Friday, January 31, 2020

NF: Nebraska - Portraits from Life

Tina Gunn - February 21, 2020 (Gretna, Nebraska)

Drawn from life by Tina's kitchen table
 I've known Tina for several years now. She was one of the first people in Nebraska that I met who was living with NF. Both she and her son, John have it. Her son is about four years older than mine and I remember how comforting it was when she would explain some of the challenges he was facing because my son also has similar struggles. Today was an unseasonably warm day at about 45 degrees especially considering yesterday was 8 degrees. That is just typical in Nebraska, so I was on cloud nine with the sun shining and such warm weather.

Tina only lives about 15 minutes away from me in Gretna. While I was driving over there, she called and said that she couldn't find her car in the parking lot at UNMC so it would be awhile. What is rather funny is that she called her husband who came over and showed her that it was parked right where she thought it was! I told her that when Henry had brain surgery in St. Louis, I went out to the parking garage and couldn't find my car and called him to come out of PICU right away because I was convinced someone had stolen our car during surgery. Jeff, who was a bit more level-headed walked me down a floor and there was our car. Let's just say I was thankful that Tina also lost her car in a hospital parking garage! haha...

One of the many pairs of cat shoes
I have to admit when I was drawing her, I kept messing up the eyes. This led her to tell me she had one eye bigger than the other. That might be true, but I finally realized I had not judged the distance between her eyes correctly. There is nothing worse than drawing someone's portrait and having them think there is something quirky with them! Honestly...this is why the fundamentals of drawing are so important. If one aspect of a portrait is wrong it just looks wrong. I don't want it to sort of look like Tina, I want it to simply look like her.

While I was growing impatient with myself and my drawing, Tina got up and to my surprise she had all sorts of snacks. What artist doesn't love snacks?! I am seriously a grown adult and I was giddy over a rice krispy bar with m&m's in it. She also sent snacks home for my boys. Fred's eyes lit up when he saw the salsa garden sun chips.

I knew I had to take a break from the charcoal portrait so we tried to figure out what to do for her oil painting. That is always tricky to do on the spot. Most people don't just want to be cleaning or doing something mundane. In the course of looking around the house, she shared her love for cat shoes. I had no idea that she collected shoes with designs of cats all over them. I didn't even know that was something a person could buy. I probably have maybe 10 pairs of shoes/boots total. I think Tina had about 7 pairs of shoes with cat designs on them!

I came home and put the portrait away and made dinner. After dinner I took it out again and knew what I had to do. So strange that a little time away helps me to look at something fresh and be able to fix it. I like it now and hopefully she does too. 

John Schafer - January 31, 2020 (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Drawn from life near their kitchen so as to get some of that nice morning light.
Today I drove down to Lincoln to draw John. I met his parents back in 2014 at the Cupid's Undie Run held in Omaha (money goes to CTF for NF research). This family has done so much to help raise NF awareness from holding online auctions for donations, participating in a marathon event in Lincoln, Racing for Research with CTF and the list goes on. Even with all of that, I still had never met John. He is a very handsome and charming young man. He has a dapper look and a very fun mustache that looks like he could either be a pirate or a poet (try to figure out that visual--haha).

We chatted about all sorts of things and interestingly NF was not really one of them. Although John did mention that his brain tumor has been stable for so long that he no longer has to do yearly MRIs. I thought I was going to fall out of my chair! Is that even possible? That seems like some sort of dream come true.

I was interested in his job at Target and his different discounts and whether or not he got a discount at the Starbucks located inside. He and Andy also talked about all of the different boy scout camps they attended and similar to my boys they also attended San Isobel Scout Ranch in Colorado. They went to the one in South Dakota that our troop was considering for this year too (although our troop picked a place in Minnesota). I was interested in his Eagle project as it is interesting that both he and my son are Eagle scouts.

Before I left, John showed me his impressive collection of vinyl. It is like some sort of flashback to see a bin of albums again! It made me think of my childhood and how I had to save up for my Journey album!

Emily Pfeiffer - January 8, 2020 (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Drawing done from life while sitting in my living room.
I had painted Emily's portrait a few years ago for a show that was coming up at Creighton University. Her mother, Sharon, had taken so many pictures that I just wasn't really interested in. During a conversation, her mom had told me how much they enjoyed the yearly neighborhood block party and all the games they'd play. We settling on Emily tossing a balloon as a fun and interesting painting.

"Emily Tossing a Water Balloon"
30" x 24". 2016. Oil on Canvas
When I reached out to Sharon to see if she and Emily would be interested in sitting for a portrait, I was so pleased to hear that not only could they sit for one, they had a lot of availability due to Sharon's retirement. I knew with the spring semester starting that I would just busier and busier so I asked if during the middle of the week (while my boys were at school) would work. As an added bonus, Sharon mentioned how much Emily enjoys going to the Westroads, so they would just drive up to Omaha. I have to admit, initially I wondered if they should drive to Creighton and sit in a formal studio, but then I thought...why not just come to my house?

I found it so relaxing to have another person present while drawing Emily. I am used to just drawing subjects one to one and at times it can get very quiet and I believe they can get sleepy. I sometimes can talk and draw simultaneously, but at other times I really like to be focused on what I need to do. What I found was that by having Sharon there to visit and tell stories, it allowed both Emily and I to relax and model and draw without having to keep up the conversation the entire time.

Sharon and I commiserated about some of the healthcare professionals out there (I won't name names) who do not seem to understand NF, nor do they believe the parent when he or she tries to explain what the tumors are and where they were located. A place in Lincoln actually told them both that Emily did not have a brain tumor because they couldn't see it on their MRI. She has a brain tumor and Sharon already knew this. They, of course, don't go to that facility for care. We had a similar experience at a facility in Omaha, so I've been there. It is so important to have a team of specialists that actually understand NF and sometimes that takes leaving your town.

It appears that Emily has had some hearing loss since I had painted her portrait in oil. She also has some balance issues that made me nervous with all the icy conditions on our driveway, but they did okay. 

When I finished the charcoal drawing Emily got a big smile on her face and immediately sent an image to her brother. I took this as a good sign that she liked it! I also think they were both off to do some shopping at Westroads Mall!

Dave Ware - December 17, 2019 (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Drawing done from life while sitting at David's apartment
I drove down to Lincoln, Nebraska as finals were wrapping up for Fall semester: December 17, 2019. It was a beautiful day, sunny and temperatures in the 40s, no winter weather which is a blessing this time of year. When I got to David's apartment, he was waiting for me and had a Coke ready!

I spent about 2.5 hours at his place drawing him and chatting. Growing up in Texas, David is the youngest of three sons and the only one in his family with NF. When he would ask his dad at what age he was diagnosed with NF his dad would just cryptically quip "You were born with it!" That seemed to be the extent that his father wanted to talk about his diagnosis. His brothers are in town, but they don't get together too often, mostly just at holidays.

Prep Sketch for possible larger drawing
David talked about how he got bullied as a youngster for his NF as not too much was known about it while he was growing up. He graduated from high school in 1973 and went on to get a business degree. After working for many years, he finally went on disability due to his NF. He currently has two inoperable brain tumors, depression, ADD and is on several medications due to his NF. He feels lucky to have a van in town that picks him up to take him to his local doctor appointments. He used to be able to drive, but he can no longer do that. He doesn't really miss driving that much, but he does miss the freedom that comes from being able to drive.

Because of his NF, he lost his eye and was recently outfitted with a glass eye. I, personally, think his glass eye looks amazing and it fits really well into the socket. He had been wanting one since he was a teenager, but no doctor wanted to take on the challenge of removing any good eye tissue. He finally met a doctor that would do it and he is so happy with the results.

As I was drawing his portrait, David told me that he had been married for awhile to a woman in Utah who also had NF as did her son. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and David returned to Nebraska. They had met in a Facebook chatroom, but he has not gone back to the chatroom since.

David spends his time now enjoying his aquarium filled with colorful fish. He cares for his succulent plants and uses his window sill to line them up making a rainbow of color from the plant holders. He is currently looking for opportunities to showcase his photography skills as his apartment is adorned with all of his plant and fish photos. He is a big Husker football fan and loves Nebraska. When I drew his portrait from life, I told him he could sit in the chair I was sitting in if that was more comfortable than sitting on the couch. His couch is so comfortable that he told me he will often fall asleep right there instead of getting up and going to bed.

David allowed me to take several photos of him feeding the fish and just lounging on the couch. I typically paint 30" x 24" oil paintings of people with NF just doing what they enjoy so I may still do that painting, but there was something about the comfort of him laying so casually the entire time on the couch that got me thinking differently. Typically, when someone has never been drawn before from life, they ask me over and over again if they are sitting okay or if they should sit a different way. Not David. I told him to be comfortable and he did just that! It was a treat to draw him and I am thinking this sketch might either become an oil painting or large charcoal drawing.

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