YesLex

Original Artwork & Custom Portraits

Wedding story: portrait process

portrait, wedding, story portraitAlexis CastilloComment

Celebrating the love, not just the day.

Weddings are a big deal. But you know what's an even bigger deal? The marriage.

"If this is a relay I choose you, my partner— Together we're better, United, we're stronger. "I'll be your springboard If you'll be my anchor; Without hesitation, Committed forever."

"If this is a relay
I choose you, my partner—
Together we're better,
United, we're stronger.

"I'll be your springboard

If you'll be my anchor;

Without hesitation,
Committed forever."


I think it's easy to get so focused on the event rather than the people and what their story is, and the shift I'm going for here is more than capturing the event and all its details— which certainly is significant, but ultimately (in the scheme of things,) is fleeting. What I want in these paintings is the character of the couple. What are the unique character traits that drew them together? WHY are they tying the knot? Melanie and Matt sent me some pictures and their story.


They are both fitness-focused and met at a bootcamp where they were both working as trainers. (I can't even imagine!) They hike together, travel together, run marathons together — the whole thing.
Melanie (in the painting here,) told me that Matt (her fiance) is her grounding force and she is his spontaneity. Melanie has this long, thick braid that is just shy of Rapunzel, and  they look most happy in their running gear. 
 

This is how we got started.

I haven't ever done a video before this one (although I've considered it many times). It's fun to see the work come together— even when it's easy to see where there need to be repairs as it progresses!

Progression of the work below.

Couldn't decide if this was a horizontal or a vertical story. 
I tried it both directions, and Melanie launching off of her grounding force made more sense to the story they told me. Phase two will see Matt filled in at the bottom (right) and those details that make the whole things pop to life.

It's more than the wedding— it's the love. And it's so cool to do that for other people.

Want a painting of your own? Contact me for more info on a piece made for you or someone you love: yeslex.acastillo@gmail.com

So what's the process for a commission painting? How the whole thing works.

portrait, commissionAlexis CastilloComment

One of the more recent custom commission pieces (pictured below) is for a family in Seattle, WA. Erin was telling me about how they go as often as possible to Roche Harbor, WA— which after seeing the pictures, I can understand why! So she was looking for a family portrait that used their favorite vacation spot as the background.

Custom family portrait; Roche Harbor, WA finished dimensions 40"x60"

After we get the number of people and the context of the painting down, I start pulling together reference photos for the background— both sent by Erin and found online. Such a beautiful place! And with so many great angles and details to choose from, I wanted to be sure that I got the whole atmosphere of the place by trying to incorporate snippets of everything.

Rather than doing a literal backdrop using only one angle of the island, I approached the painting by making a composite background that incorporates the highlights and landmarks of the place, as well as maintaining the a palatte consistent with the colors that are repeated in the reference pictures.

But after I got the basic pieces in place I sent a preliminary photo to share what I had in mind. This was the point where she said that maybe they would prefer literal for their painting— and that's just fine. Below is the actual background image of Roche Harbor, using the most recognizable slice of the island for their family portrait. 

Background final, although this is not the direction we started in. Checking in along the way keeps us sure that we're on the same page all throughout the process, so it's what you expect when we're done!

So once we get a confirmation on the background it's time to layer in the family. Naturally reference pictures are sent over so I know what we're working with from the very beginning, as it helps to have an idea of where the family is going to fit before the background gets started. — If you're diving with dolphins, for instance, we would need to work in more water room in the foreground. Good to know ahead and plan accordingly.

Family reference pictures, above.
Family photos are great because they tell me more about who you are, where you go, and sometimes a bit of personality. A few important things to keep in mind when choosing pictures to send: how recent are they? not a problem if you prefer a picture from 20 years ago, but it might look strange to have a painting of your college-aged self with a present-day spouse, or children who are in reality 2 years apart but the photos show one at 8 and the other at 15. Also pictures with you guys as a group give me an idea of relative scale (respective heights, hair color, etc.) 

Too many pictures are better than too few, but take a minute to notice if your favorite photos  have funny lighting (like the yellow overhead light here), or if the angle of your face in picture is up or down, which can easily skew my perception of what your nose or chin really looks like. Do your family photos also include you guys in sunglasses for the most part? We can work around them, but it's helpful to get all those key details in a followup photo so I can make something as close to what you actually look like to send back to you :)

So this was was the first version of the family final that I sent for approval, and Erin wanted to make a few adjustments. Even though there were missing teeth in the reference picture, she thought her daughter would like it better if all her teeth were included (in anticipation of those that were yet to come!), softening her smile, as well as lengthening and lightening her hair.
For herself she said that her hair is a bit wavier, and I noticed as few details on the face that I wanted to change when she sent a new reference photo. 

Adjusted version below.

Revised final, from updated reference photos.

It's quite a process! But sending updates along the way ensures that you can see the process and add or adjust something before the painting is complete.

Did I miss anything? Interested in starting your own custom piece?
Email me at yeslex.acastillo@gmail.com

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom

Alexis Castillo2 Comments

But the overwhelming question-- even now as I have my kids sitting in front of Charlie and Lola, knowing in the back of my mind that soon enough the disc will end, (the disc will ennnnd!!) I try to hurry and do the work that I can do well and quickly, as well as think ahead to keep things running smoothly around here. Just for a few hours. And anyone with multiple kids know that a few hours is sometimes asking a lot. Not always a possibility.

My biggest frustration, though, is that

The thrill & business of Art

business, interviewAlexis CastilloComment

As kind of a side-project/ new main focus, I've been pulling together an interview series on Creativity and the Business of Art. The truth is, I've been making work and selling artwork (paintings)  off and on for more than 10 years, and still really don't feel like I have tapping into the "ah yes, do this." But certainly it can't be SO elusive.

Research project turned interview series turning into... ongoing education? Too soon to tell.

Research project turned interview series turning into... ongoing education? Too soon to tell.

And honestly, I am not afraid of the business side of it. I think that part is great! (And dare I say, even fun!) I love the notion of running my own business with the work that I'm excited to be making and sharing, and figuring out what that should look like. Letting my business skills evolve in the same way that I've learned to let my art evolve... intentionally pushing, but not forcing; naturally, but also with true curiosity for how this thing could be better... that's pretty wonderful. And if it's helpful to include others in this learning process, the more the merrier. Welcome, I say!
It's an adventure to find and connect with that key audience that will love my work more than that other purchase they were thinking about, or crafting a website that I hope will be engaging and provide value beyond sales to keep people coming back again and again. But it is challenging.

Clearly there are people who are doing that, and some are more ambitious than others. Some artists have no time on their hands, others make excuses (we know who we are), and we all know where the business part gets difficult (sales, I'm looking at you).

 

But what I'm finding very clearly is that I am not the only one at a loss for exactly what to do next. I have some great ideas, sure; but how to implement one thing at a time AND not neglect making the work that I want to share in the first place? Tricksome.

One of the wonderful artists I had a chance to talk to (below) had such a great take on this. "Be, Do, Have." Be the kind of person who will do what needs to be done, to have the results you really want. And of course, baby steps for as long as it takes. We'll get the hang of it as we go.


Watch the whole interview with Elena Parashko below.

Are you waiting for your lucky break? Have you ever seen an artist achieve something you have always dreamed of and thought, ‘How lucky is that?’ But was it luck? Dictionaries define luck as ‘chance or fortune.’ If you believe being lucky means randomly being favored by chance rather than being affected by skill or merit, this implies you don’t have any control over outcomes. ‘I prefer the more empowering definition that ‘luck is the point where preparation and opportunity meet.’
— interview with Elena Parshko, on Creativity and the Business of Art

Figuring this out with friends is more fun anyway. On to new adventures!
If you're interested in seeing more of the interviews available, they're only going to be up for a short time before the next wave of somethin' special is due to arrive. Please enjoy (and share) before April 30.

Malcriadas, "What does my Father think of me?"

Alexis CastilloComment

What does my Father think of me? 2015 acrylic on canvas, Alexis Castillo

I have to admit, I was hesitant to share these works. At first blush you may think you "get" these images. Please add a bit of context to your assumptions. These are full scale paintings from daily newspapers that littler the streets of Lima, each one featuring a "malcriadas" or "naughty girls" which is exactly what you would imagine.
But what really struck me was that each one was printed on cheap newsprint, and each day was a new girl. They were presented as disposable. And that is not the truth, is it? Many of these women feel like this "opportunity" is their shot at the big time,maybe they will get noticed by someone that will pick them above the others and in the meantime maybe make some money to feed their families.

The thing is, once-- maybe twice, one of these girls has been noticed by a soccer star and become his girlfriend and then found relative "fame" on a television game show. Don't you know that every single one of those girls thinks the same could happen to them? In the same way millions seem to believe in the lottery for their lucky break rather than investing over the years they buy those lotto jackpot cards...

Quiero Respeta, 2015 acrylic on canvas, Alexis Castillo

I'm not saying don't play the lottery, just don't think that sooner or later your ticket must come up. If you would rather a scratch-off card every day rather than a few extra bucks to do something else, feel free. But in the case of these women, that's just the undercurrent of the argument. It's the same poor choice that leads new actresses into porn rather than take another rejection for that Subway commercial. The backbone is that Peru is poor, in many places desperately poor, and this is one way a pretty lady can earn an extra buck. Changes the perception a bit for me when I think about it like that.

I started to wonder, what did these girls fathers think of them? Where they proud? Embarrassed? Were they even around, did they know? I can't speak to that, I can only guess. The more I ruminated on that question a quiet revelation surfaced: when you shift position just a touch, and think "what does my Father think of me"... that's something of worth. These girls are valuable. Wherever we are in our poor decision-making, in our journeys and identities, in our just trying to make it and keeping it together, God our Father always sees us for who we are, where we are, and accepts us without hesitation

When I grow up, I want to be respected

I can't speak to their intentions for being a part of what seems easily accepted in this culture. Maybe it doesn't bother them at all. But it does bother me; that these images are right next to the crossword puzzles and the listing for what's on tv that night and then line the dog cage in the morning. That they're trampled on in the street and discarded without care. Sure it's newsprint, but it hurts me-- just a little. Just enough that I decided it was important to make something that was more permanent.
And I kept the images as close to the real thing as possible for a reason. Rather than distorting them, Picasso-style, I wanted to show acceptance: Of how they are seen, of the choice they have made (good or bad) and of the individual. Because doesn't my Father do that for me?

 

Lessons from Peru (& becoming better people): community

Alexis Castillo2 Comments

Peruvian Preoccupation; 2015 acrylic on board

In a dramatic transition for our family, we have just returned Stateside after living in Peru for 3 years. As those of you who have lived overseas can attest, returning "home" is a bigger adjustment than you imagine possible when you're packing up to leave. After all, I was looking forward to air conditioning and cheddar cheese again, so where's the downside?

 

I learned a lot while living in Lima. I grew a lot. I shook my fist at traffic, and then decided it was better to pretend like it was funny and force myself to laugh. Our kids can beat your kids at Spanish (that's ok, my kids are no good at American basics), and the highlight of my life down there: we had a nanny.
But all in all we decided it was time to transition back to the States. For various reasons, really, but it was not an easy decision. Pros: more yard space, closer to the grandparents, easier access to internet/ business connectivity; Cons: We now need a car and insurance, school is a complicated choice, it's crazy expensive here (compared to what we are used to), and no more nanny. I dunno. It was a crapshoot.

Peru is dangerous. I learned that it is in fact smart to sprint in across the road in a clearly marked crosswalk and hide cash and valuables in your own house. Not something that occurred to me before we lost those things. (Yes, we're going with "lost")
When we moved we had twin infants and a 2 year old and I did not speak Spanish. Not a single Como te llama. But they say the best way to learn something is to dive in... right? Let me add a footnote that while this is very true, this method does not come without tears.
But this brings me to the point that all things have a certain learning curve.

And you know what, not to be a bummer , but as long as we’re willing to keep growing, there is another pain point waiting for us on the road ahead.

You ever notice how growing hurts? Most of us say that we are interested in growth in the abstract sense (admittedly some of us more than others), but when the rubber hits the road it is work. Growth takes maturity. It takes falling down and trying again. It takes sticking it out when what you really want to do is give up. Growing means learning to make the most of where you are instead of complaining at every opportunity. It means not shying away from the hard stuff even when you hit uncharted waters. This stuff is hard, people. And you know what, not to be a bummer , but as long as we're willing to keep growing, there is another pain point waiting for us on the road ahead.

And this is not to complain. It’s the next season of growing. And whatever comes of it on the other side I am determined to be shaped for the better in the process.

But then there are those in between moments where it feels like you've hit your stride. There came a point where not everyone made a confused face when I tried to talk to them. We found the smallest apartment in the best neighborhood and enjoyed the views of the ocean and the walk to the mercado. People start to notice that you're a local, even if you are a gringa, and there is a familiarity in that that feels like home in itself. We found a church where we really felt connected and went back every week for 3 years. These are the things that I miss when we chose to pull up roots and come back. It's familiar here too. but I didn't work as hard for it. It doesn't feel like MY home. And this is not to complain. It's the next season of growing. And whatever comes of it on the other side I am determined to be shaped for the better in the process.

The surprising (to me) conclusion is that as much as I like my independence, my space, and my time alone, what I yearn for most is true community. And this is not unique to me. Even as we find ourselves back on familiar ground, I feel like there are missing pieces when I don't know how to connect with the people that are naturally close-by.
So with this realization I am determined to be more proactive. They say that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Sobering, isn't it (especially when some of those people are the children at home, I need to make sure the other couple of influencers are made of sturdy character!) But more than that, to be conscious of making the effort be BE the person that I would want to spend time with. It's a process, so I guess I'll go ahead and get started. All I can do is try.

To becoming better people, and the work it takes to get there,