Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The Best Years" - A Timeline Painting

In a town north of Chicago lives a young woman who knows just how much her husband loves her.

Mike spent months secretly planning a surprise tenth anniversary celebration for his wife, Peggy. He contacted me last winter about doing a special commissioned watercolor timeline painting that would illustrate the highlights of their ten years together. Emails flew back and forth, as we planned the content of the painting, down to the tiniest detail. The resulting painting holds ten years worth of memories - reminders of courtship, marriage, homes, and children.

(Click on images to enlarge)

"The Best Years", 14" x 18", watercolor & ink on Arches 140 lb. paper

It all began when they lived across the hall from each other in the same apartment building...

(Mike requested that I include lots of little details in the sketches, like the cat sleeping in the window, the Christmas lights on the balcony, and him looking over toward Peggy's apartment.)

They were young and in love, and soon decided to marry...

Before long, the newlyweds were moving into their first place together...

Notice the ghost in the second floor window?

A cross-country move eventually took them to Illinois...

They bought a fixer-upper and worked on it together...

The paint bucket, brush, and ladder are reminders of the time-consuming house renovation Mike and his wife undertook. 

See the baby peeping over the edge of the Pack-n-Play?

Their first child was born, a little boy named Tyler, followed fifteen months later by his sister, Ashley...

There were lots of specifics I needed to include on the kids' drawings. They are each pictured wearing their favorite T-shirts, and holding some of their favorite toys. Ashley has two different colored socks on. Funny childhood phrases accompany each child's portrait.

Mike sent me plenty of photos to work from, and even had the kids pose holding their toys (when mom was out of the house!)

Next came a move to a bigger house, and another daughter, Haley, arrived in 2008. In this sketch, Tyler climbs a tree, Haley rings the doorbell, and Ashley takes a sled ride down the driveway - in the middle of summer!

In Haley's portrait, she's barefoot, wearing her gymnastics outfit, waving a pennant, and clutching her favorite old Eeyore blanket...

In a vignette of their cabin in the Wisconsin woods, mom and dad sip coffee on the porch while watching the kids at play...

I had finished the entire painting by the beginning of May, except for one small but important detail. We were awaiting the arrival of little baby Avery, who finally entered the world on May 23rd. I filled in her birth date just before shipping the finished painting.

Mike had built a small bridge over a stream on their property in the Wisconsin woods. For the anniversary celebration, he decorated it with gerbera daisies and colorful balloons, matching exactly what I had drawn in the sketch. The stage was set!

After months of planning, plotting, and waiting, the big day finally arrived. Here's what happened next, in Mike's own words: 

"The surprise was perfect!  We arrived at the cabin and she was surprised by my parents being there (they drove from Virginia) - she was confused as to why they would drive all of the way out to the Western side of Wisconsin.  Then I took her around to the back of the cabin where a huge banner, flowers, ivy, and a duplication of our wedding cake was waiting...she was very surprised.  Then I took her down to the bridge where we renewed our vows. Her gift was waiting at the other end of the bridge on an easel."

"She pulled off the sheet and spent a long time examining every detail of the painting.  She loved it, and there were a few tears.  Everyone enjoyed looking at the painting and learning the stories behind the small details of the painting. Thank you for your involvement and for helping to make this a great anniversary for both of us!"

I just wish I could have been there for the unveiling! I can't imagine a more thoughtful and loving gift. With all the heart Mike put into this tenth anniversary, it's going to be a hard act to follow. He'd better start planning now for their twentieth!

If you are interested in commissioning a custom painting, and would like it in time for the holidays, please contact me soon. I'd love to design something special for you, but my schedule is filling up quickly, and I can only take a limited number of additional orders. I hope to hear from you!


  1. I can't think of a more thoughtful gift than this - I too have tears in my eyes. Your painting is gorgeous!

  2. Leslie, This is just amazing! All the tiny details and beautiful house and kid portraits - a keepsake of a lifetime. Well done!

  3. Wow, I'm speechless! This is so sweet and personal. You and her husband worked really well together to pull out and depict key moments in their journey. What a treasure. I enjoyed looking at all the details and once again - I appreciate the extra time you take in your postings to point out all the 'goodies'.

  4. Priceless! What an incredibly kind and thoughtful gift and so very well done.

  5. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. It was a big project, but I enjoyed every bit of it, and the results were worth all the effort on both our parts. She's one lucky lady!

  6. P.S. I have a question - what type of pen do you usually use in your sketches?

  7. Claire, for this painting, I used a Pitt Artist's Pen with Superfine tip. For a lot of my sketching nowadays, though, I like the Noodler's Flex Pen with Noodler's Lexington Gray ink. I buy my Pitt pens from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff - they usually have the best prices - and the Noodler's products from Goulet Pens.

  8. What a lovely thing to do and your work is wonderful - he's definitely a keeper.

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