more refined version of ‘you’, rather) will become a completely spiritual being, and your existence on Earth will be a distant memory as you continue on your infinite journey toward the center of Creation, where you will finally reunite with God.
One of the perks you get when reaching ‘Earth 2.0’ is that, according to Benítez and the Urantia material, you will be resuscitated into a younger body which will never experience the physical ailments of your old one. Regardless of whether there’s any truth to this, I do like the idea that you can enjoy the afterlife in whatever age you would prefer, and I assume most of us would love to be in their 30s or 20s once again.
I scoured through my family’s old phot albums, but unfortunately I was unable to find a reference picture of my mom and aunt in the exact pose I wanted. I was forced to confide in my cousins Gabriela and Gustavo —something I was reluctant to do, because I didn’t want to raise any expectations, or having someone constantly asking me if I had completed the darn thing or not— to see if they could find a photo like the one I envisioned. Thankfully, Gustavo came through and found a picture that was good enough for my purposes.
My initial intention was to create the portrait “the old fashioned way” with ink, pencils, and paper. I also didn’t want to make a totally realistic portrayal but something more stylized, like the type of caricatures I have made for my clients. I was even tempted with trying to emulate the style of Al Hirschfeld, the famous American cartoonist who I greatly admire.
Caricature is like surgery, though: It is far easier to ‘operate’ on a complete stranger than someone you’re personally attached to —which is why doctors are forbidden to treat members of their own family. Artists are not bound by such restrictions, but nevertheless after my first sketch attempt (which you can see right above this paragraph) I got cold feet and decided it was safer to at least start the sketching process using my tablet and the Sketchbook painting app, which would allow me to make as many slight corrections and revisions I needed until I was satisfied with the result.
After I tweaked the preliminary sketch (the one in blue lines) to my satisfaction and showed it via WhatsApp to my cousin Gabriela to gauge her opinion, it was time for the ‘production phase’ of the portrait. Once again, I was still considering using traditional media and printed the sketch with the intention of ‘transferring’ it to a piece of good-quality paper, using the old school method of rubbing graphite pencil on the opposite side of the print, and then tracing the lines with enough pressure so the graphite can stick on the final paper and make them visible enough to either ink them or paint over them with markers or color pencils.
In the end, my self-doubt took the best of me and I chose to finish the whole piece using the tablet and the Sketchbook app, thinking this ‘tried-and-true’ approach would give me enough confidence to create a ‘masterpiece’ (yeah right…).
And yet, once I started I was immediately struck with a terrible sense of under-confidence in my own abilities. The mere act of opening the app and looking at the drawing filled me with anxiety. I lost all motivation in the project and put it on hold while I spent the time reading or playing videogames; there was no deadline I was obliged to fulfill, but my initial plan to have it ready as a present for my father’s birthday was not realized, which depressed me even further.
It was during this ‘hold-out’ time my friend Mike Clelland sent me the manuscript for a novel he’s been writing, titled The Unseen. Even though it is a work of fiction, my many years of knowing Mike and his story helped me deduct the book is partially autobiographical, and Mike’s own career as an artist plays an important role in the plot.
I won’t spoil the story, but Mike’s descriptions of the main character’s struggles with his artistic career and the search for inspiration struck a deep chord within me. It helped me realize I needed to stop proving myself to the world, and that it was okay if the portrait of my two moms didn’t end up being a ‘masterpiece’.
What mattered is that it showed how much I missed them.
After I managed to lift myself from the rut, I finished the piece in a few days. Of course it could be better (it can always be) but I’m satisfied with the end result nonetheless —and I’m sure my moms are pleased with it as well.
PS: If you’ve made it this far, you might be interested to know that I’m once again available for commissions and design projects. I plan to make it more formal with another post and an announcement through social media, but if you have something in mind you’d want me to create, you can always drop me a comment or reach out to me through my business email (firstname.lastname@example.org)