by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 08 March 2016
Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead. Lucille Ball
Ruby, my kind of girl.
Sweet. Friendly. A listener. Not a complainer. And a gal at home in the great outdoors.
Fiery red hair. Green eyes. Freckles. A nose like no other. And a radiant smile. Beautiful!
Spirited. High Energy. Not just content but happy. And just plain fun to be around.
But one shortcoming. Legs.
They weren't long but short and nor more shapely than short legs could be. And they were hairy.
No matter. She was irresistible. Men loved her. She loved men.
She had a few monikers. I preferred Ruby Dooby.
I visited Ruby through the years - first when she lived in Florida and later after relocating to South Carolina. Sometimes a year or two, maybe three, would pass before able to see her. Regardless, she was ever welcoming. Big, warm smile. Her body language suggesting, though never confessing, she had a thing for Marines.
More than once I wanted to paint her portrait but she was not the patient sort. Sitting still was impossible. She had to be moving, doing something.
Some years ago during a visit I caught her napping and managed a few quick ink sketches. She never knew.
And on another occasion or two, and most recently December past around Christmas, I caught her sitting, staring out the window, daydreaming - as girls tend to do, and sketched a few more. Too, a few photos before she caught me, gave me a look, and silently walked away.
I could not tell if she was miffed. I don't think so for she came back a few minutes later to give me a kiss. Oh, the girl knew how and loved to kiss.
But she was not going to sit for a portrait. She'd have none of it.
Sweet Ruby, the gal with the fiery red hair, high energy, and short, hairy legs aged with grace.
Time muted color and calmed energy. Beauty endured.
In recent years she just slowed and slept a lot.
A couple few weeks ago, fighting failing health, her spark flickered. Ruby, with family near, died.
Mine, too, when learning the news.
But Ruby lived a good long life - just shy of 100. And what a life she had. We should be so fortunate.
Thinking about her, I found some of my sketches (others had been gifted to her sister and brother) and photos and reflected back - fond memories of a sweet, pretty girl. Most probably I would have had chance to visit her in July and was looking forward to it (to maybe sketch and paint) but so goes life.
Not often do I paint posthumous portraits - because reference material is usually poor. A portrait is challenging with a sitter - the preferable approach (at least for the painter). Painting from photographs compounds the problems and is difficult even if having met and knowing the subject. It's practically impossible if you never met. Copying a photograph any hobbyist can do. Painting a portrait is another feat and conversation. Alas, no one remembers the constraints, however unreasonable, placed on the painter but they sure long remember a bad portrait. No thank you.
But familiar with Ruby - for the time spent together through the years, my sketches, photos, and notes - I'd try.
At first, I oriented the canvas to traditional portrait format. Two attempts failed and I was stumped as to why. And then the solution came by atypically orienting the portrait to landscape format. It did not take long. The painting fell into place. I could have painted her from memory.
Finished in a couple of days, I framed it and put it back on the easel - to study at different times of day and in different light to make sure I'd not missed something uniquely Ruby.
For a week I studied it.
I got her! The Ruby I knew.
I shared a photograph of the portrait with her older sister and brother. Unanimous.
I shipped the painting.
A few days later came a phone call - from parents. Emotional. Happy tears. And many thanks. The portrait, as portraits do, already working magic - relief and comfort for Ruby's family; my family, too.
Ruby, the loyal and gorgeous redhead that men (and women and children) loved madly, is now home.
9 x 12 in. acrylic on canvasboard