Today is World Refugee Day. I want to share this painting I just finished of a friend I met in a refugee camp last year. She comes from a world where it is dangerous for a woman to be educated or outspoken. So I wasn't surprised by her apparent shyness. But as I watched her and learned about what she has been through, I understood the quiet depths in her eyes and was touched by her gracious kindness. I think there must be a certain pain that only mothers who have lost a child know. Is that pain worse when your child's mutilated body is delivered back to you by the kidnappers? Maybe someday I will be able to ask her, in a common language, and find out what keeps her going. In the meantime, I treasure her example and friendship.
I have been working on this portrait of two sweet girls from Syria. They fled with their parents to Germany, seeking safety and hope for a peaceful future. I have tried to keep the brushwork expressive in an attempt to communicate the upheaval and turmoil so many young people are experiencing at an early stage in their lives. They live in uncertainty, but are remarkably resilient and cheerful in bad conditions. They hold up the best they can, and hold on to the things that are most important: family, faith and hope.
This is a shot of my first large painting for the Their Story is Our Story Project. I am about a third of the way finished.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH THAYER
> I was born and raised in Orem, Utah. I recently moved back to Orem after 15 years of living on the East Coast and in Europe. Just after graduating from High School, I took a tour at BYU. I had previously considered teaching and engineering as possibilities, but then I walked into the Illustration Studio, and knew that is where I wanted to be. That first year studying art, I started seeing the world a different way, and found a passion for creating through drawing and painting. I graduated from BYU with a degree in Illustration. I also attended Masters programs at Syracuse University and UNC Greensboro.
> As time goes by, I look at more and more artists and hopefully am influenced by many of them. I would have to say that the ones who have been most influential early on in my career are John Singer Sargent, Burton Silverman, Richard Schmid, and Greg Manchess.
> Over time, I like to think I have become more skillful with paint and brush and, I hope, better at creating a compelling and meaningful picture, but my subject matter has stayed fairly constant. I work mainly in oil paint on linen. I draw with charcoal or nupastel. My paintings usually begin with something I see. It could be a certain expression or pose in someone that says something about their personality. It could be a situation, a glimpse of a scene as I pass by, or part of a person’s story I want to tell. It is this conceptual aspect that makes the idea compelling. I think about the idea for a long time. I work really hard on designing the painting, usually in sketch form. I think composition is really important. From there, I sometimes do a small color study (the painting generally turns out better if I do) and start on the final painting. I usually begin with an underdrawing on the canvas, to place the subject correctly. Then I paint. And then sometimes my process is completely different. The fun thing about painting is that the more new ways of doing things you try, the more you learn. Finishing is always the hardest part. I prefer to paint alla prima, and I find if it is taking me too long, I lose momentum.
> My normal routine is that I wake up early, exercise, change a diaper, make breakfast, clean it up, do a load or two of laundry, dress the baby, think about what is on my easel as I get kids to school and/or lessons. Do housework. Have a make-believe tea party with a four-year-old. Run upstairs to the studio to look at what is on my easel. Make lunch and clean it up. Pay bills and send emails. Sketch some ideas. Wipe noses. Make phone calls, bandage knees, buy birthday presents, check to see the cucumber plants are getting enough water. Race kids to the park and enjoy the weather. Think about dinner. Remember that there is something upstairs on my easel. Revise dinner plans, write a grocery list, cook and clean up. Read stories, say prayers, kiss foreheads. Sweep the floor. Squeeze in as much painting as possible before dropping into bed.
> My ideal location for my art is on walls, galleries, museums, books, anywhere. The richest things in life are our relationships with other people. I hope that my work, whether commissioned portraits or figurative work or published paintings, will help connect people and strengthen relationships.
> I have a few portrait commissions I am working on, an illustrated book, and a few personal paintings. The thing that is taking most of my time right now is a project called Their Story is Our Story; Giving Voice to Refugees. I have teamed up with a photographer, a videographer and an author to visit some of the European refugee camps, learn the stories of some of the people there, and tell them through paintings, drawings, photographs and video. We have a great team of volunteers set up to help us through the logistics of getting there and back. Our initial hope was to raise awareness, but we as a people are already aware of the Refugee Crisis. What I want to do is create a connection – a place for a conversation to begin. To give society a moment to stop and put themselves in another’s shoes, and treat the other as they would like to be treated. I think art has power to create connections between people and to teach empathy. And I think connections that turn into relationships and empathy are very important in the world today. This is a kind of art I have always wanted to get involved in, so I am really excited to be part of the project.
> My hope is to put together an exhibition of the drawings, paintings, photographs and videos from TSOS that people could see and experience in person. For this to work, we would need funds for putting the show together and transferring the artwork as well as help finding venues, publicizing, etc. I think it would generate interest, and have an impact on people’s lives.
> I want my art to have an impact on people here and now. I guess I would like it to be remembered by the fact that those who have been influenced by it live their lives in a better way.