Art theory Faces Oil Painting Painting People Portrait

Persistence, Acceptance and Freedom

Don and Robin

Oil on panel, 9×12″

This is a portrait of my son and his grandfather, Don, from a photo taken 30 years ago. I started working on this painting a few days before he died two weeks ago. Although he was afraid of dying he had tremendous acceptance, from years of regular meditation. Visiting him was a very peaceful experience. Even though he was experiencing so much loss, having been an athlete all his life and now watching his body fail, he was incredibly serene. We brought him some photos to look at, including the one from which this picture was made, and they cheered him up and made him laugh.

The reason I titled this post “Persistence, Acceptance and Freedom” is both because of Don, and also because I’ve had to accept that I don’t yet have the skills to make this a good portrait in oil paint, despite my persistence, and that this painting is as far as it’s going to get and it’s time to let it go. And that gives me much needed freedom, after working on this for way too many days. In the beginning it was a wonderful way to remember Don and think about those early days. I was determined to do the best I could but now by accepting that this is as far as I’m willing to take it, I free myself to move on to something else.

I didn’t spend enough time with the initial drawing, the photo I was working from was old and funky, and the color had faded strangely. Initially there were three generations in the picture, my son, his dad, and his grandad. First the two men were great but the baby was a mess. Then the baby got good but I messed up one of the men. After scraping off and redoing all or some of the people many, many times I decided to eliminate my son’s Dad, paint the background and clothes, and call it done. The thing with oil painting is that you can edit forever but I need to stop.

I’ve read it’s better for learning to paint hundreds of one-hour paintings than to spend hundreds of hours on one painting. I’ve tried the later and it’s not fun. I’m ready for the former and excited about doing timed paintings — more like sketches — one hour apiece.

8 replies on “Persistence, Acceptance and Freedom”

Jana — I know you may not like this painting very well, but I think it’s FABULOUS!! That smile on the grandfather and sheer delight on your son is so priceless! I think you did grandly!!!

I tend to agree about the one-hour paintings; usually the ones I spend less time on are the better ones … and yet I, too continue to plug away at the same old painting — futzing and futzing .. sigh …

BTW, I’ve been in workshops all w/e — no time to walk … and I”m bushed … hope you had a chance to rest and walk .. and truly, Jana, it’s a grand painting!


Your title pretty much says all.
I have to admire your persistence and determination to succeed outside the field in which you excel.
I’m not a painter, but golly! I find some inspiration here. Thanks.


I haven’t visited your paintings site for a while. How nice for you do make a portrait of the relationship. Sunday was the birthday of our second son 11.11 and at 11 p.m.! 38 years ago. Our three sons were all bonny babies, but I’ve never done paintings of them over all the years.


I believe your painting is very expressive, a moving tribute to someone you obviously cared about a great deal. In terms of technique I don’t see this painting a failure at all. Your style has a nice, loose feel to it and the darker skin tone on Don gives him a nice, weathered look of an older man. (My only suggestion would be to darken his hand a tad to make it look more like Don’s hand than someone else’s.) Yo should be proud of your attempt at such a personal statement.

Bob, I love what you wrote. Couldn’t have said it better.


The wisdom of one hour paintings is true. I’ve heard some say “a hundred starts” or even “a thousand starts.” We’re getting there, brushstroke by brushstroke, aren’t we? Keep up the good work.


I love your painting for what it carries within it. This was a very private and intimate experience for you. It already has beauty, you will probably do many more beautiful paintings than this one, but the sentiment and memory of this one can never be the same. It was the right time to let go.


Thanks for the wonderful comments and perspectives you all have shared. It really helps me to appreciate it rather than be frustrated with it. The important thing was the emotions I experienced while I was working on it and feeling/thinking about the people in it. Once it got to be about technique it went downhill but that time spent reminiscing and feeling is still with me.


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