I love a challenge and I love wedding toy portraits, so this project was lots of fun! Just a week before leaving for her sister’s wedding on the Isle of Wight, it occurred to Rachel that a portrait of the bride and groom’s favorite childhood playthings would make a unique and sentimental gift for the occasion. She quickly contacted the couples’ parents to secure similarly-lit photos of the toys as well as their relative measurements so that I could create the illusion of their togetherness in the portrait. This well-loved Winnie the Pooh was given to Rachel’s sister Sarah at her Christening 33 years ago, and the classic Snoopy and attached (?) blanket belong to her beau. The painting was finished, framed, and wired just in the nick of time, Rachel and her adorable son Arthur stopped by my “studio” to pick it up before heading to the airport!
8″x10″ acrylic, 2013. One of my daughter’s very closest friends in her pre-k class is Cassie, an adorable girl with dark ringlets, dimples, and fabulous Lisa Loeb glasses. Cassie is often accompanied at drop-off by this well-worn bear. A gift from Cassie’s great-aunt, the bear originally known as “Fuzzy Was He” came to be called “BearBear” as he grew more and more beloved and less and less fuzzy. When Cassie was a baby, she would idly twirl BearBear’s fur in her finger while sucking her thumb. The fur plucking and twirling continues, so Cassie’s mom Catherine decided to commission a portrait to preserve BearBear’s present appearance before he becomes even more fur-less and floppy… in order to pose him I had to employ some strategically-placed tape to hold him upright in the chair!
5″x7″ acrylic, 2013. This bear was a gift to Lindsay’s step-father from a friend decades ago, and has adorned her parents’ bed ever since. Lindsay notes that Hank is secure enough in his “masculine bear-ness” to be comfortable wearing jewelry. That he sports a Paddington bear charm seems appropriate, because why wouldn’t a bear be a fan of other celebrity bears? It’s like that Morrissey pin on your denim jacket, or that Seinfeld necklace your aunt wears. As we planned out a color scheme for the portrait, Lindsay made it clear that her step-father loathes neutrals, particularly what he refers to as “hot-dog brown.” Fortunately, Hank is posed against cheerful light-blue fabric, which brightens and compliments his inherent brown-ness. It was a treat to paint so much color, texture, and history!
9″x12 acrylic on board, 2013. This epic Mother’s Day portrait features the favorite childhood toys of five grown-up siblings. It will be given by Jennifer, whose yellow doll is shown here in a restored state… it is presently a faded and faceless shadow of its former self! One of Jennifer’s brothers carried the white dog with him everywhere. The blue bear was given to another brother when he was born, and the floppy lamb belonged to Jennifer’s sister. The green Baby Bop from the Barney show was the favorite of another sister, a huge fan of the program as a kid. I love the idea of each member of a family represented in a portrait by the object he or she treasures most!
8″x10″ acrylic, 2013. In the photo I was given to work from for this painting, this serenely smiling bear dwarfs tiny infant Mia as she rests against his side and bawls robustly. My daughter, who is five, exclaimed “Oh no, the baby doesn’t like that bear!” But in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Maureen’s 17-year-old niece Mia was given this big stuffed bear by her dad before she came home from the hospital as a new baby, and has slept with it every night since. Concerned that “Teddy” will not be in any condition to travel with Mia to college next fall, Maureen commissioned this portrait as a gift to go along with her in its place. Maureen hopes that someday the painting might hang in the nursery of Mia’s own baby!
8″x10″ acrylic on canvas, 2013. Having painted a couple of hundred stuffed bears over the past few years, I’m somewhat immune to their charms. However, as soon as I laid eyes on Mike, the whole raison d’etre for Your Toy Portrait came rushing back to me! Mike’s owner, Michael, a blogger and amusing Twitter presence known as “The Muskrat,” was given this Gund bear about 30 years ago. His father, an Air Force pilot who travelled a lot, brought home a bear for each of his sons on his return from a trip. Michael and his brother Kevin named the bears Mike and Bobby, respectively. In order to tell them apart, both bears were dressed in Underoos — Mike’s are Superman, and Bobby wears Batman. I can’t get over the way thirty years of wear and tear and love molded this bear of once-average cuteness into this freakishly adorable thing!
8″x10″ acrylic, 2012. This portrait is traveling all the way to Spain for the 18th birthday of Cristina’s brother Pablo! “Mr. Bear” has been at Pablo’s side since birth, and can still be found perched on his bed whenever Cristina travels from New Jersey to visit her family! Cristina was 13 when Pablo was born, and their grandmother helped her buy a toy to give him at the hospital. She laid this bear in his crib and from then on he slept with it every night. The family moved to the U.S. a few years later, and when Cristina entered college they moved back to Spain. On one of her visits, Cristina noticed the bear on Pablo’s bed and said “I can’t believe you still have that old bear!” To which Pablo replied, “That’s MR. BEAR, Cris.” Cristina tells me that she knew she had to find a “special and strange” way to immortalize Mr. Bear for this momentous birthday. “Special and strange” — that’s a perfect way to describe a custom toy portrait!
8″x10″ acrylic on canvas, 2012. This classic Vermont Teddy Bear sat virtually unnoticed on baby Kaelen’s bed when it was given to him by his grandmother for his first Christmas. But when he fell in love with the book “Chugga Chugga Choo Choo” a few months later, Kaelen became fascinated by the illustrations of teddy bears inside. He repeatedly asked what they were called, and when his parents would say “teddy bear,” he would not repeat the words, but thoughtfully file them away. One morning when Kaelen’s mother Kelly came into his room, he held up the bear and exclaimed “Tabby Boo!” Kaelen and Tabby Boo have been inseparable ever since. Kelly tells me that Kaelen is sure that he is saying “Teddy Bear” and looks at his parents like they are crazy when they call the bear “Tabby Boo!”
11″x14″ acrylic, 2012. What fun I’ve had painting all these clever wooden hand-made toys! You may have seen my individual portraits of this bear, duck, and grasshopper earlier this summer, and this group portrait brings in a fourth toy. The rabbit is overturned to reveal the signature of Pops, Barbara’s talented and generous late father. “Pops” made beautiful toys for several generations of his family, and Barbara commissioned this quartet of portraits to honor him and his lovely work.
8″x10″ acrylic, 2012. Here’s a third portrait of a beautiful pull-toy handmade by Barb’s late father. Barbs’ children (now grown) called her father “Pops,” and he always made sure to spend lots of quality time with them. The kids have fond memories of helping him build and paint projects in his shop such as wooden swords and birdfeeders, and they played cards using a wooden cardholder made by Pops to assist little hands in managing the cards. Barb’s father carefully researched his finishes and materials to be sure the toys were non-toxic. It’s a thrill to paint these amazing family treasures! You can see my other portraits of Pop’s pull-toys here and here.