“Faces Not Forgotten” project sponsored by the Women’s Caucus for Art


“Blair Holt”, my most recent oil painting, joins other portraits in the nation-wide effort of the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) to raise awareness about gun violence.

Blair lived in Chicago. He was 16 years old when he was shot and killed while riding a school bus. A gang member got on his bus and started shooting. Blair leaned over to protect a person and took a bullet that proved fatal. The “Faces Not Forgotten” project of the WCA will put together 800 portraits of young people under 20 killed due to violence during the past ten years.  The “faces” assembled into quilts will be shown in Washington, DC before touring the country.

While working on this painting in late February, six people were shot and killed in Kalamazoo, MI where I live. Kalamazoo became the 44th U.S. city to experience gun violence in 2016! I feel that artists doing these portraits are using their art in a very meaningful way for the families and for our society. What follows next is a bit of my art process.

The composite photo represents a development of the painting.  After making a grid over the original photo and transferring it to the 10 X 20 inch linen canvas, I began an underpainting using white and burnt umber. The underpainting established the drawing and the values from dark to light. I also was searching for a background to call iconic religious art featuring saints to mind.  I felt Blair’s action of protection of another over his own life deserved that reference. After I painted a double row with diamond shapes around the head, I showed the painting to a friend. I already knew, but she affirmed for me — “It looks like a plate!”  Eliminating the circles and leaving the diamonds proved to be the answer.  My color choices were also based on the idea of an icon with the use of the gold in back of the head. After the underpainting, I added background color and began thin layers of color on the face following the dark to light values of the the underpainting.

When I was close to completion I found the face was too flat and I had a white spot on the nose. Fear arose as I knew I must “jump in again” and I might not improve the painting plus I had a due date to consider!  Well, fear must be faced and it was worth it …adding more light to the right side of the face and eliminating the dot on the nose not only made a better portrait but allowed more of Blair’s innocence to show.

It is an honor to be involved with the “Faces Not Forgotten” project.

Jeanne Fields