Cedar Lee February 20th, 2017
I am the oldest of five siblings. Naturally, when I developed an interest in portrait painting, I co-opted all their likenesses for my own purposes.
Some of these paintings are really bad, as I was obviously teaching myself the very hard skill of portrait painting, and a lot of that process for me was guesswork. A few of them are objectively good. But, what strikes me the most about all these paintings as I’m looking at them now is that no matter my skill level at the time or the style I chose to work in, each painting does capture something of the essence of my siblings at the time in their lives.
During the few years when I got really into portraiture, this idea made it into my artist’s statement–that my goal was always to capture that spark of personality that makes a person them.
I only have baby/kid portraits of my youngest brother, Jordan, as he was still little during these years. (I was 16 when he was born.)
Jordan. © 2003 Cedar Lee
This abstracted portrait really shows the playfulness of Jordan as a small child: the impish grin, the hands busy with toys, the little boy tennis shoe.
Jordan Abstracted. © 2004 Cedar Lee
I don’t know about this one. He was kind of making a weird face in the reference photo I used. It looks like he’s in the middle of talking. However, I was learning a lot as I painted it!
Jordan 2. © 2005 Cedar Lee
Now my little sister, Shirah at 8 years old. This painting is called “Shirah Belle,” my nickname for her when she was a little girl. I remember being particularly proud of the way I painted the shadows on her face from the strands of hair, and how I depicted the thickness of her hair. The blue background full of spiral shapes give a whimsical child-like feeling to the painting, highlighting her innocence. I really love this painting. It’s 24″ x 36″!
Shirah Belle. © 2003 Cedar Lee
I love this painting even more! In fact, it is one of my favorite paintings of all time, is in my own personal collection and I will never let it go. This is Shirah as a young teenager. Not only does it capture her likeness, but I love the dappled sunlight throughout that gives the feeling of a summer day under trees.
Shirah. © 2006 Cedar Lee
Next, my brother Ben, 21 months my junior. Incidentally, this painting is the only other sibling portrait I have in my personal collection besides “Shirah.”
“Ben the Black-Eyed P.” That year, Ben went as a black-eyed (get it–he has a black eye) “P” (get it? Pea? “P?” har har har) for Halloween. I painted the black eye on him with makeup. We thought we were absolutely the cleverest, most hilarious ever. This painting will go down in my family’s history.
Ben the Black-Eyed P. © 2003 Cedar Lee
This next painting was part of my senior thesis show at Goucher College in 2005. Ben at the time was 22. The painting looks kind of like him but it was a little bit “off.” The thing I did capture here is the intensity of Ben’s eyes and something in the facial expression. I chose a geometric pattern of dark colors for the background to suit his personality: forceful and analytical.
Ben. © 2005 Cedar Lee
This painting, “Ben’s Hand,” is loose and gestural. I was working from a photo of Ben not wanting his picture taken, and giving me “the hand.” Even though the face in the background is no more than a few smears of paint, it is so much Ben that I can hear his voice and laugh when I look at it!
Ben’s Hand. © 2006 Cedar Lee
Now my brother Micah. Here he is at age 16, posing for my camera. Micah has an effortless charisma. My favorite thing about this painting is the way I used intense light and shadow and saturated color to create the forms of his face. That dab of white sunlight on his nose!
Micah. © 2004 Cedar Lee
And finally, this is quite possibly one of the most epic, and funniest, paintings I’ve ever made. This is Micah on the day of his high school graduation. I love the contrast of the black background with his white shirt, and the sparkling eyes that capture him exactly. It’s a great portrait.
Debonaire Micah. © 2006 Cedar Lee
But why is it epic and funny? Because of its ridiculously large scale! It is 40″ tall.
Cedar Lee with her large-scale portrait “Debonaire Micah”
My parents have this painting in their house, and they joke that it reminds them of how dictators like Stalin like to hang gigantic portraits of themselves. (Not saying anything about Micah, of course.) For years, they had it in their guest room and Micah would be staring down at you over the guest bed as you were trying to sleep. So funny.